LAKEWOOD – An anonymous letter that has made its way to village residents’ mailboxes makes a number of disturbing accusations against village president candidate Paul Serwatka.
The accusations about Serwatka’s past are not new – they were first aired a year ago by one of his opponents in his unsuccessful bid for state representative. The one-page letter accuses Serwatka of having a criminal record, alleges past lawsuits for not paying bills and claims he does not own the home in which he and his family live.
But public records reveal that accusations raised in the letter are either false or exaggerated.
Serwatka, who was elected to the Village Board in 2015 as a write-in candidate who rode a wave of voter discontent, publicly disputed some of the letter’s accusations in a March 1 email to residents. He faces a write-in challenge in the April 4 election from former Trustee Ken Santowski, who had been on the ballot but abruptly withdrew from the race and resigned his board seat in December before filing last month as a write-in.
“[The letter] paints a very telling, and I think, a very dark picture of the lengths people will go to maintain power and control,” Serwatka said.
The Northwest Herald began looking into the accusations shortly after being mailed a copy of the letter. The most damning allegations of criminal activity and questions about his residency also are the ones most easily disputed.
The letter alleges that Serwatka during his years living in Chicago was charged on several occasions with mob action, battery, and assault with a dangerous weapon relating to a 1999 accidental shooting.
However, Serwatka has never been arrested or charged with a crime in Chicago, according to records obtained from the Chicago Police Department under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. A check with the Illinois State Police likewise turned up no criminal offenses.
As for Serwatka’s Lakewood home, records on file with the McHenry County Recorder’s Office show that he bought it in 2011 and is the payer of the real-estate taxes. While another co-owner is listed on the papers and the house is currently in that owner’s name, Serwatka said in his email that he uses the home as collateral for other acquisitions and renovations for his real-estate portfolio.
Serwatka has disputed the account of a 1999 incident in which a friend of his got shot by a .22-caliber handgun while at a condo belonging to Serwatka’s then-fiancee – he said the handgun, which also belonged to his fiancee, had a round in the chamber and went off when the friend handed it to Serwatka.
Court records from the lawsuit filed by the friend reveal that he said in his deposition that the incident was an accident and that he “[did] not know how the gun went off.” The civil complaint was subsequently amended to claim simple negligence rather than any wrongdoing on Serwatka’s part.
While no charges were filed, the matter played out in civil court against Serwatka’s homeowner’s insurance, according to court records. But while the letter alleges that his insurance carrier would not pay because Serwatka did not pay the premium, court records reveal that the policy lapsed because the mortgage company collecting the escrow for the insurance accidentally let it lapse. The insurance company ended up covering an eventual settlement.
As for allegations made in the letter regarding other court rulings against Serwatka, he provided documents that disputed them.
The letter alleges that Serwatka was sued in Cook County Court for $14,667 in 2014 by a debt collection agency. But court records show that the case was stricken a month and a half later.
Another allegation claims that a court ruled against Serwatka for $3,157 after he was sued by a sports store for stopping the check for a boat he purchased in 1995. However, court documents show that it was a settlement agreed to by both sides – Serwatka said he stopped the check because the boat’s motor broke after 20 minutes on the water, and he was told it would take two months to get the replacement part.
Serwatka said he will be addressing more of the letter’s accusations with residents in further detail, and called them baseless, and from incidents that in most cases happened decades ago.
“There’s nothing in my past that I need to hide from anyone. That being said, I’m here to run a campaign based on the issues that affect the residents of Lakewood, and I think it’s much more pertinent that we discuss my track record in representing residents, and the efforts I’ve made toward effecting lower property taxes and better government within our village,” Serwatka said.
Besides running for village president, Serwatka founded a political party called the Lakewood Tax-Fighter Party and is running three trustee candidates on a slate.
Village President Erin Smith is not seeking a third term in office.