McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi conspired to misuse county resources and personnel to further his political fortunes and tried to deter one of his top assistants from turning over documents related to the allegations, according to a 21-count indictment handed up Friday.
The felony indictment charging Bianchi with official misconduct, conspiracy and unlawful communication with a grand jury witness culminates a yearlong probe into claims of wrongdoing within Bianchi's administration.
Long road to indictment
Here is a look at what led to Friday's indictment of McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi on corruption charges:
• Oct. 3, 2007: State's Attorney Investigator Ron Salgado receives confidential tip, according to court documents, claiming that a former female employee "close to Bianchi" had removed computer files from the office.
• Oct. 9, 2007: Daily Herald files Freedom of Information Act request seeking state's attorney documents purporting to show that former Bianchi secretary Amy Dalby performed campaign-related work on county time. Request denied.
• Nov. 29, 2007: Citing the discovery of documents the office previously claimed not to have, Bianchi asks for a special prosecutor to investigate whether they were unlawfully removed from his office and distributed to political opponents. McHenry County Chief Judge Michael Sullivan appoints former Cook County prosecutor David O'Connor.
• Feb. 2, 2008: After a bitter campaign with former county prosecutor Daniel Regna, Bianchi wins the Republican nomination for state's attorney.
• Nov. 4, 2008: Bianchi defeats Democrat Thomas Cynor to win second term as state's attorney.
• Feb. 18, 2009: O'Connor publicly confirms special grand jury investigating claims of stolen files.
• Feb. 26, 2009: Dalby indicted by special grand jury on charges of official misconduct, computer tampering, computer fraud and theft.
• April 23, 2009: Through her attorney, Dalby files petition for special prosecutor to investigate her claims she performed political work at Bianchi's behest on county time.
• May 27, 2009: Dalby pleads guilty to misdemeanor computer tampering, later says she removed documents to prove her accusations against Bianchi. O'Connor says it was part of scheme to aid Bianchi's political rivals. She is sentenced to court supervision.
• Sept. 4, 2009: McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham announces he will appoint special prosecutor to investigate Dalby's claims. Two weeks later, he names former Lake County Chief Judge Henry Tonigan III as special prosecutor.
• April 8, 2010: Tonigan confirms he will begin seating a grand jury to investigate whether any criminal actions were taken by Bianchi or others in his administration.
• Aug. 27, 2010: Former state's attorney criminal division chief Nichole Owens appears before special grand jury, reportedly among the last of several Bianchi staffers called to testify in the probe.
• Sept. 10, 2010: Special grand jury issues 21-county felony indictment charging Bianchi with official misconduct, conspiracy and unlawful communication with a grand jury witness. Also indicted was Bianchi secretary Joyce Synek on charges of conspiracy, perjury and obstructing justice.
The charges accuse the second-term Republican from Crystal Lake of a pattern of behavior from 2005 to 2010 in which he unlawfully used county staff, equipment and employees for political purposes, such as creating and maintaining campaign donor lists, speeches and thank you letters.
Bianchi, 67, turned himself in to the McHenry County Sheriff's office Friday afternoon, was processed and then released on a $100,000 recognizance bond.
In a written statement issued about an hour after the indictment, Bianchi blames the charges on political opponents and refers to the investigation against him as an "out-of-control special prosecution."
"I am stunned by this indictment because I have done nothing wrong," he said. "In private practice before and in public life now, I have always acted lawfully and with integrity. This episode represents the first time in my 42-year career that my integrity has been questioned."
"I became a target of this special prosecution because in restoring integrity to this office, I stopped the influence peddling and deal making that had been rampant," he added. "My political opponents have been relentless, used legal and illegal methods again and again to destroy me. They need to remove me from office so that they can regain their power and control."
His attorney, Terry Ekl, said Bianchi has no plans to resign or temporarily step down from his office.
"This indictment is an example of why people mistrust special prosecutors with a financial incentive to indict," Ekl said. "These guys better be ready for a war; they're going to get it."
All of the charges against Bianchi are felonies, the most serious of which carry maximum sentences of two to five years in prison if he is convicted. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Sept. 24.
Ekl said there has not been a decision on trying to move the case out of McHenry County, but added that he does not believe any of the county's judges could preside over the case.
Indicted alongside Bianchi was his personal secretary, Joyce Synek, 62, of Woodstock. Synek faces charges of conspiracy, perjury and obstructing justice alleging she also misused county resources for campaign purposes, lied before the grand jury investigating her boss and destroyed evidence.
Synek declined to comment when reached Friday. She also was process Friday afternoon and released on a $100,000 recognizance bond pending a Sept. 24 court date.
The indictment follows an investigation launched Sept. 18, 2009, when a McHenry County court appointed retired Lake County Chief Judge Henry Tonigan III as a special prosecutor to look into allegations Bianchi had a previous personal secretary perform campaign and political tasks while on the clock.
Former secretary Amy Dalby sought the probe, claiming that while working for Bianchi in 2005 and 2006, she was required to do political work, including setting up for a fundraiser, typing letters to campaign supporters and keeping track of a donor list.
Dalby, of Woodstock, came forward after Bianchi launched his own special prosecution targeting her and others in the wake of a Daily Herald Freedom of Information request for political documents produced on county computers. Bianchi's office denied the request, claiming it could not find the documents.
Last year, Dalby was indicted on multiple felony charges she illegally copied and removed thousands of computer files from the state's attorney's office and turned them over to supporters of a political rival. Dalby, who later would plead guilty to misdemeanor computer tampering, said she removed the files as proof she did political work at her boss' behest.
The allegations in the indictment go well beyond Dalby's claims to include accusations Bianchi continued to use county resources for political gain well after she left his office, and even after he learned she was telling others of her political work.
Among the claims are that Bianchi:
• Had two secretaries - Synek and Dalby - maintain political correspondence, memorandums and address lists on county computers;
• Allowed staff to leave the office during work hours to attend campaign committee meetings and political functions;
• Gave his employees time and a half compensation time off for marching in parades and appearing at community events;
• Used state's attorney office manager meetings to discuss and make decisions related to political and campaign needs;
• Attempted to deter attorney Thomas Carroll, chief of the office's civil division, from testifying fully and truthfully in front of the grand jury by providing false information regarding documents subpoenaed from Carroll.
After investigating the claims for nearly seven months, Tonigan empaneled a grand jury in April. In the months that followed, jurors heard from several current and former Bianchi staffers, most recently his former criminal division chief, Nichole Owens, who appeared before the panel Aug. 27.
At the time the grand jury was seated, Bianchi pleaded that he and his office would fully cooperate with the investigation.
"We look forward to a conclusion and of being absolved," he said.