WOODSTOCK – The culprit behind a blog comment McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks urged multiple law enforcement agencies to investigate as a threat against his life has remained nameless and in the shadows.
But records inside the Lakewood Police Department detailing a three-month investigation of that threat have shined a light on a name McHenry County politicos will recognize:
A Lakewood detective subpoenaed AT&T to trace the IP address of an anonymous McHenry County Blog commenter named “Klaatu Barada Nikto.” Two months earlier, the mysterious back-page blogger wrote the words that led Franks to the authorities: “I know a fellow who specializes in terminating weasels of all kinds. His prices are very reasonable. $5,000 each. If you need it to look like an accident[,] $10,000 each. Let me know on this blog…”
AT&T later traced the IP address of “Klaatu Barada Nikto” to the home of Edward Schuster – the husband of Ersel Schuster, a candidate running for a District 6 seat on the McHenry County Board.
The Northwest Herald reached out to Ed Schuster on Wednesday, but Ersel Schuster answered the phone.
She said neither she nor her husband wrote the comment and directed all questions about the matter to her attorney.
“This whole thing is a witch hunt,” Ersel Schuster said. “[Jack Franks] has been going after people who speak up since the minute he got into office.”
The March 23 post on McHenry County Blog that sparked a police investigation reprinted a statement made during the public comment portion of the County Board meeting two days before.
The statement, read on behalf of former board member Diane Evertsen, made a political allegory regarding dealing with weasels in a chicken coop, namely that 23 chickens – the 23 Republican members of the board – shouldn’t have a problem resolving “their problem with two weasels.”
At the time, Franks, who is Jewish, said comparing people to nuisance animals is how some very dark moments in human history have gotten started. Two of the comments on the blog post, he said, amount to calls for his assassination.
After being notified of the threats, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally coordinated with McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim to provide Franks and his family protection, and start an investigation, Franks said.
An April 3 McHenry County Sheriff’s Office report details a brief investigation the agency conducted before Prim recused his office from the investigation and turned it over to the state’s attorney’s office.
Sheriff’s deputies interviewed Franks, who said he “feared for his safety, as well as the safety of his wife and family,” the report said.
Franks told deputies that he hadn’t encountered any suspicious phone calls or incidents before or after the board meeting where the “weasel” allegory popped up in public comment.
“Chairman Franks doesn’t know why he would be targeted, saying it could be because he’s a ‘democrat, a Jew or an a--hole,’ ” the report said. “He has no idea who would threaten him.”
Franks urged authorities to arrest Cal Skinner, the operator of McHenry County Blog, as a “co-conspirator, as Cal hosts the blog and allows threats to be posted and condones them,” the report said.
Prim later recused the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office from further investigation “to remove the appearance of impropriate (sic),” the report said.
“It was determined that since the blog is hosted into Lakewood’s jurisdiction, and in order to avoid any appearance of impropriate, this case would be referred to Lake PD for further investigation,” Prim said. “Chairman Franks was then advised of this decision.”
Franks offered a different side to the story in an interview with the Northwest Herald.
“[Prim] told me the reason he didn’t pursue further investigation is he had a conflict,” Franks said of a phone call he had with the sheriff. “He told me he was friends with Cal Skinner.”
Franks said Prim’s conflict represents how politics can get in the way of public service.
“It’s deeply disturbing to me,” Franks said. “If a public official’s life is threatened, it shouldn’t matter who your friends are. You’ve got to do your job.”
The hang up
Lakewood Police detectives called Ed Schuster to talk about the comment traced to the home where he and his wife live.
Ed Schuster answered, but the conversation did not last long.
“After speaking with Ed, he advised he did not wish to participate and hung up the phone,” a police report said. “I contacted him back at which time I spoke with an unidentified female who advised any further questions were to be directed to Ed’s attorney...”
The Northwest Herald reached out to Schuster’s attorney, Patrick Walsh. He was not immediately available to comment.
On July 17, Lakewood Police contacted Franks to let him know the McHenry County State’s Attorney “would not be pursuing criminal charges against Ed Schuster in this case,” a police report said.
Kenneally offered some insight into why his office passed on charges.
“In this case, we determined we did not have sufficient evidence to establish that the blog comment constituted a true threat,” Kenneally said. “As such, we declined charges. In addition, the fact that the persons of interest in this case were an elderly couple, neither of which had a criminal record or history of violence, reinforced our analysis that the comment was not a ‘true threat’ and that these people posed no real danger.”