Feds want prison terms in Crestwood water case
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org October 21, 2013 3:24PM
Updated: November 23, 2013 6:17AM
The government is asking a federal judge to give the former Crestwood police chief and a former water department operator up to 21 and 27 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in a scheme to use polluted well water in the village’s water supply for more than two decades.
Theresa Neubauer resigned as chief in May, a few days after a federal court jury convicted her of deliberately misleading environmental regulators regarding the use of the tainted well water. She was in charge of the water department during several years while the well water was mixed with the drinking water supply, which occurred for about 22 years until 2007.
Water operator Frank Scaccia pleaded guilty April 11 to making a false statement in connection with the scandal. They are scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 6.
In a court filing submitted Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Chapman says the involvement of Scaccia and Neubauer in the role in the scheme “allowed Crestwood officials save money and thereby portray themselves as effective municipal administrators” while depriving regulators and Crestwood residents of important information about the quality of the drinking water.
“The uncertainty about what they truly consumed during that period continues to haunt many Crestwood residents, whose questions about their drinking water cannot ever be answered fully,” Chapman wrote.
He recommended to the judge a sentence ranging from 15 to 21 months in prison for Neubauer and from 21 to 27 months for Scaccia.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency determined in 1986 that the well was contaminated and ordered Crestwood to stop using it, but Neubauer and Scaccia — under orders from former Mayor Chester Stranczek — ignored the order and plotted for years to hide the continued use of the well, according to trial testimony.
Stranczek, who now lives in Florida, was not charged by federal prosecutors for his part in the scandal, in which the well water that contained vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing chemical, was used in the drinking water supply. The Illinois Department of Public Health has said the use of the well could have been a factor in elevated levels of cancer among Crestwood residents, but the agency couldn’t conclusively tie that to the water.
In his filing, Chapman says Neubauer had a “front row seat” to the crime and has expressed no remorse for her actions, “opting instead to spend her time minimizing her role and blaming others who also participated in the scheme. ... She continues to suggest that she is somehow a victim in this case.”
Neubauer remained a “loyal insider to the end” by refusing to implicate anyone else, including Stranczek and others who were involved in the scheme, according to Chapman.
Neubauer’s attorney, Thomas Breen, recommended in a court filing the same say that his client receive up to 12 months probation.
“Theresa Neubauer has been devastated by these charges and convictions,” Breen says in the filing. “She has lost everything she has worked so hard for.”
Breen also mentions about 250 current and former residents who claim in about 100 lawsuits against Crestwood that they developed cancer, tumors, immune system disorders and other serious health problems from drinking the water for so many years. The village also has been sued by the Illinois attorney general’s office, a case that’s pending.
“A host of civil lawsuits have been filed and will continue to haunt Theresa,” Breen wrote. “These will not go away quickly.”
In emphasizing Neubauer’s good character, Breen references dozens of letters written on Neubauer’s behalf, including one from Crestwood police detective Christopher Soderlund.
As for Scaccia, Chapman suggests a sentence of 21 to 27 months in prison, contending that Scaccia was experienced enough to know that “groundwater, as a raw water source, may contain any manner of known contaminants.”
Scaccia’s “claims of remorse ring absolutely hollow” when weighed against his “very active participation in the concealment scheme,” and his refusal to cooperate with prosecutors “undermines the fiber of his post-conviction claim that he is genuinely remorseful for his conduct,” Chapman wrote.
Scaccia’s attorney, Patrick Blegen, also recommended a probationary sentence, referring to Scaccia’s health issues that include heart disease, diabetes and an illness that requires him to undergo dialysis twice a week.
“Unlike the typical criminal case, Mr. Scaccia was not motivated by greed, callousness or evil intention,” Blegen wrote. “Like many other participants in the scheme, Mr. Scaccia’s ‘reward’ was that he had a job.”