For WDCB FM 90.9, the public radio station licensed to College of DuPage, the long nightmare finally ended Tuesday.
John Valenta, who was employed as the station’s engineer for 30 years, pleaded guilty in DuPage County Circuit Court to felony theft in connection with what investigators said was a 16-year scheme that bilked the station out of more than $400,000. As part of his plea agreement, Valenta faces a minimum of six years in prison. Sentencing will be May 19.
“I’m pleased that this chapter in the station’s history is in the past,” Dan Bindert, station manager of WDCB, said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m happy that justice has been served.”
It was Bindert who uncovered Valenta’s massive fraud shortly after Bindert joined the public radio/jazz outlet in October 2013. An examination of Valenta’s excessive overtime hours eventually led Bindert to question the engineer’s exorbitant billing for transmitter parts and other equipment. An investigation found that false invoices were being paid to Broadcast Technologies Inc., a company Valenta secretly owned, and that the equipment he ordered was never installed.
Valenta’s employment was terminated in February 2014. One year later he was arrested and charged with felony theft. “The allegations in this case clearly illustrate the concept of simple greed,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said at the time. “The defendant had a good job for more than two decades before he allegedly decided to illegally supplement his income at the expense of the College of DuPage.”
It turned out Valenta had been convicted a few years earlier of a similar scam while working as an engineer at another radio station in DuPage County, Elmhurst College’s WRSE FM 88.7. In that case, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay $11,270 in restitution.
Jury selection for Valenta’s trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday. Instead he entered a guilty plea to one count of felony theft as part of an agreement.
“Mr. Valenta’s fraud violated the public trust in addition to harming the college,” Ann Rondeau, president of College of DuPage, said in a statement. “Now that he has admitted his guilt, the college will continue its efforts to ensure that he is held fully accountable, including by seeking restitution.”
Sources said Valenta never had direct access to membership funds or listener donations to the radio station.
Based in west suburban Glen Ellyn, WDCB bills itself as “Chicago’s Home for Jazz.” It also broadcasts from Chicago's West Loop over WRTE FM 90.7.