Another Controversy for Northlake’s Jeffrey Sherwin and Dennis Koletsos

This is an article in todays Chicago Tribune. it amazes me that Jeff Sherwin and Dennis Koletsos are still in their positions as mayor and police chief after the years of controversy and wasted taxpayer money. after reading this I ask why would an organization want to keep the investigation of this felony in house? why wouldn’t they have immediately called an outside agency to avoid a conflict of interest as well as the look of impropriety? hmmmmmm….. makes you wonder!

Dennis Koletsoshttp://cbschicago.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/jeffrey-sherwin-0914.jpg?w=300

               Chief Dennis Koletsos                                            Mayor Jeffrey Sherwin

After a suburban festival finally wrapped up late one weekend night, the town’s finance director said he put the day’s take in a cardboard box in his office — leaving a stash of more than $100,000 gathered in thick stacks of cash from vendors and ticket sellers.

By daylight, the money was gone.

Northlake officials say the theft appeared to be an inside job — only an employee, or someone close to one, would know the money was there and be able to quietly get it.

Yet, more than 18 months later, the cash is still gone and no one has been charged. And adding yet another layer to the mystery: the investigation is headed by the local police chief, who reports to the mayor and whose officers would be investigating fellow city employees.

“I can see where certainly a cynic could say it is … a cover-up and so on,” said longtime Mayor Jeffrey Sherwin. “I’m confident it is not.”

With the case dragging on, the mayor fired the city finance director, William Kabler, in September, alleging negligence for putting the money in his city office instead of a more secure place, such as the Police Department.

Kabler said he has been made to be the “fall guy.” He also argues the investigation should have been turned over to an outside agency, such as the Illinois State Police or FBI, so there “wouldn’t be any prejudices, and there wouldn’t be a conflict.”

Some police experts back Kabler on that point. They say bringing in an outside agency on an inside theft could help dispel allegations of a fix if no one is caught.

“I know of others who would have immediately turned that over to an outside group,” said John Kennedy, director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

The mayor and police chief, both in place since the mid-1990s, stand by the decision to keep the investigation locally controlled.

The heist

The high-dollar, dark-of-night theft in June of 2011 stung a western suburb that has tried to cultivate a small-town feel just south of bustling O’Hare International Airport. Two days after the money disappeared, the mayor decided to break the news to residents by typing up a letter to the roughly 4,000 local households.

“I thought it would be best to inform you of a serious situation before rumors and inaccurate information began to circulate throughout the community,” the mayor’s letter began.

Days earlier, the finance director was wrapping up his duties at the annual Northlake Days, a three-day festival punctuated by tribute bands, fireworks and a car show.

With a police officer following him for security, Kabler said he moved cash collected that day — much of it in singles and small bills — in a nondescript cardboard box from an office at the fest to his car.

Kabler said the police officer then tailed him as he drove to City Hall, where he placed the box of cash under a chair in his office. He said he left about 1 a.m. Sunday, believing his office door was locked behind him.

Kabler said that when he returned about 8 a.m. Sunday, his office door was unlocked. The box was still there, he said, but the money wasn’t. Another employee was in City Hall at the time and Kabler said about six other employees had keys to his office.

“I walked out and said, ‘Is this a joke?'” Kabler recalled.

Kabler said the other employee called the police, and a further search of the building revealed a computer tied to the City Hall’s cameras was also gone.

In all, the city said $102,604.25 was stolen.

But, Kabler said, the thief didn’t touch a petty cash box in his office or the wallet he accidentally left on his desk or anything else of value in the building.

Investigation

To the mayor and Kabler, it all pointed to an inside job.

“Honestly, I don’t think it was someone from the outside,” Sherwin said, adding later: “Anyone who knew (the money) would be there would absolutely be a prime suspect.”

And one of them was Kabler, a longtime numbers guy who had been with Northlake since 2003.

Police officers questioned Kabler that day and again in an interrogation room a few days later, Kabler said. Then, Kabler said, he was asked to take a lie detector test the following week.

Kabler said he was uneasy about the local police chief handling the case because the two didn’t get along. He got a lawyer — drawing criticism from the mayor — but said he still took the test. Kabler said he was told he passed the test.

Turning to focus on his job, Kabler submitted a claim for the six-figure theft to the city’s insurance carrier.

Weeks turned into months, and still no one was charged as rumors swirled around City Hall.

Police Chief Dennis Koletsos declined to reveal many details of the investigation. But he declared that he is certain none of his officers was involved in the theft, including the one who followed Kabler to City Hall that night.

“We know our officers were not involved,” Koletsos said, declining to elaborate.

The chief also defended keeping the investigation in-house, stressing that his investigators wouldn’t be deterred from locking up a city employee. He said he has leaned on other agencies, including the Illinois State Police, for “resources.”

No arrests

The mayor said it didn’t occur to him early on to consider going to an outside department. Because so few people knew the money was there, Sherwin said he thought the thief would be caught quickly.

But that didn’t happen.

By early 2012, records show the insurance carrier was wondering how to process the city’s claim. Did the claim fall under a clause for employee theft or a more typical theft by an outsider?

Records show the police chief sent a letter to the city’s insurance carrier in March saying the claim should be processed as a typical theft.

“As the investigation continues, we feel that someone from outside the city employees is responsible for this loss,” Koletsos wrote in the brief letter.

The chief declined to comment on that letter, and he also declined to discuss whether he believes the thief was a city employee or not, saying any such talk “could possibly compromise this.”

The insurance agency cut the city a check to cover the loss, minus a $2,500 deductible, the mayor said.

After another Northlake Days fest passed in 2012, Kabler said other employees were suddenly subjected to lie detector tests.

On Sept. 12 the mayor fired Kabler.

In a letter to the City Council, the mayor wrote that he fired Kabler for “negligence” in handling the money.

For his part, Kabler said he was just doing what he had done in years past, and he said that neither the mayor nor any other city official told him to keep the money elsewhere.

The mayor said he didn’t know the money would be stashed at City Hall, an assertion Kabler disputes.

“Everyone knew what was going on,” Kabler said.

The mayor said he is still hoping the thief is caught. He is seeking his fifth term this year. Sherwin first won his seat in 1997, financing his campaign with his share of a $42 million lottery award split with family members.

For the next Northlake Days, Sherwin said the town will have the carnival operators keep the money throughout the event, then settle up with the city afterward.

“It is a small town. You get comfortable and complacent. You trust people,” Sherwin said. “I think everyone got a little too comfortable with the way things were being handled.”

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