No New Criminal Charges Investigation Shows 'Mismanagement' in Sheriff's Office

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Byline: Tony Gordon and Russell Lissau Daily Herald Staff Writers

A three-year investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in the Lake County sheriff's office has ended and won't result in more criminal charges, prosecutors announced.

However, the joint inquiry by the attorney general's office and the local state's attorney's office uncovered "significant financial mismanagement, incompetence and lack of supervision," officials said.

"The lack of additional criminal charges does not mean there was nothing wrong in the sheriff's office," said Ellen Mandeltort, deputy attorney general for criminal justice.

Prosecutors released the 11-page report summarizing their findings Wednesday.

The investigation - sparked by allegations former corrections officer Michael Horowitz made in August 2003 -already has resulted in the indictment of two ex-jail directors and resignations of two high-ranking county officials.

Former jailers Lawrence Lesza and Charles DeFillipo were indicted last year and charged with filing false documents in an attempt to increase DeFillipo's pension by more than $300,000. The two have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go on trial Dec. 4.

In April, Undersheriff Gary Stryker and Joni Young, the county's director of central services, resigned because of violations of county policies underpinned by a romantic relationship between the two.

Attorneys for Lesza and DeFillipo declined to comment. Stryker could not be reached.

Young, who is only occasionally mentioned in the report, said she and other officials knew the allegations were, for the most part, unfounded.

Horowitz made his accusations public during a televised county board meeting Aug. 12, 2003. He started reading a letter detailing 24 complaints but was interrupted and told to file the memo with the state's attorney's office. Prosecutors began their probe a short time later.

The state's attorney's office asked for help from the attorney general's office to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Sheriff Gary Del Re said Wednesday he was pleased no further criminal prosecutions will result from the probe, and has begun correcting procedural problems cited in the report.

"I am pleased that 23 of the allegations were determined to be unfounded," Del Re said. "Secondly, we have already taken significant steps in addressing the problem areas cited in the report."

Horowitz said he was satisfied with the report's conclusions.

"It justified what I've been saying all along, that there were things that were not right (in the sheriff's office)," he said.

County Board Chairwoman Suzi Schmidt said she was disappointed the investigation took so long to wrap up.

"There's nothing criminal here, and I think it's unfair to some people to make it last so long," she said. "Were there mistakes made? Yes - and we have to correct those."

During a meeting with the media Wednesday, Mandeltort and Deputy State's Attorney Jeff Pavletic said the investigation was lengthy because of the breadth of Horowitz's allegations and the thoroughness of the examination.

"We had to look at tens of thousands of documents and interview people throughout the country," Pavletic said. "In addition, we received the assistance of the FBI in some areas of the investigation and brought in a forensic auditing firm."

They said Horowitz's allegations of criminal conduct within the office were unsupported by evidence or beyond the reach of the statute of limitations, which generally insists criminal prosecutions be brought within three years of the occurrence of a crime.

"We have to be sure that we have evidence admissible in court under the law, and if we do not have the horses, we do not move forward," said Assistant Attorney General Joe Ponsetto, chief of special prosecutions. …