New Lenox police end investigation of former Providence Catholic High School president

Police reports: Attorney says phone might be gone

NEW LENOX – Police have closed their investigation into the Rev. Richard McGrath without ever being able to see the cellphone that led to his sudden resignation as president of Providence Catholic High School in December.

The cellphone might no longer exist, according to police reports.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions that unfortunately will never be answered," New Lenox Police Chief Bob Sterba said Friday.

The investigation began after a girl initially reported to a school maintenance employee that she saw "what she believed to be a photo of a nude 13-year-old male juvenile" on McGrath's cellphone while he was sitting in the bleachers at a Providence wrestling match Dec. 8, according to a police report filed three days later.

McGrath refused to give the cellphone to police or a Providence Catholic official when they questioned him about it, according to police reports. In the following weeks, Patrick Reardon, an attorney for McGrath, told police that the cellphone might no longer exist.

"Mr. Reardon indicated that he doesn't believe the he (sic) cellular phone exists and that it would be a huge waste of time looking for the cellular phone," according to Jan. 16 report. "Mr. Reardon further indicated that he wasn't making any admissions on behalf of his client, Mr. McGrath. Mr. Reardon explained that he does not think the cellphone will surface or ever turn up."

Sterba said police could not continue their investigation without the phone.

"Without the telephone, there is no case," he said. "The evidence of the case would have been found on the telephone."

The investigation also was complicated by the witness' initial unwillingness to talk to police, although she eventually did, according to a summary of the investigation filed Thursday when it was closed.

The witness talked with police Jan. 15.

In that interview, the girl told police that she saw on the cellphone a photo of an unclothed male between 12 and 15 years old, according to a police report.

"The photo was of an image of the male from the shoulders down to above the knees," the report states. "She further described that the body was unclothed and in a standing position with both arms down to his side. [Name redacted] stated that she wasn't completely certain if she saw male genitalia."

Without sufficient probable cause, police were unable to obtain a search warrant for the cellphone.

Sterba said that once police had talked to the witness, they had been informed by McGrath's attorney that the cellphone was no longer available.

Police tried to get the cellphone Dec. 11, according to another police report.

Both Detective Sgt. Micah Nuesse and the Rev. John Merkelis, who since has replaced McGrath as president, tried to obtain the phone, which was the property of Providence.

"Fr. Merkelis told Fr. McGrath to give him the phone," the report states. "Fr. McGrath told Fr. Merkelis and myself that he would not turn his cellphone over. Fr. McGrath stood up and walked out of the office, advising that he needed to get to the theater."

Police took McGrath's office computer with Merkelis' permission, the report said. The computer was examined by the Will County State's Attorney Office's Computer Crimes Unit, but "nothing worth noting of evidentiary value" was found, according to a subsequent report.

McGrath, 71, resigned Dec. 23 after leading Providence for 32 years first as principal and then as president, when the position was created.

His resignation was announced that day in a joint statement put out by Providence and the Diocese of Joliet. They attributed the resignation to "an investigation by civil authorities of an allegation of potentially inappropriate material on his mobile device."

McGrath declined to comment Friday about the investigation.

Reardon would not elaborate on his statements to police about the apparent disappearance of the phone.

"I told them that I thought they were wasting their time," he said.

Reardon said he considered the conclusion of the investigation "a non-story."

Asked to comment about McGrath, he said, "I have met him during the course of this, and I think he's a fine man."

A Providence Catholic spokeswoman referred questions about the investigation to the Diocese of Joliet.

Diocese spokesman Ed Flavin said neither the diocese nor Providence took any legal action to try to get the phone from McGrath.

"The diocese is not aware of the phone whereabouts or if it even exists anymore," Flavin said in an email.

McGrath appeared Jan. 24 before a Will County grand jury looking into the incident.

Will County State's Attorney's Office spokesman Charles Pelkie said the state's attorney is not conducting a separate investigation of the incident.

"We don't have a case before us to review from New Lenox," Pelkie said. "But if they present an investigation or move forward with any investigation, we're prepared to move forward with them."

Sterba said he did not expect any further investigation into the Dec. 8 incident.

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