County OKs funding for special prosecutor payment

Chairwoman cut check last week

WOODSTOCK – Without discussion, the McHenry County Board approved the funding from which it paid the $378,327 it owed special prosecutors appointed to investigate vindicated State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi.

Tuesday evening’s vote was more of a procedural matter, since the county already paid the bill last week to avoid accruing late fees included in the court order mandating the payment.

A majority of the board’s Finance and Audit Committee agreed last week to let Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, pay the bill immediately.

The resolution to take the amount from the contingency fund was approved, 24-0, under the County Board’s routine consent agenda.

County taxpayers to date have paid almost $780,000 for an investigation that brought 32 corruption charges that either were thrown out of court or resulted in acquittals.

McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham appointed special prosecutors Henry Tonigan and Thomas McQueen to investigate claims by Bianchi’s former secretary that he had her do campaign work for him on taxpayer time. A special grand jury handed down 21 corruption counts against Bianchi and six against secretary Joyce Synek.

Graham authorized McQueen and Tonigan to expand their investigation, which resulted in three more charges against Bianchi and one each against state’s attorney investigators Ron Salgado and Michael McCleary.

In two bench trials in 2011, a Winnebago County judge acquitted Bianchi and Synek of all charges without the defense having to call a single witness. The judge threw out the charges against Salgado and McCleary.

The County Board unsuccessfully fought the special prosecutors’ bills in court, arguing they should not have been paid $250 an hour, but $91.50 an hour based on the state’s attorney’s annual salary.

The county recouped $105,000 from Tonigan’s settlement of a civil-rights lawsuit filed against him and McQueen by the former defendants. The County Board agreed to pay $275,000 to help cover Bianchi’s and Synek’s legal fees in exchange for reimbursement should they receive damages. The lawsuit alleges false arrest, malicious prosecution and conspiracy initiated by Bianchi’s political enemies to remove him from office.

Tonigan denied culpability in agreeing to the settlement, but the lawsuit against McQueen is ongoing. McQueen has asked the county to pay for his legal defense.

State lawmakers last year passed a law, inspired by the Bianchi case, that puts limits on judges’ ability to appoint special prosecutors. Another McHenry County judge has rejected two other requests to appoint special prosecutors regarding conduct in the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.

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