by Mike Kroll
When the accounts' report of the non-audit conducted of accounting records for the Knox County Sheriff's office and the Knox County State's Attorney's office covering three fiscal years preceding December 1, 2006 many observers presumed that this legal ordeal was over. Alas, this in not the case.
What began with accusations by female employees of State's Attorney John Pepmeyer that during the first two months of his tenure in that office he had sexually harassed them eventually evolved into both criminal and civil issues involving not only Pepmeyer and the women but also three assistant state's attorney's fired by Pepmeyer on March 21, 2007. Additionally, criminal investigations into the conduct of former state's attorney (currently circuit judge) Paul Mangieri and former sheriff Jim Thompson (now retired) were also commenced following accusations by Pepmeyer of improper and illegal conduct by Mangieri and Thompson in their former official capacities.
Eventually former circuit judge William Poncin was named special prosecutor and in conjunction with the Illinois Attorney General's office, the Illinois State Police, and even the FBI commenced criminal investigations into the conduct of Pepmeyer, Mangieri and Thompson. As newspaper accounts swirled and civil lawsuits worked their way slowly through the federal system the first real sign of closure came in October 2007 when Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan's office announced, “Based upon the law and our review of the evidence, we have determined that there is an insufficient basis for the filing of criminal charges. As the criminal investigation has concluded, we are requesting that the court formally terminate our appointment as Special Prosecutor in this matter.”
While all criminal investigation into the charges against Pepmeyer were thereafter dropped criminal investigations into the conduct of Mangieri and Thompson continued and apparently continue to this day. When the potential availability of the non-audit first came to light only to be temporarily withheld by circuit judge Edward Danner the Zephyr filed freedom of information requests with all parties concerned, including Poncin. Poncin's response was telling, “I received a copy of the audit pursuant to court order, and in my capacity as a court appointed special prosecutor in an ongoing criminal investigation, I must deny your request pursuant to 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(c).” (emphasis mine)
As we now know the non-audit does not appear to support any charges of criminal wrongdoing but only ample evidence of sloppy financial procedures and poor documentation of financial records in the state's attorney's and sheriff's offices. With criminal investigations into Pepmeyer halted the civil lawsuits continue their slow progress through the Federal courts. Two sets of lawsuits remain, one on behalf of the women accusing Pepmeyer of sexual harassment (where insufficient evidence was found to sustain criminal prosecution) and the second on behalf of the three former assistant state's attorney's who allege they were wrongfully terminated.
On May 15th attorneys for Dean Stone, Michael Kraycinovich and Tracy Jones filed their fourth amended complaint where the focus of the lawsuit has been converted from wrongful discharge into one of alleged discrimination of employee whistle-blowers. The former assistant state's attorneys seek a cash award from Pepmeyer personally as well as from Knox County has his employer. In separate counts each of the attorneys alleges that after they “became aware of facts which suggested that [Pepmeyer] had engaged in conduct that may have constituted bias, a conflict of interest and possible official misconduct...[and] in conduct that constituted sexual harassment of female employees” that they were subsequently terminated for speaking out against Pepmeyer with law enforcement officials. In an interesting twist, Pepmeyer's defense attorneys (now led by Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan's office) responded on June 20th to the amended complaint essentially denying all of the substantiative charges.
A joint scheduling conference and discovery hearing covering both civil lawsuits pending against Pepmeyer (including the separate lawsuit on behalf of the women alleging sexual harassment) will take place as a telephone conference call on July 21st. Federal Magistrate Judge Byron Cudmore will rule on a written plan of discovery submitted by all three parties in the two lawsuits and perhaps schedule a future trial date. Up to this point Pepmeyer has steadfastly refused to even discuss an out-of-court settlement so it appears that these two lawsuits will either be decided in court or eventually be dropped.