Bianchi: Undersheriff violated no laws

McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi (left) and Undersheriff Andrew Zinke
McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi (left) and Undersheriff Andrew Zinke

WOODSTOCK – After allegations that Undersheriff Andrew Zinke tipped off a close friend about a federal drug investigation, a judge declined to appoint a special prosecutor and now the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office says Zinke broke no laws.

Sgt. John Koziol alleged in court documents that Zinke tipped the owner of a Crystal Lake business that was part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation into the transportation of thousands of pounds of marijuana.

Koziol sought a special prosecutor to investigate Zinke, which Judge Thomas A. Meyer denied last month, saying there was no per se conflict between the sheriff’s office and the state’s attorney’s office.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi then began an investigation.

“It is the conclusion of the State’s Attorney’s Office that even if all of the facts as set forth in Sergeant Koziol’s Petition and Affidavit were true (that is, the purported leaking of the DEA investigation by Undersheriff Zinke), such conduct is not illegal under Illinois law,” Bianchi said in a news release.

“While some may consider the dissemination of what would appear to be highly confidential and sensitive information an alarming and problematic matter, such conduct does not violate the Official Misconduct Statute.”

Whether the allegations are true and whether Zinke violated general orders is up to Sheriff Keith Nygren to resolve, Bianchi said.

Bianchi also cited an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that makes it clear that a police department’s rules and regulations – for instance the sheriff’s general orders – are not laws.

Bianchi declined to comment on whether anyone from his office spoke with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as part of the investigation.

Sheriff Nygren, however, said he spoke with Brian Besser, the agent in charge of the DEA’s Rockford office, shortly after the allegations against Zinke were made.

“He indicated that he would turn it over to the Office of Professional Standards and would be in touch with me if they found any violation of federal laws or any policies with the DEA,” Nygren said. “I’ve never been contacted back. My assumption is they’re finished with this thing.”

But his office is not, Nygren said.

An internal investigation was launched and is ongoing.

“The feds took a look at it, nothing. The state had a look at it, nothing,” Nygren said. “Now we’re having a look at it. It’s a three-prong investigation. We’re still waiting for the last prong.”

Nygren said he would reserve further comment until the investigation is finished, at which time he will take whatever action he deems appropriate – ranging from no action to termination of Zinke.

Zinke declined to comment Tuesday, but previously said that Koziol is a disgruntled employee who recently was transferred out of the narcotics unit to patrol.

In addition, Koziol’s attorney has ties to Jim Harrison, Zinke’s political opponent in the 2014 race for sheriff.

RITA Corp., the business that Koziol alleged was part of the DEA investigation, is owned by Brian Goode, a close friend of Zinke’s who has contributed to the political campaigns of Nygren and, more recently, Zinke.

Goode also serves on the sheriff’s department’s Merit Commission.

Goode has said his business was a victim, not a participant, and that the marijuana apparently was placed on common-carrier trucks transporting materials to RITA Corp. by third parties attempting to smuggle it into the United States.

He said neither he nor RITA Corp. had any knowledge of and were not involved in the marijuana being on any trucks.

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