Ex-Island Lake mayor knew of controversial robocall script
40-second message targeted rival just before election
Former Island Lake Mayor Debbie Herrmann knew about the preparation of a controversial robocall that went out days before April's election, a Lake County state's attorney's office investigation has revealed.
Herrmann knew a script was being created for the 40-second call, which targeted mayoral rival and eventual winner Charles Amrich, State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said. She also asked various people if they knew anyone who would be interested in recording the message, he said.
But after three months, investigators have uncovered no criminal wrongdoing connected to the robocall, Nerheim said.
The call, from someone claiming to be a police officer, told people Amrich had been indicted and informed them he was knocking on doors as part of his campaign. The speaker said people had the right to ask Amrich to leave their property and invited them to call police if he knocked on their doors.
A jury found Amrich -- the town's mayor from 1985 to 2005 -- not guilty of official misconduct charges in 2011. The recording made no mention of that acquittal.
Amrich defeated Herrmann in a landslide April 9.
There's no evidence Herrmann personally made the call, knows who recorded the call or had any direct involvement with the recording process, Nerheim said. Additionally, there's no evidence she spent village funds or used village facilities to record it, he said.
Still, Nerheim was critical of the call, particularly the implication it was from law enforcement.
"(It's) simply wrong," he told the Daily Herald.
In a telephone message Thursday, Herrmann said the robocall script was one of five sent to her by a company working on her campaign. She didn't name the company.
Herrmann also acknowledged forwarding the script to someone else but didn't say whom. She denied approving the robocall.
"I did not authorize nor did we pay for that particular robocall, nor any robocall for that matter," she said. "Nobody on our slate authorized it to go out."
Herrmann suggested the recording was made and distributed "accidentally."
In a telephone interview Thursday, Amrich said he wasn't surprised by Nerheim's revelation.
"It's a sad day when somebody has to resort to something that defames somebody," he said. "That's really low. It's lower than low."
Island Lake residents received the robocall April 6, just three days before the election.
Email records and grand jury testimony tied Herrmann to the script for the call, Nerheim said. He declined to elaborate, citing the confidential nature of the grand jury process.
The message was denounced by Amrich, his allies and the four candidates running with Herrmann. Many residents filed complaints at the police department about the call.
The chief at the time, Bill McCorkle, insisted no one in his department was responsible for the recording. He told the Daily Herald it was "over the line."
McCorkle resigned after the election.
Herrmann didn't answer specific questions from the Daily Herald about the robocall in April. Instead, she issued a statement via email that her slate did not pay for or endorse the robocall.
The actual source of the call couldn't be traced, Nerheim said. Ameritech has no record of the call being made, he said.
"Based upon that information, we believe the call was spoofed, where the original number was masked by routing the call through another number," Nerheim said.
Connie Mascillino, who was a Herrmann ally and served as trustee and village clerk during her administration, criticized the call in April.
On Thursday, Mascillino again insisted it was made without her knowledge.
"Whatever (Herrmann) chose to do, she did solely by herself," said Mascillino, who lost the clerk's race to Teresa Ponio. "That's on her shoulders."
Amrich and all four of the candidates running with him in April won overwhelmingly. He believes the robocall hurt Herrmann at the polls.
"People don't like that kind of garbage," Amrich said. "People saw right through it."
The case remains open, Nerheim said. Although there's no evidence the call constituted a crime, he criticized the tactic.
"Negative campaigning shouldn't be condoned, whether it's legal or illegal," he said. "It certainly sends the wrong message to the voters."