Crestwood chief’s defense calls no witnesses
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org April 25, 2013 10:34PM
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 29, 2013 7:19AM
Federal agents testified Thursday that the former head of Crestwood’s water department, Theresa Neubauer, for many years forged the signature of a top department official on reports that misled state regulators on the use of polluted water from a village well.
Prosecutors called the agents to support their case that Neubauer was aware of the use of the well for Crestwood’s drinking water and took part in a scheme to deceive Illinois Environmental Protection Agency inspectors.
The government concluded its case Thursday, and the defense rested without calling any witnesses. Closing arguments are set for Friday.
The government contends that Neubauer, water department operator Frank Scaccia and former Mayor Chester Stranczek deliberately hid the use of the well water, which contained vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing chemical, over many years.
Millions of gallons were taken from the well annually to supplement Lake Michigan water and cover up the loss of lake water from Crestwood’s aging water lines that were leaking, according to prosecutors.
Neubauer, 55, is now Crestwood’s police chief and has been on paid leave, getting her full salary, since she was indicted with Scaccia in August 2011. She’s charged with 11 counts of lying to IEPA inspectors about the village mixing the contaminated water with lake water, which occurred for about 22 years.
Scaccia, 61, pleaded guilty April 11 to one count of making a false statement and awaits sentencing. He did not testify against Neubauer.
U.S. EPA special agent William Oros Jr. testified Thursday that he and another agent interviewed Neubauer in April 2009 at the police department following a raid on village offices. He said Neubauer told him that, with Scaccia’s permission, she “routinely and regularly” signed his name on water use reports to the IEPA that claimed that Crestwood was only using lake water in its drinking supply.
Oros told jurors that he and the other agent had Neubauer sign, initial and date two reports from 2006 and had her “not true” next to the portion of the reports that claimed the village didn’t use the well water.
In his cross-examination of witnesses, Neubauer’s attorney, Thomas Breen, suggested that Neubauer was a pawn in the scheme by Stranczek, Scaccia and village services director Frank Gassmere.
Breen implied that while Neubauer held the title of head of the water department, she lacked expertise in water engineering and actually worked under Scaccia. He cited payroll figures that showed she earned about $10,000 less than Scaccia and some other department employees.
Crestwood was consistently losing an excessive amount of lake water because of the leaky lines — more than the 8 percent allowable under Illinois law, according to court records. Because lake water is a valuable resource, any town unable to account for more than 8 percent of its lake water allotment must present a plan to reduce the amount of lost water.
By using the tainted well water, Crestwood officials were able to hide how much lake water the village was losing and avoid having to repair the water lines, a major project that would result in higher water rates, according to the government.
Stranczek regularly touted Crestwood’s low water rates through the village newsletter and boasted that the rates were lower than those of surrounding suburbs because of the village’s fiscally conservative approach, court records indicate.
Stranczek, 82, was mayor for 38 years until 2007. He was not indicted with Neubauer and Scaccia. His lawyers said he suffers from dementia related to Parkinson’s disease.