A Huntley police officer who cracked two complicated cases has been named McHenry County Officer of the Year.
Detective Joe Willard, 35, who has been on the force for 11½ years, received his award from the McHenry County Chiefs of Police Association. He said it was an honor just to be nominated.
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"You don't expect to have recognition, you just do your job and you do it to the best of your ability," Willard said. "The acknowledgment alone was nice."
Willard was recognized for his work on a complicated insurance scam in which a local insurance agent collected thousands of dollars in premiums from his customers, but never applied their payments to their policies. Willard spent months reading through documents and information found on seized computers and found numerous people who were victims of the scam. Police later arrested Russell Palermo in South Elgin and he was charged with 33 counts related to insurance fraud. That case is pending, Willard said.
In the second case, Willard investigated a burglary in which cash and a gun were stolen from a home. Willard discovered the gun had been sold to an Elgin gang member and Willard worked with Elgin police to arrest the gang member and seize the gun before it was used in a more serious crime. That case concluded within 48 hours of the original police report and in the end, 20 charges were filed against four suspects.
Huntley Police Chief John Perkins, who nominated Willard for the award, called him a tenacious investigator whom he jokingly dubs "a wart," because he never gives up.
"If he's after you, he never goes away," said Perkins, also the association's president. "When he gets on a case, it may take him months, but he comes to a good resolution."
True to form, Willard is still working on a string of burglaries in Sun City during the past two years. He's also working on a retail theft case he suspects involves heroin addicts stealing razor blades and selling them in Chicago.
"Everyday I'm looking at different angles to try to get charges in some of the cases, if not all," Willard said. "I just don't ever let this die because it's going to become a thorn in my side."
The association presented the second-annual award to Willard over the weekend during a reception and banquet held at the Bull Valley Golf Club in Woodstock. He beat out seven other nominees.