Ex-Crestwood officials linked to water scheme
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org April 24, 2013 10:15PM
Updated: May 28, 2013 7:59PM
Crestwood employees hid from state inspectors log books on water pumped from a contaminated well and used code words when talking about the well to hide its use for the village’s drinking supply, employees testified Wednesday.
Orders to pump water from the well and mix it with Lake Michigan water came from former Mayor Chester Stranczek, former village services director Frank Gassmere and former water department operator Frank Scaccia — while the village submitted annual reports to the state claiming that it only used lake water, the workers testified.
The scheme was outlined during the federal trial in Chicago of Theresa Neubauer, the former head of the village water department, who’s accused of lying repeatedly to investigators about Crestwood’s use of the tainted water, which occurred for 22 years until 2007. The well water contained vinyl chloride, a carcinogen.
Neubauer, 55, who’s on paid leave as Crestwood’s police chief, is charged with 11 counts of deliberately misleading the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about the well water usage, which the government contends was done to hide leaking water lines and enable Crestwood to avoid costly repairs.
Neubauer and Scaccia were indicted in August 2011 for their alleged roles in the cover-up. Scaccia, 61, pleaded guilty April 11 to one count of making a false statement and awaits sentencing.
On Wednesday, Crestwood water operator Tom Strutzenberg testified that the well next to the village water tower was in regular use when he started working in 1989. The water was pumped from the well into the village’s two, million-gallon storage tanks, where it mixed with the lake water that Crestwood received from Alsip, he told jurors.
Strutzenberg said Stranczek approached him a couple of times while he was working, asked him how much the well was pumping and told him to increase the pumping.
The pumping occurred while the village claimed it didn’t use any well water in “water use audits” that were submitted annually to the Illinois Department of Resources, according to court records. The records show that Crestwood used more than 50 million gallons from the well in 1981 — about 16 percent of the village’s total water supply.
Strutzenberg said the tainted well operated on a timing system and that prior to IEPA inspections in 1990, 1999 and 2007 he was told to shut off the timer.
Also before inspections, Scaccia, who was his boss, told him to remove the log book inside the well station that documented the amount taken from the well and put it in Scaccia’s office, he testified.
Strutzenberg told the jury that Gassmere once scolded him for referring to the well on his two-way radio, which had a frequency that could be heard by other village employees. Gassmere told him to refer to the well as the “auxiliary pumping station,” according to Strutzenberg.
Another prosecution witness, former Crestwood water operator Ed Rettke, said Scaccia told him the same thing and even threatened to fire him if he mentioned using the well. Rettke also said Scaccia told him to clean up the well station prior to IEPA inspections and “make it look like nobody ever goes in there.”
In 2007, Scaccia told Rettke he was worried about the cover-up after Scaccia met with an IEPA inspector who couldn’t account for 100,000 gallons of water that Crestwood was using daily, according to Rettke .
“(Scaccia) said something on the lines of, ‘I’m screwed,’ or ‘They got me,’ or ‘I’m done,’” Rettke said.
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.