Crime & Courts

McHenry County Board member becomes 3rd person to file civil suit over 'defamatory' campaign flyers

A McHenry County Board member has filed the third lawsuit on record since January against an anonymous group responsible for accusatory campaign flyers that circulated throughout the county last year.

County Board member Chuck Wheeler filed a 28-page civil complaint with the McHenry County Circuit Clerk’s Office on Monday. In it, he asked for $50,000 in damages for “defamatory” claims that appeared on three separate campaign flyers distributed by the Illinois Integrity Fund before the March 2018 primary election.

The leaflets, one of which depicted Wheeler driving a red convertible with $100 bills flying from the back seat, accuse the board member of billing more than $100,000 in mileage and health care reimbursements throughout the previous four years.

“Wasteful Chuck Wheeler really gets around,” one flyer read.

Another claimed, “Wasteful Chuck Wheeler is one arrogant fellow.”

On Dec. 1, 2014, Wheeler was sworn in as a McHenry County Board member, and since then, he never has billed the county for health care reimbursements, he said in the lawsuit.

He also claims to have submitted travel expenses for his mileage driving to and from County Board meetings totaling no more than $6,000.

Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Wheeler said he didn’t have expenditure reports on hand to send to the Northwest Herald. He indicated, however, that reporters could request them under the Freedom of Information Act, which the Northwest Herald has done.

A copy of Wheeler’s expenses, which County Board Chairman Jack Franks sent the Northwest Herald on Wednesday, showed that the county paid $90,857 in health insurance contributions and reported $3,336 in mileage reimbursements between fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2019.

The board member believes that Michael Noonan of the Roosevelt Group Inc. and Sean Tenner of KNI Inc. created the flyers and paid Chicago-based Breaker Press Co. Inc. to print and mail them, according to the suit. Franks is named as a respondent on the lawsuit, meaning Wheeler believes the County Board chairman could have important information pertaining to the suit.

Franks has called the complaint and two others, filed by McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio and former County Board candidates Orville Brettman and Ersel Schuster, “frivolous” and evidence of “a swamp in McHenry County.”

At least one of the allegedly defamatory flyers claims that “Wheeler and his cronies” cost taxpayers $25,000 to settle a lawsuit tied to an Open Meetings Act violation.

The settlement was the result of a lawsuit filed by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 – which claimed that the County Board’s 2015 approval of a symbolic resolution backing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda,” on the grounds that members met with Rauner beforehand – violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The board settled the lawsuit in 2016 and rescinded the resolution.

While serving as a McHenry County Board member, Wheeler voted against approval of the $25,000 settlement.

In the lawsuit, Wheeler alleges that the distribution of the flyers could be a separate violation in itself.

Any political organization whose revenues or expenses exceed $5,000 is required to register with the Illinois State Board of Elections, and the cost of producing, printing and mailing the flyers likely exceeded that amount, he said.

The Illinois Integrity Fund is not registered with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Wheeler declined to comment on specific details regarding the lawsuit and referred further questions to his attorney, Charles Philbrick, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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