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Letter reveals investigation into jail contract

Published: Monday, April 7, 2014 5:12 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 7, 2014 11:05 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – A letter from an upset former McHenry County employee has a County Board committee wanting answers from the State's Attorney's Office regarding its investigation into a Sheriff's Office contract.

The March 10 letter from retired purchasing director Cathy Link asks the county to pay her $550 legal bill for her representation when she was interviewed by state's attorney investigator Michael McCleary regarding whether the sheriff's office entered a no-bid contract for jail medical services. The letter alleges that she should not have to pay for legal representation on a matter of county business, and that McCleary acted intimidating toward her and her son.

While the State's Attorney's Office maintains that the County Board does not have the authority to pay the bill, the request raised concerns from the Law and Justice Committee that discussed the matter Monday morning. Several raised concerns over not only McCleary's alleged conduct, but also whether the investigation has a political motive tied into State's Attorney Lou Bianchi's support of sheriff's candidate Bill Prim over Undersheriff Andrew Zinke in the March 18 primary.

"To me, the timing appears questionable," said County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, who received the letter from Link.

Bianchi on Monday afternoon declined comment on the investigation, but blasted the idea that it was politically motivated. Bianchi and retiring Sheriff Keith Nygren have been well-documented adversaries, whose squabbles have often resulted in taxpayer-funded legal battles. Prim, who narrowly won the primary by 97 votes, pledged if elected to repair the damage between the two offices.

"That's ludicrous. They should know better than to suggest that this had anything to do with the primary," Bianchi said.

But several committee members want to hear from Bianchi's office, acknowledging that they only have the side of the story that Link has provided.

The letter, dated the week before the primary, alleges that McCleary in October 2013 came to her DeKalb home wanting to discuss the matter, and tried to intimidate her son into giving him her cell phone number. Her son called her and she told McCleary that she would not answer any questions over the phone. Link directed county purchasing from 2005 until her 2012 retirement.

She obtained counsel, who arranged a meeting between Link and McCleary, along with another investigator, shortly thereafter at the attorney's Sycamore office. Link wrote that she would not answer any questions, and McCleary "threw a subpoena at me and stated, 'I figured as much, consider yourself served,'" with a hearing scheduled less than a week later. That hearing was subsequently canceled, according to the letter.

"In summary, I am being charged $550.00 for legal representation on a matter that was clearly County business. Had I still been an active employee of the County rather than a retired employee of the County, I am sure the County would have taken care of this charge [sic]," Link wrote.

Link could not be reached for comment Monday. The $550 bill is dated Feb. 20, about a month before the primary.

The contract in question is a three-year deal with Nashville, Tenn.-based Correct Care Solutions to provide health care at the county jail. The County Board in 2008 approved a three-year deal worth a total of $5.1 million. However, a one-year purchase order was granted by the sheriff's office for the 2012 fiscal year after the contract expired in 2011, current Purchasing Director Donald Gray said. Any contract more than $20,000 has to go through a sealed bid process and be ratified by the full County Board.

"At the end of the 'time frame' of that agreement, another purchase order was issued with no bid or anything," Gray said.

Correct Care is still providing health care at the jail, but under a contract that went through the bidding process and was ratified, Gray said.

Law and Justice Committee member John Jung, R-Woodstock, said he is concerned with how Link, a respected former employee, said she was treated.

"If you have a subpoena, you could probably just go and serve it to her without making a big deal about it and being abusive," Jung said.

Bianchi defended the conduct of McCleary; he stated that investigators are tasked with solving crimes, and also noted that McCleary was accompanied both times by another investigator who vouched for him. He also turned the question of timing around, wondering why the letter came the week before the primary when the bill was dated late February.

But committee member Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, said he would like to get some reassurance on the investigation's motives.

"When you look at that, it looks political, and that office should, and does, know its limits," Gottemoller said.

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