Challenger: Sheriff ignored complaints against donors

Updated 8/28/2014 12:08 PM
  • Mark Curran, left, and Jason Patt, right, are candidates for Lake County Sheriff in the 2014 general election.

    Mark Curran, left, and Jason Patt, right, are candidates for Lake County Sheriff in the 2014 general election.

The Democratic challenger for Lake County Sheriff says incumbent Mark Curran has ignored complaints against two campaign contributors.

Jason Patt, of Zion, said Curran took no action against Aramark, the Lake County jail food service provider, after inmates received a meal containing insects Aug. 18. He also said Curran has not acted against a high-ranking sheriff administrator who allegedly threatened to "shoot deputies during roll call," a news release states.

Both have donated to Curran's election campaign, Patt said.

In response, Curran said Patt shows a "complete lack of management ability" by turning the issues into campaign rhetoric.

"He has no management experience, no law experience, no command experience and is completely unqualified to lead an agency like the Lake County Sheriff's Office with almost 600 employees," Curran said.

Patt is facing off against Curran, a Libertyville Republican, in the Nov. 4 election.

Curran said a fruit fly was discovered on two meals delivered to inmates at the Lake County jail. It's unclear where the fruit flies came from, he said, but the food was removed after prisoner complaints. He said new meals were prepared for the inmates who were affected.

Curran said sheriff's office employees do not handle food. The food is heated by prisoners and delivered to cell blocks by inmates, he explained.

"We made an inquiry to the company at that time to alert them, and they handled it. We have not heard about any problems since," Curran said, adding the jail serves about 1 million meals a year. "Our employees never touched the food, and as far as I know, Aramark never touched the food. The minute we heard about this, we acted."

Patt said Curran ignored the food complaint because Aramark, which has 270,000 employees and serves 22 countries, donated $1,700 to Curran's campaign, state campaign finance records show.

"You have to wonder, either Curran doesn't care about the well-being of the people he is holding in the jail, or he is beholden to a contributor to his campaign and providing special treatment in exchange for political support," he added.

Patt said Curran also has yet to discipline another campaign contributor -- a chief administrator with the office who threatened deputies during a June 18 roll call.

Sheriff officials said the administrator, who is not identified because no charges have been filed, told deputies "change is coming," and "If you don't agree with the changes coming, you can leave."

The administrator also said he would meet whomever didn't like the changes in the parking lot, and "We carry our wounded, and we shoot the stragglers. So if you're a straggler, you will be shot," officials said.

Patt said Curran has not disciplined the administrator. Election finance records show the administrator contributed $625 to Curran's campaign fund before June 6, 2013.

"Taking money from employees who work under you, people whose careers you control, is a major conflict of interest," Patt said. "I have refused to take contributions from employees of the sheriff's office and will not accept them during my campaign or once I am elected."

John Levin, an election specialist for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said it is not illegal for an employee to donate to the campaign of a superior.

Curran said the money was to cover the cost of a foursome at a political golf outing.

Curran said the administrator was placed on paid leave on advice of attorneys who handled the internal investigation.

"We cannot suspend (the administrator) without pay during an ongoing disciplinary matter that hasn't been concluded yet," Curran added. "We would like for this to be addressed as quickly as possible, but we are not in control of how long the investigation takes, or if charges are filed."

Curran said the decision was based off union contracts of command staff. Even though the administrator is above the rank of the union, the contract in place with other higher ranking members of the office was used as an example for disciplinary purposes with the administrator, he said.

Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said Curran asked him to investigate the matter. Nerheim directed it to Illinois Appellate Court Prosecutors and the Illinois State Police to "avoid any suggestion of a conflict of interest."

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