Government

Former McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi reflects on lengthy career

WOODSTOCK – Lou Bianchi didn’t spend his last day as McHenry County state’s attorney in his courthouse office.

Instead, he traveled more than 70 miles south to Stateville Correctional Center alongside members of his staff to attend a parole hearing for Philip Soper, a former McHenry man convicted in 1971 of killing two people.

Bianchi of Crystal Lake said where he physically spent his first and last day might have been different, the two days more than 12 years apart were similar in one way: He was doing justice.

“You end your career continuing to protect society,” Bianchi told the Northwest Herald.

Bianchi completed his third and final term as state’s attorney on Nov. 30, a day before he attended the swearing-in ceremony at the McHenry County Courthouse for his successor, Patrick Kenneally.

Kenneally entered the race after Bianchi announced his decision, months before the March primary, to withdraw his candidacy and not seek a fourth term.

Bianchi’s early tenure seemed just a political blip in the McHenry County Republican party, but the power he eventually amassed was formidable. When he took office in 2004, Bianchi enjoyed the early backing and political blessing of then-Sheriff Keith Nygren and the party establishment, but that crashed violently in open political warfare and Bianchi himself facing two corruption indictments, both of which he beat.

Not only did Bianchi score legal victories in the cases against him, he and his supporters settled political scores and essentially took over the McHenry County GOP. Sandra Salgado, the local Republican chairwoman, is the daughter of one of Bianchi’s closest confidants in the state’s attorney’s office. Bianchi’s chosen candidate, McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim, wrestled control away from Nygren and his supporters in 2014, and his mentee now holds the other most significant law enforcement position in the county, which Bianchi held for more than a decade.

As a young adult, Bianchi wasn’t interested in attending college and spent most of his time working at a family-owned grocery store in Chicago, and often told people he wanted to trim head lettuce for the rest of his life.

It wasn’t until his father asked him to give college a shot that he ended up at Saint Joseph’s College in Indiana. He majored in accounting as he was interested in business and took a few business law courses.

After college, he decided to go on and get a law degree because he thought it would afford him more opportunities, a sentiment he still believes in today.

“There’s a lot of lawyers, probably too many, but I always encourage people when I meet them to go on to law school because it will open a lot of opportunities,” Bianchi said.

Bianchi began his career in law in 1968 working in Cook County as an assistant state’s attorney. Bianchi left in 1973 to work in McHenry County as an assistant state’s attorney alongside his longtime business partner Jim Boback. Boback and Bianchi worked together for the next two decades, owning five video stores, three music stores and one ice cream/popcorn store.

Bianchi worked for two law firms in the early 2000s before he was first elected as McHenry County state’s attorney in 2004 after defeating Glenn Gable in the March Republican primary.

Now, reflecting on his career in the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, he recalled 12 years filled with many successes and struggles.

Earlier on in his career, Bianchi implemented a number of specialty courts including Mental Health Court, Adult Drug Court and Domestic Violence Court. He also created the First Offender Program, which has graduated 107 participants since its creation in 2010.

In addition to these programs, the office recovered $39,400 in back rent from the Illinois Department of Employment Security from 2001 through 2004, initiated a policy to handle most civil suits in house rather than through outside counsel and participated in various community-based programs throughout the county.

Bianchi also noted the successful prosecutions of William Ross, first-degree murder; Howard Dibbern, first-degree murder; Scott Peters, attempted murder; Michael Romano, first-degree murder and Billy J. Cox, attempted murder and aggravated domestic
battery.

Despite some of the murder convictions, Bianchi inherited a 14-year-old murder case that was prosecuted but then recently overturned by the 2nd District Appellate Court.

Mario Casciaro was convicted in 2013 in the death of 17-year-old Brian Carrick. Carrick was last seen Dec. 20, 2002, at the grocery store where he worked, and his body was never found.

The verdict was reversed because evidence was so lacking and improbable that the state failed to prove Casciaro’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, according to the decision.

Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court denied a request from the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office to hear an appeal on the appellate court decision.

There was early controversy in 2008, when Bianchi asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether former secretary Amy Dalby took thousands of “confidential and sensitive” documents with her when she resigned, and provided them to the media and Bianchi’s political opponents.

Bianchi and his secretary, Joyce Synek, were indicted in September 2010 on accusations from Dalby that he was doing political work on taxpayer time. This came a year after former McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham appointed prosecutors to investigate the claims.

The initial indictment was followed in February 2011 by three more counts against Bianchi, and one each against state’s attorney investigators Ron Salgado and Michael McCleary.

A judge threw out all counts against Synek and Bianchi after two bench trials in 2010 and 2011.

“When I came into office, I ended favoritism and preferential treatment, and I think that the benefactors of that previous favoritism and preferential treatment were upset and really initiated a battle to destroy me, my family and our office,” Bianchi said.

Bianchi said while he was confident he committed no wrongdoing, the situation did cast doubt and concern among his family, friends and supporters. He said the prosecutions that that he characterized as political attacks made him more cautious about charging others, as he felt “falsely and inappropriately” accused.

Looking forward, Bianchi said he hopes Kenneally will continue with and build on the office’s previous accomplishments. Bianchi said while he plans to continue working in some capacity, what’s next will be determined after some time off spent with his wife, Jean.

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