Designer purse controversy costs Lake County official his job

CROWN POINT, Ind. - A northern Indiana solid waste district has ended its longtime leader's contract following accusations he misled board members about a designer purse he purchased for a female subordinate.

The Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board voted 22-0 Wednesday to terminate Jeff Langbehn's contract and provide him with three months of severance pay.

Attorneys for Langbehn and the waste district said Langbehn has signed a release form pledging not to sue the board or its members for ending his contract after 21 years as the district's leader.

Langbehn had spent more than $750 on a designer purse and accessories on his government credit card for waste district recycling educator Lara Gonzalez.

He had claimed the purse was actually a briefcase purchased for Gonzalez as a graduation gift after she completed her master's degree, The Times of Munster reported.

Langbehn again characterized the purchase as a briefcase at a July public meeting of the waste district board that saw board members and Langbehn clash over the propriety of purchasing expensive gifts using taxpayer money.

In early August, The Times obtained an itemized store receipt from the waste district showing the purchased items were actually a sapphire blue Michael Kors designer purse, two wallets and a wristlet.

Langbehn's fate was discussed during an executive session of the waste district board on Aug. 18, leading to Wednesday night's meeting and vote to end his contract.

Langbehn, who was not present for Wednesday's vote, "didn't care to be here," said his attorney, John Reed.

Waste district board member George Jerome said Langbehn's termination is a chance for the board to improve how it does business after facing weeks of criticism for not paying close enough attention to Langbehn's spending practices.

"The board needs to do a better job, there's no doubt about that," Jerome said. "We need better oversight and stricter guidelines."

Langbehn will receive three months' severance pay and the cash equivalent of his benefits, totaling about $36,000 paid over the three months.
 

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