Supporters of McHenry County sheriff's candidate Bill Prim have thrown a one-two electoral punch at opponent Andrew Zinke in the days leading up to the March 18 primary.
State's Attorney Lou Bianchi on Thursday alleged he has linked what he called libelous comments about him posted on a local blog to Zinke's campaign manager. A day later, attorney Robert Hanlon filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging Zinke illegally ran the license plates of a person who served him a summons for a deposition in an 8-year-old defamation case in which Hanlon is the defendant.
But while the acrimonious race between Prim and Zinke for the GOP nod for sheriff is center stage with the recent developments, they have connections to another as well, namely an effort at the April caucus of the McHenry County Republican Party to replace its officers with new blood.
Hanlon filed a lawsuit Friday alleging that Zinke misused the Law Enforcement Agencies Database System, commonly known as LEADS, after losing his temper with the person who served him the evening of Jan. 13 with a summons to be deposed. The lawsuit alleges the person had to leave the summons at his feet because he would not accept it by hand, and alleges that Zinke "began yelling and screamed in response to being served with a simple subpoena."
Hanlon describes plaintiff Sondra Matterness in the court filing as "78 years of age with a bad hip." While the lawsuit identifies her as the owner of the car, it does not state whether she was the one who delivered the summons.
The complaint alleges Zinke "in an indignant rage" raced outside in his socks and stood in front of Matterness' vehicle for about two minutes while making a note of the license plate before he "yielded and strutted back to his residence." Zinke has access to the LEADS system as county undersheriff.
Zinke on Monday defended his use of LEADS and tells a different version of events from Hanlon's. He said he got a knock at his door at night from a "scary-looking lady dressed in all black" who said nothing, waved papers in his face and threw them at his feet. He said he followed her to her car continuing to ask who she is and got her license plate,
"You show up at my house in the dark, at night, in a quasi-threatening way and wave an envelope at me and don't say anything?" Zinke said. "Yeah, I'm going to see who you are. I do that for a living. I'm in law enforcement, my wife's in law enforcement, I've got two young children at home, yeah, I'm going to find out."
Hanlon, who supports Prim and has donated to his campaign, could not be reached for comment. But Prim in a news release seized upon both allegations after they were posted on McHenry County Blog, whose author, Cal Skinner, opposes Zinke.
"Anyone in law enforcement knows that it is a violation to use LEADS for personal reasons," Prim wrote. "For someone of Mr. Zinke's rank to abuse the system is, if the allegation is true, extremely troubling. He is supposed to be setting an example for the rest of the Sheriff's Office."
The lawsuit for which Zinke was being summoned does not involve Zinke, who is named as an "interested party." Charles August, an organizer for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, sued Hanlon in 2006, alleging he libeled him in an article in another newspaper. The court sided with Hanlon, but that ruling was overturned last year on appeal.
Zinke blasted the timing of the summons and the lawsuit. He said Hanlon approached him in October at a police chiefs' meeting in Marengo about serving him with a subpoena. Zinke said he told Hanlon to serve him at the courthouse and heard nothing until January.
"This entire thing is to muddy the water a week before the election," Zinke said. "Anyone in their right mind can connect the dots back to my opponent."
Bianchi's allegation against Zinke's campaign also deals with a defamation lawsuit, but with Bianchi as a plaintiff. He sued in December over statements made on Skinner's blog by a commenter identified as "Fukuoku Kyohei."
On Thursday, Bianchi said his privately funded search led him to the IP address of Crystal Lake-based Oak Star Property Management. While not directly accusing her, Bianchi pointed out the administrative contact for the company's website is Tamara DeModica, who is Zinke's campaign manager.
DeModica on Monday emphatically denied that either her or her husband, who is the company president, wrote the posts. She said she does not visit Skinner's blog, and said that she considers herself close friends with Bianchi, and stood by him during his successful fight against corruption allegations filed by special prosecutors and thrown out of court for lack of evidence.
"I'm really shocked that Lou would do this to me," DeModica said. "Honestly, I just went to his fundraiser in August. He bought my tickets for me. That's how friendly we are."
Bianchi said Monday that he has to go on the facts based on what his attorneys are doing.
Bianchi, who has been engaged in a years-long feud with Zinke's boss, retiring Sheriff Keith Nygren, actively supports Prim. Bianchi and Hanlon have involved themselves with an effort to replace the GOP leadership with a new four-member slate that backs Prim as sheriff.
Hanlon is running as precinct committeeman in Dorr Township 11 against incumbent and County Board member John Jung. Precinct committeemen in the month following each primary elect the county GOP's officers, and Hanlon's votes are among those needed to elect the new slate of Chairwoman Sandra Salgado, Vice Chairman Andrew Gasser, Secretary Diane Evertsen and Treasurer Charles Wheeler. Salgado is the daughter of state's attorney's office investigator Ron Salgado, who, like Bianchi, was indicted by the special prosecutors and whose case was likewise dismissed.
Bianchi calls his involvement in the effort minimal. Gasser, who also is running for County Board, echoed Bianchi's statement and said the new leadership team has no involvement in or advance knowledge of Hanlon's or Bianchi's lawsuits.
"I can honestly tell you that there have been no communications whatsoever between the new leadership team and the Prim campaign regarding this issue," Gasser said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of campaign manager Tamara DeModica's name, and to clarify plaintiff Sondra Matterness' role in the lawsuit.