Nygren: Undersheriff broke no rules on drug case

WOODSTOCK – An internal investigation of Undersheriff Andrew Zinke found that he did not violate any McHenry County Sheriff’s Office general orders when he spoke to a friend about a federal drug investigation.

Sgt. John Koziol alleged in court documents 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.

That owner, Brian Goode, is a close friend of Zinke, as well as a contributor to Zinke’s campaign for sheriff in 2014.

“It has been determined that ... the complaints are without merit,” Sheriff Keith Nygren said Tuesday. “There’s nothing criminal here. There hasn’t been any violation of any departmental rule or regulation and the entire episode is not sustained.”

Instead, Nygren said, the allegations against Zinke were orchestrated by a political opponent.

In October, Koziol requested a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate Zinke. That request was denied by a judge a few weeks later.

Then late last month, McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi announced that an investigation by his office determined Zinke broke no laws. Bianchi said Koziol’s allegations that Zinke broke departmental rules were for the sheriff’s office to investigate.

The sheriff’s investigation was conducted by Don Leist, an equal employment opportunity officer for the sheriff’s office, and included communication with the DEA office, Nygren said.

The DEA indicated that Zinke did not compromise the investigation nor the relationship between the DEA and sheriff’s office, Nygren said. Zinke was trying to bring in a cooperating witness with access to things such as shipping information, Nygren said, and that’s ultimately a judgment call.

“He didn’t try to hide that,” Nygren said. “He told Koziol that he thought he could probably gain some information that would be helpful.”

The most harm actually was done by Koziol, Nygren said, when Koziol filed the affidavit and made the investigation public.

“If integrity and secrecy are the most important things to you, why would you do this?” Nygren said.

Nygren said the answer is clear: One of Zinke’s political opponents in the race for sheriff, Jim Harrison, orchestrated it all.

Harrison, a Woodstock-based attorney who focuses on employment law, accompanied Koziol to an interview for the internal investigation.

“If you’re going to run for political office, then you ought to have the guts to meet somebody head on, not try to back-door them and stab them in the back,” Nygren said.

Harrison also previously filed a complaint against Zinke with a federal agency, saying that Zinke must resign to run for office because of a federal law aimed at preventing government employees from using their position to influence partisan elections.

A March letter from the Office of Special Counsel indicated that the file was being closed on that matter.

Harrison did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

Zinke said Koziol’s complaint was meant to be a political attack, but it failed, and the experience had taught him valuable lessons about politics.

“The allegation against me was made in order to further a political agenda that played into a specific timeline of my opponents and their fundraisers,” Zinke said. “It is clear from the lack of involvement or statements from the DEA or Department of Justice that they did not wish to participate in this witch hunt.”

Goode, who also serves on the sheriff’s department merit commission, has said that his business was a victim of third parties putting marijuana on trucks that also were transporting material to his business, RITA Corp. in Crystal Lake. He said neither he nor RITA Corp. were involved in the marijuana being on any trucks.  

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Undersheriff Andrew Zinke’s statement:

During the past several weeks, I have learned a lot about politics and the desperation of my purported opponents. I am grateful for the support I have received from my friends, family, elected officials, area police chiefs, and our amazing staff at the Sheriff’s Office. It is clear from the onset this complaint was meant to be a political assassination. It failed. Though I have never run for such a prestigious political office before, I am not deterred and look forward to a professional and positive campaign in 2014. My ethical, moral and Christian beliefs are strengthened by this process. I am determined now, more than ever to be the next sheriff of McHenry County. This experience has taught me valuable lessons that I will continue to build upon to ensure that the MCSO remains an example of professionalism and quality service to the citizens of McHenry County. Like every police agency, business or government entity, we have disgruntled employees. We hold everyone in our Office to a higher standard and expect professionalism and results. Those who either underperform or fail to comply with laws, rules and regulations are disciplined. Maintaining an accredited and professional office is my priority. I commend our vastly silent majority who come to work every day, willing to put forth their best efforts and place their lives on the line for the sake of keeping our community safe.

In the past two years, strategic plans to increase our effectiveness, reallocate staff, and tighten our performance standards have met with positive results and will continue to occur. The allegation against me was made in order to further a political agenda that played into a specific timeline of my opponents and their fundraisers. It is clear from the lack of involvement or statements from the DEA or the Department of Justice that they did not wish to participate in this witch hunt. I am thankful for our ongoing partnerships with the DEA, FBI, U.S. Marshals and area agencies. I have worked with and continue to work with some of the best law enforcement officers in the country, during my 24 year career at the Sheriff’s Office. I am thankful and proud of all of them. 

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