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Harassment complaint in Kane Co. coroner's office leads to theft probe
By Josh Stockinger, James Fuller and Larissa Chinwah | Daily Herald staff writers

Chuck West

 

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Published: 1/23/2010 12:02 AM

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An ongoing investigation into Kane County Coroner Chuck West's office centers on the possible theft of a big-screen television from a dead man's home in 2007, the Daily Herald has learned.

The Kane County sheriff's department uncovered the allegations while investigating a sexual harassment complaint filed against West by one of his female deputies last year, multiple sources have confirmed.

West has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He referred questions Friday to his attorney, Gary Johnson, who downplayed the investigation's seriousness.

"When the entire story comes out, it's fairly laughable," said Johnson, who declined to discuss specifics of the case. "This is exhausting taxpayer money. I think people are going to say, 'What's everybody doing here?'"

Charles Colburn, a special prosecutor called to investigate West's office to avoid potential conflict of interest with the state's attorney, wouldn't disclose details but said the activity in question "doesn't appear to be widespread."

"The investigation continues," he said. "We're working very hard to reach a speedy conclusion."

West's office came under investigation after the coroner was accused of exposing himself to an employee last year, according to multiple sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. It was during the course of that investigation that sheriff's officers received information the coroner's office was also responsible for the theft of a relatively inexpensive big-screen television from the home of Preston Pomykal, 64, of Carpentersville, the sources said.

According to police reports, officers found no signs of forced entry or foul play in Pomykal's death in July 2007. After an initial investigation, reports state, West returned to the home to look for information to identify the man's next of kin but had no success.

While visiting the residence, police said, the coroner discovered a collection of guns and ammunition, which he turned over to police to be destroyed or recycled. A television, however, turned up missing, sources said.

A Republican and former paramedic, West was first elected coroner in 2000. He has said he believes the probe into his office is politically motivated, and he does not intend to seek re-election.

Attorney Ken Shepro, who represents the county board, said Friday that West's job status has not changed. "There is no authority in the board or anybody else to suspend or remove an elected official short of a criminal conviction," he said.

County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay said it's too early to tell whether West should resign. She said she wants to see a final report from prosecutors first.

"That report is critical," she said. "I don't think it's responsible to say much about it yet. Anything you're hearing or anybody's hearing is really accusation, hearsay and rumor. But the county board has been made aware that there is an investigation ongoing. And I think we all are anxious to hear the outcome."

Mike Kenyon, Kane County's GOP leader and chairman of the county board's judicial and public safety committee, said he, too, is awaiting the investigation's outcome.

"He (West) is in line to get a pretty nice pension," Kenyon said. "If I was him, I would ask myself, do I want to take a chance on losing my pension? Do I want to resign and walk away from this, or do I want to stand and fight? And if I stand and fight, am I willing to risk losing everything? If there's any truth to it, I would think his lawyer would be telling him to resign. But then again, not everyone listens to their lawyer."

If the theft allegation turns out to be true, Kenyon said, it would be among the worst breeches of the public trust that could happen in a coroner's office.

"That office has to be built on trust," Kenyon said. "There are two things that would be bad if they happened in that office. Those are if you couldn't be trusted in somebody's house and if you couldn't be trusted with a body."

TV: West does not plan to seek re-election