Attorney: Crestwood water official was pawn in scheme
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org April 23, 2013 10:06AM
Former Crestwood, Illinois water official, Theresa Neubauer , arrives at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago. Photographed on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: May 25, 2013 6:20AM
The former Crestwood water department head, accused of lying to state regulators about the village using tainted well water in its drinking supply, was a small cog in an elaborate cover-up by former Mayor Chester Stranczek, her attorney said Tuesday during opening statements at her federal trial.
Theresa Neubauer, 55, who’s on paid leave as Crestwood’s police chief, is charged with 11 counts of deliberately misleading inspectors for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about the village mixing the contaminated water with Lake Michigan water, which occurred for about 22 years.
Her attorney, Jonathan Brayman, downplayed Neubauer’s position with the water department and argued that she lacked the expertise to give definitive answers to IEPA investigators.
“She didn’t have all the answers,” he told jurors. “She wasn’t in those closed-door meetings with the mayor, the (village) board, the elected officials. She didn’t know all the answers.”
Neubauer and former Crestwood water operator Frank Scaccia were indicted in August 2011, accused of taking part in a cover-up regarding the use of the well water, which contained vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, to supplement the drinking water supply.
Brayman described Stranczek, who was mayor for 38 years until 2007, as a successful businessman who “ran Crestwood like a business. He said Crestwood’s water lines were leaking and Stranczek didn’t want the village to pay to install new lines.
“It was a financial decision for the mayor,” he said of the use of the well water to mask the loss of Lake Michigan water from the aging lines. “It would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions (in repairs) if he reported the well to regulators.”
So Stranczek concealed the leaking lines and use of tainted water from the IEPA as well as the residents and directed former water operator Scaccia to do so as well, Brayman said. He said it was Scaccia who submitted the reports on water quality and use to the IEPA.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erika Csicsila, however, characterized Neubauer as an integral player in the scheme and someone who didn’t give a second thought to the potential danger to residents from the water they were drinking.
“It was her responsibility to make sure the water was tested and monitored properly,” Csicsila said. “She didn’t do her job. The defendant and other Crestwood officials told lie after lie, year after year, decade after decade.”
She told the jury that the decision to tap the tainted well to supplement the lake water was made because of Crestwood’s leaky water lines.
“In order to make the numbers (regarding water usage) work, Crestwood had to lie about the numbers,” Csicsila said. “(Neubauer) told those lies and maintained those lies — lies that defeated regulatory routines designed to make that water safe.”
Five witnesses appeared for the government on Tuesday, including IEPA water supplies manager David McMillian, who testified that Neubauer notarized water reports from 2000 to 2006 that were published in a local newspaper and that falsely indicated that the tainted well was not used during that time.
McMillian also said Crestwood officials rebuffed multiple IEPA requests that the village test the well for chemicals, arguing that there was no need to do so because it wasn’t being used by the village.
Stranczek, 82, was not named in the federal indictment. He resides in Florida and suffers from dementia related to Parkinson’s disease, according to authorities.
Scaccia, 61, pleaded guilty April 11 to one count of lying to investigators and faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is due in court May 15 and has not agreed to testify against Neubauer, his attorney said.