Wife of ex-Island Lake mayor goes on trial this week
There is a well-worn path between Island Lake village government and the Lake County criminal courts.
Two ex-mayors and a former village clerk have been indicted on felony charges, and one of those mayors, a former village trustee and the head of the village recreation department have been charged with misdemeanor battery.
Convictions on those charges would make the officials sure bets for court supervision, probation and perhaps local jail time. But when jury selection begins Monday for the theft and official misconduct trial of the director of the village-run preschool, the stakes are much higher.
If a jury finds Sharon Hyde, the 60-year-old wife of former Mayor Thomas Hyde, guilty of theft of government property, she will face a minimum sentence of six years in prison.
It is the most severe punishment any Island Lake official accused of a crime has faced in the nearly four years since the current spate of case files began to open.
Attorneys on the case and village officials likely to be called as witnesses in the trial all declined to comment for this story, but numerous court hearings since Hyde was charged June 10, 2009, have produced a rich history of the case.
Hyde is accused of collecting $114,000 in pay for hours she did not work as director of the village's Creative Playtime preschool between 1999 and 2009.
Her husband was also charged in the case, announced in June 2009, with official misconduct and having a prohibitive interest in contracts for voting as a village trustee and mayor to pay his wife for the disputed time.
But the charges against Thomas Hyde were dismissed in May 2010 when Circuit Judge Fred Foreman ruled there was not a sufficient link between Thomas Hyde's financial interests and his wife's.
Defense attorneys Charles Smith and his son, Brian Smith, filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Sharon Hyde as well. However, Foreman's rejection of that request appears to have touched off a series of actions by the village board.
Within two days of Foreman's March 2010 decision that Sharon Hyde would have to face trial on the charges against her, a majority of the board voted to pass a resolution seemingly designed to undercut her criminal case.
The board resolution proclaimed, as the Smiths had argued, that she was a salaried employee paid a flat amount of money regardless of the hours she worked.
As with many things brought before the village board, the members divided into two opposing camps on the issue of Hyde's employment status.
Mayor Debbie Hermann and trustees Connie Mascillino, Donna O'Malley and Don Vercigilo voted to approve the resolution during a March 11, 2010, board meeting after trustees John Ponio, Laurie Rabattini and Don Saville walked out in protest.
Assistant state's attorneys Christen Bishop and Jason Grindel have promised they will counter the resolution by producing time cards Hyde filled out before the resolution's passage as evidence her pay was linked to the time she spent on the job.
At a hearing in October to decide if the resolution can be introduced at the trial, Brian Smith argued the document clears Hyde of the charges because it is a statement from the victim saying no crime occurred.
"There is obviously some disagreement as to Sharon Hyde's pay status," Smith said at the time. "Here we have a statement from her employer, the person allegedly being stolen from, clarifying that matter."
Grindel argued against the resolution's admissibility and called it "a very conveniently timed, biased political document" drafted by Hyde's board allies.
Foreman ruled late last year that Hyde's defense team can use the resolution as part of her defense as long as the village board members who adopted it testify about the reasons for its drafting.
That ruling was a mistake, according to DePaul University law professor Len Cavise, because of the signal it might send to other government bodies.
"The resolution has no business at all in a criminal trial because you cannot have governments absolving their friends of illegal activity," Cavise said. "Once you open the door to that, you open the door to governments criminalizing the activities of their enemies."
The jurors are also scheduled to hear from an expert in federal labor law who, the Smiths told Foreman, will show Hyde was a salaried employee, based on how village records comply with the law.
Bishop argued unsuccessfully against that potential testimony by saying the prosecution was prepared to call six current and former Creative Playtime employees who will testify Hyde was rarely at the preschool.
"The question of if she was a salaried employee or an hourly employee should not be overemphasized," Bishop said. "The fact of the matter is that one has to show up for work in order to get paid."
Other current and former Island Lake officials still facing charges are:
•Thomas Hyde on misdemeanor battery charges for a physical confrontation with a man -- who may be called to testify at Sharon Hyde's trial -- at a party in December 2009. Thomas Hyde was acquitted of forgery charges regarding his handling of a liquor license after a 2009 trial.
•Former Mayor Charles Amrich is awaiting trial on charges he steered village vehicle maintenance to a gas station he owned during his 20 years in office. •Christine Becker, the village clerk from 2001 to 2005, has pleaded not guilty to charges she destroyed village computer files the day after she was defeated for re-election.
•Former village trustee Rich Garling is due to appear in court April 27 on misdemeanor battery charges based on an alleged confrontation with a village resident at a meeting in 2009.
•Karen Luebbers, the village recreation department administrator, was charged with misdemeanor battery in January and is scheduled to appear in court May 9.