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Crime & Courts

Bianchi's federal lawsuit vs. special prosecutor tossed

CHICAGO – A federal judge tossed McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi’s civil rights lawsuit against the special prosecutor and investigators who twice put him on trial.

Bianchi’s lawsuit alleged that Thomas McQueen and Quest Consultants violated his civil rights as part of a political conspiracy to unseat him. Working with unnamed “political enemies,” McQueen presented false evidence to a grand jury that caused the state’s attorney to be indicted, arrested and prosecuted, the complaint states.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gow dismissed the civil lawsuit once before, but Bianchi quickly filed an amended complaint – this time removing blame from Henry Tonigan, another special prosecutor appointed to investigate the state’s attorney. The amended complaint paints Tonigan as an unwitting accomplice, saying that McQueen withheld witness statements or manufactured evidence in order to “dupe” Tonigan into bringing charges against Bianchi.

“In their second amended complaint, [the] plaintiffs essentially have altered the allegations contained in their first complaint – in some places adding facts, in other places changing or deleting them, and in many instances contradicting their first complaint entirely,” the judge’s ruling read.

Tonigan previously settled, agreeing to pay $157,000 but without admitting any fault.

In his ruling last week, Gow found that McQueen was protected by immunity offered to prosecutors. The judge also rejected claims that McQueen or anyone at Quest was politically motivated to indict the state’s attorney.

“In fact, the complaint [was] devoid of any allegation that Tonigan or McQueen (or any other defendant) even knew of the plaintiffs prior to their appointments by Judge Graham, much less had any political ax to grind,” the ruling read.

McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham in 2009 appointed Tonigan and McQueen to investigate claims that Bianchi had an employee perform campaign work on taxpayer time. A special grand jury approved corruption charges against Bianchi and his secretary, Joyce Synek.

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

After 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 also threw out charges against Salgado and McCleary.

In a separate but related case, Bianchi’s attorney late last year sought to hold McQueen in contempt of court, alleging that McQueen withheld evidence. After a bench trial, McQueen also was acquitted.

To date, county taxpayers have spent almost $780,000 on the special prosecutions.

Attorneys for McQueen and Quest initially contacted county administration about its insurance policy for paying the legal defense in this case, but county officials say that special prosecutors are not covered under its policy.

“We’ve not been asked to participate in paying any defense costs to date,” Deputy County Administration John Labaj said.

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