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People v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

September 11, 2017

JANET S. WALKER, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 14-CF-1888 Honorable John J. Kinsella, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hudson and Justice Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 The defendant, Janet S. Walker, was found guilty of felony theft (720 ILCS 5/16-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2012)), following a bench trial. Walker does not dispute that she exercised unauthorized control over property that did not belong to her, but she argues that she could not be convicted unless the State proved that the victims named in the indictment were indeed the true "owners" of the property at issue. Because there may be several parties who qualify as "owners" under the law and all that is necessary is that the State prove that the named victims had a greater interest in the property than she did, her argument has no merit.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Between 2010 and 2013, Walker was employed by Williamson Management. Williamson Management managed the operations of between 46 and 51 condominium developments ("properties") on behalf of the condominium association (CA) boards-collecting assessments from the residents and depositing them into the appropriate CA accounts; taking calls from residents, including requests for maintenance; overseeing vendors and work orders; paying bills; maintaining financial records regarding the CA accounts; and reporting to the CA boards regarding financial matters. Williamson Management employed a total of seven people to manage these properties.

         ¶ 4 Walker was one such property manager and was responsible for managing between seven and nine properties. As such, she served as the liaison between Williamson Management and the boards of the properties she managed, and also between those boards and vendors. She oversaw daily operations, processed bills for payment through the Williamson Management accounting department, prepared budgets, and provided the boards with financial reports at their monthly meetings. The properties Walker managed included Long Valley, Whispering Pines, Briar Hill I and II, and Hidden Glen.

         ¶ 5 Although Williamson Management collected assessments from residents on behalf of the CAs, the payments were made out to the CA in which each resident lived and were deposited directly into that CA's bank account. Williamson Management served as the conduit for those payments and kept track of them, reporting any delinquencies to the board. Under no circumstances were payments from residents to be made payable to any individual property manager.

         ¶ 6 Under the agreements executed by the condominium owners, if the owners did not timely pay their assessments, they could be evicted and the units put into foreclosure. The procedure was as follows. First, Williamson Management notified the CA board of the delinquent assessments and sent notices to the resident. If the board decided to proceed with an eviction, it referred the matter to its attorneys, who sent further notices and then filed suit, eventually obtaining an order of possession. At that point, the CA was legally entitled to rent out the condominium unit while the foreclosure was proceeding and to keep any rent it received as repayment of the unpaid assessments. The CA board generally asked the Williamson Management property manager to oversee the process of finding tenants for the short-term rental of the unit. As this service was outside the property manager's usual duties, the property manager received a commission of one month's rent for performing it. To receive such a commission, the property manager was required to submit a written request. The commission would then be paid by the CA through Williamson Management. In no event was a property manager supposed to receive a commission directly from the renter.

         ¶ 7 In early 2013, an accounting irregularity came to light in connection with one of the properties managed by Walker: Williamson Management's records reflected a deposit into a CA account, but there was no corresponding deposit shown in the bank records. Williamson Management audited all of the accounts for the properties Walker managed and found several other irregularities, including missing cash, unsupported credits to accounts, and unreconciled items from the bank records of the accounts. In March 2013, Walker and her attorney met with Walker's supervisor, the president of Williamson Management, and Bensenville police detective Brian Dooley. When Walker was confronted with the irregularities, she initially denied that they were in fact irregularities. However, she soon admitted making all but one of the transactions identified. Walker was fired.

         ¶ 8 In 2014, Walker was charged with theft. The six-count indictment alleged that Walker: stole more than $10, 000 from Briar Hill II by exercising unauthorized control over the funds (count I) and obtaining the funds through deception (count II), stole more than $500 from Briar Hill I by exercising unauthorized control over the funds (count III) and obtaining the funds through deception (count IV), and stole over $10, 000 from various entities listed in an attachment (the CAs of Briar Hill I and II, Hidden Glen, Long Valley, and Whispering Pines) by obtaining the funds through deception (count V) and exercising unauthorized control over the funds (count VI). See 720 ILCS 5/16-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2012).

         ¶ 9 At trial, State witnesses testified that Walker had rented units to them in the properties listed in the indictment. Specifically, the witnesses testified that they responded to online rental ads that listed Walker as the contact, Walker supervised the rental process and they signed leases listing Walker as the lessor, and they made money orders or checks for rent payable to Walker, at her instruction. (One exception to this last point was Dan Brennan, who testified that he made his checks payable to Williamson Management. Someone had crossed that out and written "Janet Walker" as the payee; he did not do this or authorize anyone else to do this. Dooley testified that, during his interview with her, Walker admitted to changing the payee on Brennan's checks.) The State also introduced documentary evidence, copies of money orders and checks that witnesses testified they tendered to Walker as rent for their units and bank statements from Walker's two Chase Bank accounts showing that such money orders and checks, totaling at least $80, 850, were deposited into her accounts.

         ¶ 10 The State also produced witnesses who were members of the boards of the CAs named in the indictment. These witnesses uniformly testified that Walker was not authorized to rent out units without the approval of the CA boards and, even if she had such approval, she was not authorized to accept payments of any kind directly from tenants.

         ¶ 11 The very first witness called by the State was Annette Byrd, Walker's supervisor at Williamson Management. Byrd testified that she had worked in real estate and property management for over 20 years. Among other things, Byrd explained the procedure by which a CA could gain legal possession of a unit for nonpayment of assessments. In response to a question by the trial court about who owned units where no orders of possession had yet been obtained, Byrd stated that, when a unit had been vacated and was in foreclosure but no order of possession had been issued, the unit could only be rented on a short-term basis. Once the foreclosure was completed and the bank took possession, any rental of the unit would have to end. On cross-examination, the defense attorney pursued this line of questioning. Byrd opined that, if a CA did not have an order of possession to take over a unit, the CA would not be entitled to any rents from that unit. In fact, she agreed that if the CA did not have ...

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