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Lake County coroner resigns, pleads guilty to felony charges

WAUKEGAN – Lake County coroner Richard Keller resigned Tuesday after pleading guilty to two felony charges, officials with the Illinois State’s Attorney’s office said.

Keller plead guilty to charges of obstruction of justice and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance after a grand jury investigation that commenced in February 2009.

After the guilty pleas, Keller resigned from his post, effective immediately, officials said.Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran has assumed the duties of coroner until a replacement is named by Lake County Board Chairman David Stolman.

According to Illinois law, a new coroner must be named within 60 days. That person – who must be of the same political party as Keller, a Democrat – will serve out the remainder of the term, which ends in November 2012, Stolman said.

A call to Keller’s cell phone was not immediately returned.

Keller is the former director of the Green Dragonfly Methadone Clinic in Waukegan. The clinic ceased operations in September 2009 after an investigation determined the clinic was not in compliance with state and federal regulations.

Before Green Dragonfly closed, a series of grand jury subpoenas were issued in May 2009 for the records of the clinic. A search warrant was issued for all records of the clinic in September 2009. Records and documents that Keller previously had failed to turn over after the subpoenas were seized pursuant to that search, officials said.

Keller’s failure to turn over those records resulted in the obstruction of justice charge, officials said.

In the course of the State’s Attorney’s investigation of the case, controlled substance prescriptions issued by Keller to patients and employees of Green Dragonfly were reviewed. Numerous interviews were conducted of those who received prescriptions from Keller, officials said.

Medical experts who were consulted to review the prescriptions concluded that Keller failed to perform required physical examinations and mandatory testing before issuing the prescriptions. Keller’s actions fell below the reasonable standard of medical care for prescribing controlled substances, officials said.

A statement released by Keller’s attorney said that in his efforts to assist patients recovering from heroin and other substance addictions, Keller made mistakes in prescribing pain medication and in recordkeeping.

In the statement, Keller said his guilty pleas should not reflect on the coroner’s office or its employees.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished during my six years as coroner,” Keller said in the statement. “I have sought to provide comfort to victims’ family members, assist victims of abuse and assist people in getting treatment.”

Keller has been placed on 24 months felony probation and was ordered to surrender his medical license and his drug enforcement administration license to prescribe narcotic drugs.

Keller was in the middle of his second term in office. He first was elected coroner in 2004.

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