Investigation of undersheriff up to Bianchi, judge rules

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WOODSTOCK – After a judge Friday declined to appoint a special prosecutor, McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi would not comment on whether his office plans to investigate allegations that Undersheriff Andrew Zinke interfered with a federal drug investigation.

“Our policy is to never admit that there’s an investigation or deny that there’s an investigation,” Bianchi said.

He did say he has consulted with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office.

In documents filed last week, Sgt. John Koziol alleges that Zinke tipped off the owner of a Crystal Lake business that was part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation into the transportation of thousands of pounds of marijuana.

Judge Thomas A. Meyer on Friday denied Koziol’s request to appoint a special prosecutor, saying there is no per se conflict between the sheriff’s office and the state’s attorney’s office. Meyer cited a ruling he made in April, when he declined to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Sheriff Keith Nygren based on allegations made by a deputy.

Meyer said he has “been through this backwards and forwards” and the decision whether to investigate and possibly prosecute lies exclusively with the state’s attorney.

Previously, in the request for a special prosecutor to investigate Nygren, Bianchi said he could not investigate the sheriff because of a conflict of interest. He said his office could not have it both ways – representing the sheriff in other cases and prosecuting him at the same time.

However, Bianchi’s office took a different position when it comes to the undersheriff.

In court Friday, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs told the judge that the State’s Attorney’s Office is not currently representing Zinke – rather some matters involving him are being handled by outside counsel.

“It’s our position that the allegations do not give rise to a conflict of interest,” Combs said. “We can investigate the matter ... we don’t believe that anybody should be appointed.”

Koziol’s attorney, Jonathan Nye, said he was disappointed by Judge Meyer’s decision, but gratified that the State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed their intention to seek the assistance of an independent prosecutorial agency.

“I’m assuming that they will investigate and proceed as appropriate,” Nye said.

Nye represented lawyer and former McHenry County sheriff’s deputy Jim Harrison in his divorce and the two attended law school together. Harrison has announced his intention to run for sheriff against Zinke in 2014.

RITA Corporation, the business that Koziol alleges was part of the DEA investigation, is owned by Brian Goode, a close friend of Zinke’s who has contributed to the political campaigns of Sheriff Nygren and, more recently, Zinke.

Goode has said his business was a victim, not a participant, and that the marijuana apparently was placed on common-carrier trucks transporting materials to RITA Corp. by third parties attempting to smuggle it into the United States.

He said neither he nor RITA Corp. had any knowledge of and were not involved in the marijuana being on truck.

Zinke has said that Koziol is a disgruntled employee who recently was transferred out of the narcotics unit to patrol.

Zinke said Friday that he is awaiting a decision from Bianchi’s office and the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office. Bianchi recently attended a political fundraiser for one of Zinke’s opponents, Bill Prim.

“They have not committed to anything, yet,” Zinke said. “Once they make a decision, I am prepared to respond.”

Nygren was present in court Friday, as was McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler.

If the judge appointed a special prosecutor, Koehler said he would have approached the bench to provide representation for the county.

The last time a special prosecutor was appointed was to investigate Bianchi, who was indicted twice on multiple official misconduct charges but ultimately acquitted of all counts following two trials.

That prosecution led to more than $500,000 in bills for the county and a new law making it more difficult for special prosecutors to be appointed.

Koehler declined to comment on whether he has spoken with DEA officials, but said that if the allegations against Zinke have merit, he believes that “the DEA would have chimed in by now.”

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