McHenry County divorce ended with a death in jail

WOODSTOCK – A man who reportedly committed suicide at the McHenry County Jail last month was being held in contempt of court after he repeatedly failed to follow a judge’s orders to pay fees in a recent divorce.

Thomas Doheny’s ex-wife filed for divorce March 18, 2014. Throughout court proceedings, Doheny was accused of moving hundreds of thousands of dollars into a family member’s bank account to make it appear as if he could not afford to pay court-ordered amounts of child support and other fees, according to motions filed in McHenry County court.

It isn’t common that divorce cases, even when the threat of civil contempt is possible, result in someone being booked into the county jail, McHenry County Court Administrator Dan Wallis said. He estimated that it happens between 10 and 12 times a year.

Officials, including jail officers and McHenry County Coroner Anne Majewski, remain mum about the investigation into Doheny’s death. Authorities have declined to comment on basic details about Doheny’s jail stay, including where he was kept and whether he was psychologically evaluated.

Doheny’s former attorney, James Economy, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Doheny, 51, had tried several times to get the court to reduce the amount he owed in fees, citing that his supervisor at Jack Doheny Companies had significantly reduced his salary. At the time his ex-wife filed for divorce, Doheny was the vice president of internet and territorial sales for the company, which rents and sells pump trucks used for sewer cleaning and other services, according to the company’s website.

In addition to Doheny’s base salary of $350,000 a year, he earned 2.5 percent commission on sales and rentals, court records show.

In a Sept. 29, 2015, motion, Doheny’s then-wife accused him of fraudulently transferring his own commissions and bonuses to his sister’s bank account since April 24, 2014. From March 31, 2014, to March 31, 2015, he transferred $632,361 to her, according to the motion.

Doheny told the judge that his income had been substantially reduced and asked for his temporary child support fees to be modified, according to an October 2015 petition.

He said he was earning less money because of the “downturn in the oil industry and, particularly, fracking in the North Dakota region,” according to McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge’s Feb. 1 order.

Coppedge ruled that Doheny had, in fact, dissipated $500,000, although the judge said the exact figure might actually be higher. That amount was taken into consideration when calculating Doheny’s child support and other fees, the order said.

“[Doheny] is clearly very good at what he does,” Coppedge wrote in his order. “Is the court supposed to believe that his employer, presumptively mindful of the sales prowess of [Doheny], would limit his income to a fraction of what he was historically accustomed to earning?”

But those who knew Doheny don’t describe him as a criminal. The divorce took a noticeable toll on the man, who was otherwise a generous people person, former co-worker and friend Meagan Meyers said in a phone interview shortly after Doheny’s death.

“He got stripped of every single thing possible,” Meyers said. “We knew he was going through a lot, but had we known more details, I think maybe we could have pieced it together.”

Throughout the 2014 divorce proceedings, McHenry County Judges Kevin Costello and Coppedge found Doheny in contempt of court four times, according to a summary of events compiled by the circuit clerk’s office.

The basis for the most recent time Doheny had been found in contempt of court, Nov. 1, was his “noncompliance and inability to pay,” according to the judge’s order.

At the time of his death, he would have been required to pay his ex-wife $125,000 to be released from the county jail, where he had been for more than two weeks, according to the judge’s order.

The $125,000 bond stemmed from missed payments Doheny was ordered to make as part of the conditions of his divorce, including more than $19,000 in credit card debt, according to bank statements filed in McHenry County court.

On Feb. 1, Coppedge ordered Doheny to pay $7,774 each month in child support and $11,500 each month for 16 years in maintenance fees, which he partially paid in February, March, May and June, according a petition filed Aug. 31.

As of that date, Doheny had not paid child support since June 27 , the petition stated.

Jail staff discovered Doheny, 51, while they were doing rounds at 8:10 p.m. Nov. 17. Doheny was taken by ambulance to Centegra Hospital – Woodstock. He was pronounced dead at 8:53 p.m., according to a news release from the McHenry County Coroner’s Office at the time.

McHenry Police Chief John Birk is heading the county’s Major Investigation Assistance Team’s investigation into Doheny’s death. In an email Nov. 21, Birk declined to comment on whether Doheny was on suicide watch.

This week, Birk said he still couldn’t comment on the case, citing a need to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation.

Doheny’s girlfriend, Sandra Avila, remembers Doheny as a happy person who “always had a smile on his face,” she said during a phone interview shortly after Doheny’s death.

Avila did not return recent messages seeking comment for this story.

At the time, Avila said Doheny was unfairly put in jail based on failed payments he couldn’t reasonably be expected to make.

“I would like someone to read and take [it] into consideration if it can spare somebody from the same thing [Doheny] just went through,” she said in a November interview. “To me, that would be the best way to honor him.”

Although friends and family remember a happy Doheny, a 2004 order of protection stated that he had made suicidal threats in the past.

Jail officials have not said what access Doheny might have had to items that he could have used to kill himself.

McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandra Rogers said she could not comment on basic jail operations, including whether inmates get psychological evaluations when they enter the jail.

The coroner’s office has not released an official cause of death, although preliminary findings revealed “no suspicious injuries or significant natural disease,” according to a news release.

Majewski said Tuesday that her office still is waiting on toxicology and final autopsy results. She said she hopes to have more information to release sometime next week.

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