County gets back $105K in Bianchi case

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County has recouped more than $100,000 from one of the special prosecutors it paid nearly $60,000 in the investigation and unsuccessful prosecution of State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi.

County officials received a check for $105,000 Friday in the settlement of a federal civil lawsuit between Henry C. Tonigan and Bianchi, who was acquitted of corruption charges in two trials in 2009.

In settling the lawsuit, Tonigan agreed to pay $157,500 without admitting any fault in the prosecution of Bianchi. Under an agreement between Bianchi and the McHenry County Board – which paid $275,000 for Bianchi and his secretary’s legal bills – the county got a cut of the settlement.

McHenry County Deputy Administrator John Labaj said the money will go back into an insurance liability fund to reimburse the money used to pay Bianchi’s bills.

But the county can’t close its checkbook in the case just yet. Still outstanding is $200,349 in disputed legal bills.

To date, the county has paid $231,522 to the special prosecutors, plus $275,000 for Bianchi’s bills. Tonigan had been paid roughly $60,000 for his work.

County Board Chairman Ken Koehler said that while the county was required to pay Tonigan’s bills, negotiating with Bianchi to try to recoup some money from his lawsuit against the prosecutors was worthwhile.

“We’re still down,” Koehler said. “But I’m confident that we’re going to see more.”

Bianchi’s federal lawsuit against the other special prosecutor, Thomas McQueen, remains pending.

McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham in 2009 appointed Tonigan and McQueen to investigate claims by Bianchi’s former secretary that he had her do campaign work for him on taxpayer time.

A special grand jury handed up 21 corruption counts against Bianchi, and six against his secretary, Joyce Synek.

Graham authorized Tonigan and McQueen to expand their investigation, which resulted in three more charges against Bianchi and one each against state’s attorney investigators Ron Salgado and Michael McCleary.

In two bench trials last year, a Winnebago County judge acquitted Bianchi and Synek of all charges without the defense having to call a single witness. The judge threw out charges against Salgado and McCleary.

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