Attorney questions decision to drop theft charge

WOODSTOCK – The attorney for an alleged theft victim is questioning how, after almost four years, a felony charge was dropped by prosecutors three days before trial.

Janice Hoeft, 56, was charged in December 2008 with theft of more than $10,000.

She was accused of charging more than $50,000 in personal expenses to her business credit card for LorEnn Ltd., a company that operates several Hallmark stores.

On Friday, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs, who is chief of the criminal division, dropped the single count against Hoeft.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence to prove it,” Combs said. “In a perfect world, that case never would have been charged.”

Hoeft was represented by attorney William Bligh of the firm Michling, Hofmann, Plaza & Wick. It is also the former firm of Norman Vinton, now first assistant state’s attorney.

Vinton previously filed an appearance on behalf of Hoeft in the civil case against her, said Mark Gummerson, an attorney representing the alleged victim.

“Norm Vinton is [Combs’] boss,” Gummerson said. “That’s the reason for the inherent conflict.”

Gummerson filed a motion to become part of the case, which was denied Monday by McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather, who said that the state’s attorney’s office has discretion on what charges it decides to pursue.

Combs said Vinton was never consulted about the case.

“I reviewed the evidence ... and I didn’t think we were going to prevail, so I’m not going to waste the court’s time going to trial on something I don’t think we can prove,” he said. “I never spoke to Norm Vinton about his case. He had nothing to do with my decision and I never, ever had one single conversation with him about this.”

Gummerson said he is consulting with his client to determine whether they will appeal Prather’s ruling.

Hoeft was accused of spending the money on various personal items, including Waterford crystal, a cruise, shoes, a watch and various home goods.

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