EDITORIAL: A lesson in trusting government

In one small corner of America, faith in government institutions should be surging.

That corner is Port Washington and its environs, whose residents have a reason to defy the national trend of waning trust in the ability of the federal government to serve the needs of its citizens.

Recent polling shows that two-thirds of Americans do not trust their government to do what is right.

But for the members of the Port Washington-Saukville parish of St. John XXIII and the students, parents and staff of Port Catholic School and its many supporters in the community, all of whom were victims of a shocking crime, federal government agencies did exactly what was right.

More than half a million dollars was stolen from the parish in spring through a sophisticated and cleverly executed scam. It was a devastating loss. The money had been donated to help pay for an addition to the school and there was little hope of recovering it.

There was not much the Port Washington Police Department could do, yet what it did was certainly right. It alerted federal authorities, and three of the government agencies so many Americans mistrust—the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s office and the Internal Revenue Service—got on the case.

The feds took the small-town crime seriously, put their resources to work and, in an astonishing outcome, recovered much of the stolen money.

Exactly how the scam was pulled off remains unclear, but somehow the perpetrators, most likely with information from hacked emails, were able to establish a fraudulent bank account number for an electronic payment by the parish of $510,000 that was intended for the construction company building the school addition. Shortly after the wire transfer was completed, the parish was informed the money never reached the contractor.

The Better Business Bureau’s chief of investigations in the Milwaukee area, Lisa Schiller, was aghast at the enormity of the theft. When informed of the crime by Ozaukee Press, she exclaimed, “My God in heaven! That’s the largest amount I ever heard of.”

She added that recovering the money stolen through fraudulent wire transfers is “very, very unlikely.”

This was an especially cruel theft by fraud. Not only did it involve an enormous sum of money, but it was money taken in effect from the numerous Port Washington-Saukville area families that had made donations, many in increments that were small but generous in terms of the families’ means, to give new vitality to a community institution.

That institution, Port Catholic School, along with its predecessors, St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s Schools in Port Washington and Immaculate Conception School in Saukville, has educated generations of local families. The $5.6 million expansion and remodeling of the school, achieved in an era when many parochial schools are closing for lack of financial support, is now a remarkable story of what can be accomplished through grass-roots effort, energy and uncommon generosity.

That story took a gloomy turn when the reality of the loss of half a million dollars owed to a contractor set in. But then came word that federal investigators had learned that the stolen funds had been divided into deposits made at eight different U.S. banks and at least the some of the money could be recovered.

As Port Catholic opened Tuesday for its first school year as an expanded and modernized learning place for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, more than half of the stolen money had been returned to the parish and more could be coming. (What is not recovered will be replaced by insurance coverage.)

As Port Catholic students learn their lessons, including those taught as part of the school’s new emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, adults in the community can learn something from the school as well.

The recovery of the stolen funds, led, ironically, by the widely reviled tax collectors of the IRS, serves as a lesson that the government agencies and their workers that are so often denigrated by anti-government politicians and mistrusted by many citizens are essential to a functioning democratic society.   


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login