Once again, the stink of corruption rises from Illinois.
It’s a smell we in the Land of Lincoln have become far too accustomed to – a nauseating stench that has made our state a national punchline and almost certainly contributes to the reasons why people are streaming for the exits.
Just when we think we’ve seen it all – two consecutive governors sent to prison, a congressman and his wife buying elk heads with taxpayer money, a Metra director who may have used it to sow his wild oats, a city clerk who embezzled $54 million for her show horses – we learn that we haven’t.
Just when we think Illinois public officials have hit rock bottom, they find a deeper layer.
Now we come to the tale of Fox Lake Police Lt. Joe Gliniewicz – a fallen hero who turned out to be nothing more than a sneak thief. To say this man betrayed our trust, in life and in death, is a historic understatement.
Gliniewicz, a beloved local cop known as “G.I. Joe,” radioed in on a clear Sept. 1 morning that he was pursuing three suspicious males who took off near an abandoned building. He was found shot dead, just weeks before a retirement he had postponed to serve a bit longer.
Hundreds of police swarmed the area to try to catch the men responsible for killing their brother in blue. The community mourned. They gave a hero’s goodbye to the man who was the face of a vibrant Police Explorers program that gave kids the chance to learn about law enforcement.
As the investigation dragged on into weeks and then months, it was obvious something wasn’t right. Whispers that Gliniewicz may not have been the hero he was made out to be got louder and more frequent. On Wednesday, we learned those whispers were right.
After two months of work, investigators dropped a conclusive bombshell. Gliniewicz had spent seven years skimming thousands of dollars from the Police Explorers post he shepherded to spend on himself, from mortgage payments and loans to travel and visits to adult websites. “G.I. Joe” was, in fact, “G.I. Joke.”
(Yes, I said “conclusive.” The FBI and all the other alphabet-soup agencies involved in this are not helping cover up the super-duper-important goings-on in a town of 10,800 people. Take off the tinfoil hats and try reading a book.)
But the Day of Reckoning inevitably comes for every corrupt official, and the party ends. In Gliniewicz’s case, it was a new village administrator who was auditing everything and showed a particular interest in the Explorers program.
Gliniewicz hardly is the first Illinois public official to take his own life rather than face that awful music, but how he did it is one for the record books. He can’t have believed for one minute his ruse would succeed, which makes me wonder whether this was a carefully-crafted way to inconvenience and hurt as many people as possible.
If it was, he succeeded. And how.
Corruption matters, boys and girls.
We in Illinois have resigned ourselves to it. We either gripe about the money that corruption wastes, or we shake our heads at those such as Rod Blagojevich and Jesse Jackson Jr., say, “Eh, it’s Illinois,” and then we get on with our business.
It’s not just about the money. G.I. Joke proved corruption is anything but funny.
Corruption is why the people of Fox Lake spent days essentially living in an armed camp on lockdown. It’s why it took people hours to get home that fateful day, if they could get home at all.
It’s why people stayed barricaded in their homes, scared out of their wits that three deranged cop killers were on the loose. It’s why they spent their evenings listening to the drone of helicopters and the sounds of search parties.
It’s why children couldn’t sleep because the bad men who killed the policeman might come for them.
Corruption is why people came from all over the nation to give a state funeral with all the trimmings to a huckster who didn’t deserve any of it. He didn’t deserve our tears, either – those terrible and confusing feelings of betrayal and disbelief people are going through right now for having shed them is corruption’s work, too.
And yes, the hefty bill the taxpayers are footing for all of this nonsense – remember the investigation still is ongoing – also is corruption’s fault.
It’s necessary to focus on the financial cost of corruption in this very corrupt state, be it our tax dollars or the donations that poured in from people who now are grappling with being taken for fools.
But if any good comes out of this farce, it’s that maybe people finally are learning corruption also has a real human cost. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll one day be able to learn this the easy way rather than the hard way.
Until that day comes, the G.I. Joke will continue to be on us.
• Senior Reporter Kevin Craver has won more than 70 state and national journalism awards in his 15 years with the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4618 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.