Officials say Fox Lake cop stole from youth program, killed himself – Chicago Tribune
Upending the portrayal of Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz as a hero tragically cut down in the line of duty as he neared retirement, authorities on Wednesday said the Fox Lake officer died in a suicide he staged to look like a murder as it became clear he could face consequences for years of alleged theft.
Gliniewicz, 52, shot himself in a “carefully staged suicide” as it became clear that his “extensive criminal acts” could come to light during a review of village finances and practices, said George Filenko, commander of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force. Prosecutors, meanwhile, are continuing to investigate possible crimes by others that were revealed during the probe into the officer’s death.
Gliniewicz ran the village’s Explorer youth police training program and he had been stealing money from it for some seven years, Filenko said. Gliniewicz stole an amount in the five figures and used the money for personal expenses, including mortgage payments, travel and adult websites, Filenko said.
The announcement marked a sharp turn for an investigation that began Sept. 1 with hundreds of officers, as well as dogs and helicopters, searching for suspects who apparently never existed. In the weeks that followed, Lake County authorities downplayed the possibility that Gliniewicz took his own life.
A 30-year veteran and fixture of the lakeside village, Gliniewicz was laid to rest after a funeral attended by thousands, at which he was portrayed as a selfless public servant who gave his life for his community. The lieutenant, a heavily tattooed Army veteran known to many as “G.I. Joe,” mentored many youths through the Explorers, and some observers portrayed his death as evidence of an escalating war on police.
To the contrary, authorities said Wednesday, Gliniewicz staged his suicide as it became clear that he could face repercussions for using the youth program to facilitate his thefts. Text messages Gliniewicz had sent, which authorities revealed Wednesday, appeared to suggest threats against Village Administrator Anne Marrin. Investigators have also seen evidence that Gliniewicz had made contact with a woman linked to the Outlaws motorcycle gang to discuss the possibility of a gang member doing harm to Marrin, said multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation. The interest in harming the official is one of several areas of possible wrongdoing still under investigation, the sources said.
Police also said Gliniewicz had forged documents to get equipment from a military surplus program.
The day before he died, police said, Gliniewicz sent a text message voicing concern that he’d been asked for a financial report and inventory for the Explorer program.
“Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal to the citizens he served and the entire law enforcement community,” Filenko said. “The facts of his actions prove he behaved for years in a manner completely contrary to the image he portrayed.”
Gliniewicz’s family members, who have insisted he did not kill himself, declined to comment on the allegations in a statement released through attorneys.
“Today has been another day of deep sorrow for the Gliniewicz family,” the statement reads. “The Gliniewicz family requests that their privacy be respected as they continue to cope with the loss of the beloved husband and father.”
The ruling of suicide could have serious financial consequences for Gliniewicz’s survivors, as the families of officers killed in the line of duty are eligible for benefits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, experts have said.
His death will likely continue to reverberate. Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim said the results of the investigation have been turned over to his office, as well as to the FBI, for investigation of alleged crimes that are not related to Gliniewicz’s shooting but were uncovered during the inquiry into it. The FBI declined to comment.
Leroy Marre, 79, of Antioch, a neighbor of the Gliniewiczes, said the news of the late officer’s suicide left him in shock.
“What a surprise, from hero to criminal,” he said.
The question of how Gliniewicz died has driven controversy since shortly after officers found him mortally wounded in a remote marshy area. Wednesday’s revelations left Filenko and others to answer pointed questions as to why authorities spent weeks discouraging the idea that Gliniewicz took his own life.
“Our intention was never to mislead the public. We completely believed that this was a homicide,” Filenko said, adding that investigators came to believe in recent weeks that it was a suicide.
About 8 a.m. Sept. 1, Gliniewicz radioed in that he was pursuing two white males and a black male. After dispatchers lost contact with Gliniewicz, responding officers found him shot, with his .40-caliber handgun resting nearby.
That touched off a massive but fruitless manhunt followed by an investigation initially geared toward finding the trio Gliniewicz had described. Officers tracked down three men captured on video in the area, but then announced they’d been ruled out as suspects. Police never mentioned any other suspects as the investigation ground on for weeks and — with a dearth of information coming from authorities — rumors and vague information proliferated.
On Wednesday, authorities laid out what they believed happened.
Gliniewicz staged his death by leaving a trail of his equipment — including his pepper spray, baton and glasses — around the scene to try to mislead investigators, Filenko said.
Gliniewicz fired one shot that hit his protective vest and cellphone and aimed a second, fatal bullet beneath his vest in his upper torso, authorities said. With the help of FBI behavioral experts, authorities concluded he’d shot himself, in part because he was not dragged after being shot and there were no physical signs he’d fought for his life.
Marrin said questions about Gliniewicz’s management of the Explorer program began with a routine review of village departments that started after she was hired in 2014 as the town’s first professional administrator. When Marrin asked questions about finances, sought an inventory of the Explorer post equipment and inquired about parental consent forms, “no one seemed to have the answers,” she said.
“There were various red flags,” she said.