McHenry County state's attorney refers Algonquin Township salt bid case to Illinois AG

Kenneally refers Algonquin Twp. salt case to Illinois attorney general

The findings of a McHenry County Sheriff’s Office investigation into whether Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser broke the law when he ordered more than $225,000 in road salt without going through the competitive bidding process has been submitted to McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally to determine whether prosecution is warranted.

But Kenneally won’t touch the case.

Due to conflicts of interest, he told the Northwest Herald, the first-term state’s attorney referred the case to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Kenneally declined to comment on what those conflicts of interest entail.

It’s not unusual for a county prosecutor to ask a neighboring prosecutor to take a case because of a conflict – and this is not the first time a public official in McHenry County has recused himself from a case in Algonquin Township.

‘Conflicted out’

In February 2018, someone reprogrammed Algonquin Township’s phone system to include a voice recording lampooning the township’s recent in-house turmoil.

Gasser reported the incident to the sheriff’s office, but the case went nowhere.

Because of a conflict of interest, the sheriff’s office kicked the case to the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“The report was referred to the State’s Attorney’s Office, as we have conflicted out of any investigation involving Algonquin Township,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sandra Rogers said at the time.

A dive into local political ties revealed what McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim’s conflicts might have been.

Prim endorsed former Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller in the campaign leading to his upset loss to Gasser in the February 2016 primary.

Gasser’s Woodstock-based attorney, Robert Hanlon, has represented Prim in the past, Hanlon told the Northwest Herald last year, but he would not comment on the matter.

It is unclear why the sheriff’s office decided to open an investigation into Gasser’s road salt order despite the law enforcement agency’s earlier contention that it “conflicted out” of any investigation in Algonquin Township.

The Northwest Herald asked a sheriff’s office spokesman and Sheriff Bill Prim in a text message Friday night why the office conflicted out of one investigation and yet completed another in Algonquin Township.

Prim did not reply, and the spokesman did not have an answer specific to the salt investigation.

19 recusals

A little-talked-about fact of Gasser’s ongoing legal battle with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 is that 19 McHenry County judges recused themselves from presiding over the case.

In August 2018, it was Lake County Circuit Judge Daniel Jasica who dismissed with prejudice Gasser’s lawsuit seeking to invalidate a union contract his predecessor signed before leaving office in 2017.

Two times before that judgment, he gave Gasser a chance to refile his complaint with new arguments challenging the collective bargaining agreement.

If an appellate court overturns the judgment, the union contract could be voided. If the dismissal is affirmed, the highway department could be forced to fork over back pay, contract damages and legal fees.

It’s a rare occurrence for a judge to recuse himself or herself from a case – let alone 19 judges to do so in one county.

Investigating the predecessor

Although Kenneally passed on the decision to prosecute Gasser, the state’s attorney took no issue with investigating and deciding whether to charge Miller.

In a 52-page, single-spaced report released in May, Kenneally detailed an investigation his office opened after “a convulsion of indiscriminate allegations” surfaced against Miller in 2017. That investigation took nearly seven months.

A score of allegations accused Miller – who spent 24 years as highway commissioner of McHenry County’s most populous township – of using public dollars to pay for personal items (women’s clothing and Disneyland tickets among them), deleting vital records from his government computer and paying his employees illegal bonuses.

Kenneally’s chief investigator could not find enough – or, in some cases, any – evidence to prosecute.

The report instead offered an indictment of townships as a form of government that is “deeply flawed” – a common political stance in the circle that helped Kenneally rise to power in McHenry County.

A look at campaign finance records in 2018 revealed that Gasser received a large donation from the man who hand-picked Kenneally to be his successor: former McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi.

Bianchi donated $2,000 to Gasser’s war chest in November.

What’s next for salt investigation?

Sheriff’s office officials said the salt investigation will remain open until a decision about prosecution is made.

“Everything was turned over to the States Attorney’s Office for them to make [a] decision,” sheriff’s office spokesman Tim Creighton said.

Officials in the Illinois Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

“The Attorney General’s Office has no comment to offer at this time,” spokeswoman Vanessa James said in an email to the Northwest Herald.

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