HUNTLEY – A former Huntley fire chief who resigned last year was the subject of an internal investigation for unauthorized moonlighting as a local police officer and for spending tens of thousands of dollars in public funds on items of questionable use to the department, according to records obtained by the Northwest Herald.
Ken Caudle, who was chief of the Huntley Fire Protection District from November 2012 until August, bought a long list of items, including a drone, a $7,000 robot and an estimated $14,000 engraver. But the district said it does not know the exact cost of 54 flagged items he bought over a period of years.
Some items seem to apply to more police-oriented work than others, such as an armor bearing duty vest, “ballistics,” handcuff restraints, tactical jackets and belts, and a taser recertification course.
“There was stuff showing up all the time and sometimes you would scratch your head and wonder, ‘What are we going to use that for?’” former Battalion Chief Russ Wilson said. “Somebody wasn’t keeping track.”
Despite a clause in his contract that said he could not work other jobs while earning almost $150,000 a year as fire chief, Caudle held several others during his time as chief, records show. They included working as an extra on the TV series “Chicago Med” and “Chicago Fire,” as well as part-time police jobs with Prairie Grove, Oakwood Hills and McCullom Lake police departments.
After hearing Caudle continued to work at side jobs, the fire board decided to start an investigation, attorney for the fire district Stephen DiNolfo said.
Caudle was found to be logging hours with both the fire district and Prairie Grove police, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. While driving his fire district vehicle in town, he also pulled up behind a police vehicle and activated his emergency lights to assist an officer in a traffic stop, documents show.
Caudle, who worked for the fire district since 1998, resigned as chief Aug. 11. He was returned to the rank of battalion chief before being placed on paid leave. Caudle was questioned by DiNolfo and Fire Chief Scott Ravagnie on Sept. 6.
A second interview was supposed to take place Nov. 20 about more items purchased and the alteration of a bill pay sheet, but Caudle went on family medical leave five days after receiving an order to report for questioning. He was on leave until Dec. 11 and retired Jan. 5.
As fire chief, Caudle’s salary was $149,074 for the 2017-18 budget year, Ravagnie said. He earned a $119,240 salary from August until he retired Jan. 5.
Caudle continued working at police departments despite being told by the fire district’s board of trustees to quit any secondary employment in May.
In the contract Caudle signed in May, it stated he must resign from his job as a part-time police officer. In the event that Caudle sought secondary employment, he must inform the board of his intent.
Despite this, Caudle remained a part-time employee of the Prairie Grove police as of Wednesday, officials said. Police Chief Tony Colatorti said Caudle’s hours vary, but he works about eight hours a week with an average of 16 to 32 hours a month.
Caudle declined to discuss the issue.
“I’m retired, I’m gone now, and there was nothing found,” Caudle told the Northwest Herald. “It’s kinda old for me.”
All quotes from him were taken from the interrogation led by DiNolfo that the Northwest Herald obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request.
“To be honest, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal to me,” Caudle said. “Obviously, it was to the board. It was in the contract. I think I was a little stuck on myself. I also probably – a little bit of ego in there.”
Caudle was found to have logged at least six and a half hours since June 2016 to the Prairie Grove police while he was also working for the fire district.
Caudle began working for the McCullom Lake police in 2012 while deputy chief of administration for Huntley fire. He resigned from the McCullom Lake department Jan. 7, 2016, and took on a new job as a part-time patrol officer for the Prairie Grove police June 23, 2016.
Caudle also had a short-lived gig as a part-time officer at Oakwood Hills Police Department from March 3, 2016 to July 31, 2016. Village Clerk Cheryl LoSasso said he left the department because he accepted employment elsewhere.
Caudle said he typically worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday as Huntley’s fire chief. When asked if he ever worked as a police officer during those hours, Caudle initially said no.
After being shown time sheets from the Prairie Grove police that indicated he was doing computer and radio work during district hours, he said it was done during his lunch hour at a Huntley fire station.
“I was on a really crazy diet [for] two months that I don’t do lunches,” Caudle said. “It’s weird, but deputies can [confirm] that. So during my lunch hours is really when I was doing that, and a lot of it is just turning on a machine, loading software and it runs for two to three hours. That’s really all there was to it.”
Caudle said because senior staff is on a “flex schedule” and on call all the time, the week before he logged hours to both organizations he was over 60 hours for the week at the fire district.
Former Deputy Chief Keith Mallegni said that although many full-time firefighters have part-time jobs, department brass have a lot more work and must be more committed to one entity. Mallegni retired in 2014.
“The trustees must have an agreement with him at one time, but at one point it must have gotten to be too much,” Mallegni said.
Ravagnie said he did not know why Caudle bought a robot, Phantom 2 drone, engraver, a tint meter and other items questioned.
Fifty-four purchases from April 2013 to August were flagged for questioning by DiNolfo, but Caudle went on Family Medical Leave Act status five days after he was summoned to answer questions about the purchases.
The board has overall financial oversight for what a fire chief purchases. Purchases made by Caudle were approved by the district’s trustees at monthly meetings, where board members would see the chief’s expenses in the treasurer’s report.
Board President Milford Brown said the list of bills trustees approved weren’t always itemized.
When asked how trustees didn’t notice the purchases, such as pistol cases and a taser recertification course, Brown said, “If I had seen any of that stuff on that list, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Since taking over as acting chief, Ravagnie has changed the policy and is bringing all purchases to the board for approval before buying.
A Recon Scout robot was bought to use for technical rescue and Caudle said he believes it cost between $6,900 and $7,000.
Caudle said he taught himself how to use it, and he isn’t sure if anyone else from the team knows how.
He bought a tint meter for $75 to check the tint on his two department vehicles, and was questioned by DiNolfo if he used it for police department purposes. DiNolfo asked if Caudle bought the meter to check if the company tinted his car correctly.
“Correct,” Caudle said. “And I – to be honest, I thought it was a cool thing to have, which probably wasn’t so smart.”
Caudle bought a laser machine for engraving, which is estimated to cost at least $14,000, adding he bought it “at least two years ago” because the department made “glasses for all the members two Christmases ago, engraved our patch on them.”
When asked if the department ever used the engraver, Ravagnie said, “He did, we did not.”
DiNolfo said there was no cost estimate to how much Caudle spent on the items included in the personnel order. The items were selected by a typical review that the district does periodically on expenditures, DiNolfo said.
Mallegni said the board should be able to better monitor purchases made.
“This is taxpayer money and I would think the board should have been able to catch some of this,” Mallegni said. “I have no ax to grind with anyone, but I’m a taxpayer now and all I’m worried about is taxpayer’s money and the reputation of the department.”
Caudle said he never used his fire district-issued vehicle for police work.
Caudle was questioned if he pulled someone over in his district vehicle Nov. 19, 2015. At first, he said he did not, but later admitted to pulling behind a police vehicle and activating his emergency lights.
Caudle said he was on his way home from work around 3:30 p.m. at Crystal Lake and Algonquin roads and he was in the turn lane with a school bus next to him and a car behind the bus. The driver of the vehicle behind the bus appeared to be using drugs in plain sight, Caudle said.
Caudle said he contacted dispatch and a police vehicle was sent to follow the car around for a bit before stopping the woman driving at a 7-11 on Algonquin Road.
“I turned my lights on after that Lake in the Hills officer turned his lights on,” Caudle said. “I just turned mine on because of where I parked, so I didn’t get hit.”
When asked why he got involved, Caudle said “habit, I guess. I don’t know.”
While returning from a district meeting April 11, 2016, Caudle rear-ended another vehicle on Randall Road in his district-issued 2012 Dodge Durango.
Caudle admitted to having an AR-15 rifle in the vehicle during the crash. Caudle said the weapon was not something Prairie Grove police uses, but was his own personal weapon.
“To be honest with you, I forgot it was in there. Before the accident, I was at range,” he said. “I go to the range weekly or biweekly, and it was in there from there.”
Caudle was asked in November if he had a weapon in his vehicle at the time of the incident and he said no. Caudle said he remembered it was in his car after it sparked his memory, and he suspended himself for two days without pay.
He said he told the board he suspended himself, but he did not inform the board that he wasn’t going to actually lose any pay since he used two vacation or sick days.
“Really, the reason behind it, at least my thought process, is when I suspended myself for two days, obviously, I lost two days of vacation time,” Caudle said. “If I would have suspended myself and removed myself from the station, the work still doesn’t stop. I’m still getting the phone calls and emails and the text messages, so it really kind of defeats the purpose of being suspended for two days.”
Ravagnie said he has changed the ways purchases were made and is now asking trustees for permission before making a purchase.
Even though purchasing is part of the chief’s purview, the board will be able to see what the chief is planning on purchasing, rather than what’s already been bought, Deputy Chief Al Schlick said.
Brown said Ravagnie made the changes on his own accord.
“He’s a good chief,” Brown said. “He is bringing things before us to be authorized even though he has his own spending authorization.”
Ravagnie said Caudle will not be paying anything back to the department, and Caudle returned all the items.
The 49-year-old had 17 years and eight months of credible service with the district, Ravagnie said. According to Illinois pension law, if a firefighter serves less than 20 years, he or she cannot receive a pension until age 60.
Caudle’s attorney Thomas McGuire ended the interrogation with a cryptic statement that hinted at perceived problems within the department: “... It appears to me that you have somewhat of a cancer within the organization that – and I don’t know where it is.”
Wilson, the former battalion chief, said he thinks there needs to be a turnover of upper management and taxpayers need to elect new board members.
“I care very deeply about the department and put a lot of years in there and live in Huntley,” Wilson said. “I think with Ken leaving, that’s a step in the right direction.”
Attempts to reach Trustees Jim Saletta and John Davis were unsuccessful.