JOHNSBURG – The deed at the heart of a property dispute between the village of Johnsburg and a village president candidate is not fraudulent, according to testimony submitted to a McHenry County grand jury.
The dispute, which has involved both civil and criminal courts and has cost taxpayers an estimated $40,000, is over an undeveloped 60-foot stretch of Maple Avenue in the Buena Park subdivision that leads to the Fox River.
Village president candidate Maggie Haney and her husband, Frank, live on the neighboring plot. Since at least 1996, they have sought to acquire the road, according to court documents.
After attempts to find the heirs to the property failed, their attorney advised them to issue a quitclaim deed transferring the property from Maggie Haney to Frank and Maggie Haney, which they did in 2006, according to the documents.
“It’s as if I quitclaim myself the Sears Tower,” Village Attorney Michael Smoron said to McHenry County Judge Michael Caldwell in June. “[There is] no reference to a successor. She admits she didn’t receive the property by gifts. She didn’t pay for it. And ... all along she has said, ‘I have a perfect title. I can show you the chain of title.’ Wonderful. Demonstrate it. We all know that that’s not the case.”
The Haneys sued the village in 2010, saying they, not the village, owned the property. Caldwell dismissed the lawsuit in August. He also denied the village’s request that the Haneys pay sanctions.
In court documents, the village of Johnsburg said it received jurisdiction over the road in 1991 from the McHenry Township Road District.
When the Haneys’ attorney wrote to the village saying ownership lay with the original subdivider’s heirs, the village obtained a deed from Timothy Miller, one of the heirs, to eliminate any issue.
Maggie Haney approached the Illinois State Police this year with suspicions the deed, which she discovered in the course of the civil lawsuit, was fraudulent. At a recent Village Board meeting, she also expressed concerns about missing checks, late fees and checks being issued without board approval.
Village Administrator Claudett Peters received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in February with all documents related to the property, according to documents acquired by the Northwest Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The village also supplied a copy of a sworn affidavit by Miller, saying he did, in fact, sign the deed in February 2011.
Haney questioned why Peters would have to be subpoenaed, and why she wouldn’t just hand over the documents when they were requested by the state police.
She added that she also had requested the subpoena through a FOIA before the Northwest Herald had and the village asked for a 14-day extension to review it.
Peters declined to comment on why the village didn’t hand over the documents when they were requested by investigators, asking that questions be directed to the village attorney.
“Here’s what I understand to have happened,” said the attorney handling the grand jury investigation for the village, Tony Sassan. “They reached out to Johnsburg with an extremely broad request. I tried to contact the investigators several times and provide us with an idea of what they were looking for. There was no response until the subpoena is issued.”
Because of the secretive nature of grand juries, their proceedings are not public information. Generally, the public knows only whether a grand jury has reached a decision if an indictment is issued.
The criminal proceedings have cost the village more money, according to a news release posted to the village’s website last week. It was authorized by Village President Ed Hettermann.
It lambasted the Haneys, calling their lawsuit frivolous and saying that the case has cost the village $14,000 in legal costs and even more in record requests.
The village filed an appeal in civil court asking that the Haneys pay sanctions, which the village says will help cover its costs. The appeal argues the Haneys would request documents several times through FOIA and through discovery in the case.
Maggie Haney’s FOIA requests resulted in the production of 3,700 copies and 157 employee hours, Peters said. Those numbers do not include her requests to the police department.
The news release was a misuse of taxpayer dollars and libelous, Maggie Haney said in a news release.
“Fact: Transparency does not cost money,” she wrote. “Refusal to comply with Freedom of Information requests does cost the taxpayers money. Fact: Cooperating with law enforcement investigations does not cost taxpayers money. Refusal to comply with law enforcement investigation does cost taxpayers money.”