Coroner addresses allegation of theft involved in criminal probe
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Kane County Coroner Chuck West admitted Friday that he allowed two deputies to remove a television from a dead man's house in 2007, but said he never intended for anyone to keep it.
The admission, made in an interview with the Daily Herald, was described as a "significant development" by a special prosecutor who has been investigating West's office for more than six months.
"In all likelihood, it might help us reach a conclusion in an expedited fashion," said Charles Colburn, the special prosecutor. "This may lead us in some other directions."
According to West, the television was removed after his staff found 18 shotguns and rifles, numerous swords and machetes, and some unused grenades in a Carpentersville home, which also showed signs of a burglary.
West, whose office was there for a death investigation, said he allowed two employees to take the television because of a lack of storage at the coroner's headquarters.
"If you came into my office you'd know that we have no storage," he said. "Anything that we take in has to be stored somewhere. We didn't want gang members breaking into this house and having access to weapons."
It's not uncommon for West's office to take possession of items found at a death scene, he said. Such items can help track down family members and establish a deceased person's identity. They're eventually auctioned off to recoup the cost of cremation if the deceased person's next of kin can't be found.
"It wasn't hidden. It hadn't been stolen," West said of the big-screen TV. "The minute it was asked for and we were informed of the family, it was given to them on the spot."
West said he never told the employees they could keep the television for good, and agreed it is somewhat unusual for his staff to take items from a death investigation home for storage.
"Is that a common practice? No," West said. "Had we had the storage at the time, it probably would've been moved over there. But again, it wasn't an issue to my knowledge. We just weren't aware that any family had been located. This was based on my decision, so I have no problem with (the deputies taking the TV home). I stand behind that."
Also on Friday, West described the investigation into his office as politically motivated, and said his knowledge of it is limited to what he's read in newspapers.
West said his attorney, Gary Johnson, told him Colburn offered to end the probe in exchange for his resignation - a claim Colburn flatly denied.
"I can't talk about where this case may go, but no offers have been made of any type," Colburn said. "(West has) never spoken to me directly. It's a significant development that he's made a statement."
Johnson declined to comment Friday.
West said the public allegations about wrongdoing in his office have been hard to deal with because they are untrue and unclear. He has two years left in office and said he will not resign under any circumstance.
"I love the job, but I hate the politics," he said. "I'm just going to finish my term and get the hell out of here."
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