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Firefighters' lawsuit against Crystal Lake leadership continues

City asks for more time to respond to claims made by union

CRYSTAL LAKE – The Crystal Lake firefighters union’s lawsuit against the city has been amended to include new allegations that city officials retaliated against the union and one of its members after he tried to alert authorities to illegal activity.

The amended complaint in McHenry County Circuit Court alleges that the city refused to release money from the Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Fund to the Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Board, which is comprised of firefighters union members.

According to the complaint, FFIT Board Treasurer Brian Marino disclosed the city’s alleged conduct to the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office in November and to the Crystal Lake Police Department in December, believing the city violated a state law on criminal theft and civil conversion.

The new allegations are part of a lawsuit that the Crystal Lake Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Board and the city’s firefighters labor union filed Aug. 2 against the city and numerous city officials, alleging that they violated state laws when they zeroed out the foreign fire insurance tax imposed on out-of-state insurance companies. The tax collected more than $60,000 a year.

The amended complaint alleges that the city retaliated against the FFIT Board and union members because of Marino’s whistleblowing by revising its foreign fire insurance tax ordinance in January and August, intending to curtail the FFIT Board’s spending and rule-making authority, as well as eliminating the board’s funding.

The complaint also alleges that Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Chief Paul DeRaedt earlier this year reduced Marino’s performance score and removed any language that reflected positively on Marino’s work with the FFIT Board. It also claimed Marino’s score on a promotional exam was reduced.

On Monday, the city requested more time to respond to the additional claims made by the union in the second amended complaint, which was filed in October.

The city was expected to file a response by Nov. 1, but on Monday, the request for more time was granted.

Crystal Lake City Attorney Vic Filippini said Tuesday that the firefighters’ attorneys asked for time to file a second amended complaint, which was granted, but noted the union didn’t indicate the amended complaint would be “materially different.” 

But when the complaint was filed in October, it presented a “series of new and legal allegations, which raise complicated legal issues that require additional time for defendants to properly address,” according to McHenry County court documents.

Filippini did not go into specifics Tuesday about the additional claims, but said his office and the city are preparing a response.

The dispute stems from the board requesting City Council approval to use foreign fire tax funds for expenses that would personally benefit firefighters, including Fitbits, duffel bags, health club memberships and day care services for children while members use the health club. Funds also were requested to buy coffee beans, which the city already provides for its departments.

In August, the City Council voted to repeal the city’s foreign fire insurance tax and use the remaining $150,000 in the Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Fund until it is depleted, according to city documents and fire officials.

“It was the belief of the Crystal Lake City Council that at this point in time, those funds were not being used for appropriate purposes,” Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley said in August. “Therefore, in order to protect the best interest of the people of Crystal Lake, we zeroed it out until we can get to a point where we reach an agreement with the foreign fire insurance board where they will return to the good practices that were in place for decades as opposed to the current desire on the part of the board to use the funds for the personal benefit of firefighters.”

Shepley and DeRaedt could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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