Country Club Hills fire chief’s conviction undisclosed
BY STEVE WARMBIR AND FRANK MAIN Staff Reporters October 8, 2012 1:31AM
Roger Agpawa, Country Club Hills fire chief
Updated: November 9, 2012 6:17AM
When Roger Agpawa applied to be fire chief in south suburban Country Club Hills this summer, he submitted a lengthy resume and background material.
He noted he had been deputy fire chief in nearby Markham since 1992.
He listed how he worked as Markham’s chief fire inspector, 911 coordinator and administrator of the city’s court.
He submitted the many firefighting classes he has taken and the professional organizations he belongs to.
“I realize it is lengthy, but I find it is necessary to display the multi-facets of my experience,” Agpawa wrote in a letter to the County Club Hills mayor.
But Agpawa forgot to list one thing.
Agpawa was hired as the Country Club Hills fire chief in July for $98,000 a year plus a city Ford Expedition, even though he pleaded guilty to mail fraud as part of a 1997 medical insurance fraud case in federal court in Chicago.
Agpawa, 54, was charged in December 1997 with cashing bogus medical insurance claim checks and splitting the money with his partner in crime who worked as a claims approver.
Agpawa pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and could have served more than a year in prison.
Instead, he was ordered in 1999 to pay more than $60,000 back to the insurance company, serve three years of probation and perform 200 hours of community service.
In an unusual move in federal court, Agpawa’s plea agreement was sealed at his request. The public cannot view it.
But the fact that he pleaded guilty to the felony is public, along with the fact that he received his reduced court sentence because of the substantial assistance he gave federal investigators.
Agpawa declined to talk about the matter with the Sun-Times.
“I don’t have anything to talk to you about. Thank you very much,” he said this week.
But it appears clear he understood that he needed to disclose any criminal convictions when he applied for the job in Country Club Hills.
Agpawa, for instance, did disclose in his application a 1984 misdemeanor conviction for a DUI in Park Forest in the part of the application that asks if he had been convicted of any crime.
Under Illinois law, a town cannot hire a firefighter with a serious felony conviction, but in an interesting twist, there is a difference between fire chiefs and rank-and-file firefighters.
Unlike firefighters, fire chiefs are appointed, not sworn, and not subject to the same state law.
Police and fire commissions, which govern the hiring of firefighters, also have the discretion to bar applicants from becoming firefighters for certain types of misdemeanors, such as DUIs, said Addison Fire Chief Don Markowski, president of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association, commenting generally.
The reason for the law is simple, Markowski said.
“We want our firefighters to have the best moral character.”
But when it comes to fire chiefs, “all fire chiefs step out of the sworn area,” he said. “They are appointed.”
Usually, a mayor or a village manager — and not a fire commission — is the fire chief’s supervisor, Markowski said.
Mayors may use the same criteria as set out in the statute for sworn firefighters or “they can overlook it.”
“This is not as black-and-white as with [sworn] firefighters,” he said.
Usually, though, this is not an issue, Markowski said.
Most fire chiefs have been promoted through the ranks of the same municipality, which had vetted their criminal background when they were hired.
But the dilemma can come into play when a fire chief is hired from another department, Markowski said.
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch did not return phone messages regarding his new fire chief.
One Country Club Hills alderman, Vincent Lockett, though, sang the praises of Agpawa.
“The guy has done a spectacular job for the city of Country Club Hills. He has saved the residents $400,000 in the short term,” Lockett said. “We haven’t had this type of management in many, many years in Country Club Hills. The fire chiefs used to allow the department to rape the city.”
“I don’t think one alderman would have anything negative to say about him,” Lockett said. “I guess I would have to say, let his past be his past . . .”I am proud to have him.”