The official in charge of insurance matters at Metra when it obtained the policy that would have protected the agency against a lawsuit by its ousted CEO has been placed on administrative leave, the Tribune has learned.
Richard Capra, who currently is Metra's $153,000-a-year chief internal watchdog, will remain on the payroll while his handling of the controversial insurance issue can be investigated, officials said Tuesday.
In June, Metra's board signed off on a settlement worth up to $871,000, supposedly to avoid a protracted, multimillion-dollar legal battle with former CEO Alex Clifford.
In doing so, the board failed to take advantage of a liability insurance policy that would have provided the agency with up to $10 million in coverage against a lawsuit filed by Clifford. At most, Metra would have been liable for $150,000 in deductible costs, an audit by the Regional Transportation Authority found.
Capra, who helped the agency purchase the policy, was placed on leave after a closed session of Metra's board Friday. Citing personnel policy, board members and Metra staff declined to discuss the matter. Capra could not be reached for comment.
Several board members have acknowledged that they were told insurance coverage existed, but they said they did not ask about the deductible because their attorney downplayed the policy's usefulness in regards to Clifford.
A bruising RTA report has criticized the Metra board for, among other things, not consulting staff members -- particularly those with information about the insurance policy -- during the Clifford severance negotiations. Their exclusion prevented the board from fully vetting their options in regards to the severance package, RTA auditor Michael Zumach said.
Still, acting Chairman Jack Partelow said the board placed Capra on leave until it can determine why members were blindsided by the insurance policy's deductible and $10 million ceiling.
"This insurance (policy) was a huge deal, and we need to know more about it," he said.
Current board member Jack Schaffer, a Clifford supporter and the only member to vote against the severance deal, said he was "out of the loop."
In his draft report, Zumach said Metra's board should have considered using the insurance policy instead of settling with Clifford but that the option was not considered.
Since February 2012, Capra has been Metra's chief audit and compliance officer. As such, he is responsible for investigating fraud and waste.
Capra was in charge of risk management at Metra for four years. An attorney, he previously worked in Metra's legal department and at private law firms.
Board members, including Paul Darley and then-acting Chairman Larry Huggins, praised Capra when he was appointed by unanimous vote to the post in January 2012.
As a safeguard against the abuses alleged by former Executive Director Phil Pagano, Capra reported directly to Metra's board instead of to the agency's CEO.
Metra began severance talks with Clifford last spring after he wrote an eight-page memo that accused board members of retaliating against him because he refused to capitulate to patronage demands placed on the agency.
The severance package sparked a political firestorm that has prompted the departures of six board members and led to two ethics investigations.
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