WOODSTOCK – In an interview with his superiors, former McHenry Police Officer Dale Hojnacki admitted to taking drugs and money from the department's evidence room, testimony revealed Wednesday.
The taped interview was played before McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather, who sentenced Hojnacki to six months in McHenry County Jail.
Hojnacki, an 11-year veteran of the police department, previously pleaded guilty to charges of theft under $10,000 and official misconduct for taking seized drug money.
"The McHenry Police Department is not a typical victim. Mr. Hojnacki is not a typical defendant," Prather said. "Whether you like it or not, Mr. Hojnacki, once you take an oath of office to serve and protect, you're held to a higher standard than anyone else.
"As a police officer, you should have known better," the judge said.
In the recorded interview, Hojnacki said he took keys to the police evidence room, cut evidence bags with a razor blade along the integrity tape, then placed another layer of tape on top. In one instance, he replaced the money with photocopied $20 bills.
He also admitted in the recording that he took pain pills and marijuana from seized evidence.
Throughout the interview, Hojnacki maintained that he was going to repay the stolen money.
"I never meant for it to go this far, I really didn't," he said in the recording. "It was self-preservation and problems with addictions that got me there."
As part of a plea agreement, Hojnacki never was charged with any crimes related to stolen drugs.
In addition to his 180-day jail sentence, Hojnacki was ordered to pay restitution totaling $8,556.88 – $3,706.88 for the money he admitted to taking from the evidence bags and $4,850 the department paid for an independent audit that resulted.
The department hired an independent auditor to inspect its evidence room and found that 43 cases had been tampered with, all of which now are closed.
Prather denied a Northwest Herald Freedom of Information Act request asking that the audit be unsealed.
When arguing for time in the Department of Corrections, Assistant State's Attorney Michael Combs called Hojnacki's actions "a complete disgrace" and said he compromised the integrity and public trust of the police department. Combs has said that there could be evidentiary problems related to McHenry arrests as a result of the tampered-with narcotics.
Though he hoped for prison time, McHenry Police Chief John Jones said he will accept the judgment as it was handed down.
"It's worth it if a thief amongst us is identified, put in jail, and no longer wearing a McHenry Police uniform," Jones said.