WOODSTOCK – McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi and his executive assistant turned themselves in to authorities this afternoon on state corruption charges.
Bianchi, a second-term Republican, and his executive assistant Joyce Synek were released on their own recognizance. Bianchi, wearing his trademark carnation on his suit lapel, left the McHenry County Jail after being processed about 5 p.m.
Retired Lake County judge Henry Tonigan announced the charges about 1:30 p.m. today almost a year after he was appointed special prosecutor and months after he convened the special grand jury in April. Tonigan declined to comment on whether the special grand jury still was meeting or whether additional indictments were pending.
Bianchi and Synek are accused of conspiring to use county personnel and equipment for Bianchi's personal political benefit, although Bianchi quickly issued a press statement restating his innocence.
A total of 19 counts of official misconduct were filed against Bianchi, along with one count of unlawful communication with a grand jury witness.
"I am stunned by this indictment because I have done nothing wrong,” Bianchi said in the press statement. “In private practice before and in public life now, I have always acted lawfully and with integrity. This episode represents the first time in my 42-year career that my integrity has been questioned."
Bianchi’s defense attorney, Terry Ekl, denounced the allegations as “an example of why people distrust special prosecutors, who have a financial incentive to indict people.”
“I hope they are prepared for a war, because they are going to get it,” Ekl said in a phone interview as his client was being processed.
Synek’s attorney, Ernie DiBenedetto, did not immediately return a call for comment this afternoon.
Synek was named as a conspirator with Bianchi and also charged with one count of obstructing justice and four counts of perjury.
The investigation was launched in September 2009 when McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham appointed Tonigan to investigate former Bianchi secretary Amy Dalby's claims that Bianchi ordered her to conduct his campaign business during her office hours.
Bianchi previously had a special prosecutor appointed to investigate Dalby, who said she took computer files from Bianchi's office to back up her claims. Dalby did not take the files to any authorities and eventually admitted to a misdemeanor charge and received court supervision, but persisted in her claims that Bianchi ordered her to perform campaign work illegally.
The indictment against Bianchi alleges that from 2005 through 2010, Bianchi unlawfully used state's attorney equipment, personnel, and county funds for political purposes, specifically maintaining and updating political contribution lists, speeches, letters of thanks to supporters, political speeches and other campaign matters during public hours.
The indictment also alleges that Synek attempted to destroy evidence of such material on county computers.
Bianchi's official misconduct charges also revolve around a 2007 Festa Italiana political fundraiser where announcements, address labels, spreadsheets from contributors, and other items allegedly were maintained by employees on McHenry County computers.
The unlawful communication charge concerns Thomas Carroll, chief of Bianchi's civil division and one-time first assistant. The indictment alleges that Bianchi confronted Carroll and tried to persuade him against turning over political documents that had been subpoenaed by the grand jury.
Synek's perjury charges relate to repeated assertions to the grand jury that she did not perform political duties for Bianchi on her office computer.
Most of the charges are Class 3 felonies, which carry potential prison terms of up to five years. One conspiracy charge is a Class 4 felony, which carries a maximum prison term of three years.
The cases are set before McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather. But Ekl, Bianchi’s attorney, said he expects all local judges will recuse themselves because of their relationships with Bianchi and his office. Then, the Illinois Supreme Court would appoint a judge to the case, Ekl said.