Investigators: Gliniewicz committed 'ultimate betrayal,' they didn't mislead
Once hailed a hero cop, Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was exposed by authorities Wednesday as an embezzler who tried to make his death look like murder to deceive investigators.
In a well-attended news conference, Lake County Major Crimes Task Force leader George Filenko said Gliniewicz shot himself in the chest two months ago because he feared his theft of money from the Fox Lake Law Enforcement Explorer youth program, which he ran, was going to be uncovered by a village audit.
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"Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal to the citizens he served and the entire law enforcement community," Filenko told reporters at the Round Lake Beach Cultural and Civic Center. "The facts of his actions proved he behaved for years in a manner completely contrary to the image he portrayed."
Lake County police pursued the case as a homicide at the start, but mounting evidence began painting a shady picture of how the 52-year-old police officer and military veteran lived and died.
The case broke open about 10 days ago after authorities finished reviewing bank records, text messages and emails that indicated Gliniewicz had been stealing money from the group for seven years and had forged signatures on official documents as part of his crimes.
Filenko estimated the amount of money stolen stretched into "five figures." The investigation remains open, he said.
According to Filenko, Gliniewicz deceived village officials, his fellow police officers and ultimately the investigators trying to solve the mystery of his Sept. 1 death in a swampy area near downtown Fox Lake.
"This is the first time in my career in law enforcement that I've felt ashamed by the acts of another police officer," Filenko said.
Attorney Henry "Skip" Tonigan released a statement on behalf of the Gliniewicz family saying: "Today has been another day of deep sorrow for the Gliniewicz family. The family has cooperated with the task force's investigation and will not comment at this time. The Gliniewicz family requests that their privacy be respected as they continue to cope with the loss of the beloved husband and father."
But ABC 7 Chicago reported late Wednesday that Gliniewicz's wife, Melodie, and son D.J. are under investigation in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the Fox Lake Police Explorer Program, citing anonymous sources.
Filenko was joined at the news conference by Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd and Lake County sheriff's spokesman Christopher Covelli. They detailed the investigation, which included the review of more than 6,500 pages of text messages, thousands of pages of financial documents, 40,000 emails, more than 430 leads and a comprehensive victimology report prepared by federal investigators.
Filenko said it was the most comprehensive evidentiary investigation in Lake County history.
Rudd said Gliniewicz was killed by the second of two bullets the veteran officer fired from his .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol about 8 a.m. Sept. 1.
During the news conference, Rudd said the fatal wound was to the officer's chest and didn't go through his protective vest, indicating the weapon was placed between his body and vest when it was fired.
Rudd mimicked a gun with his hand and pointed it down from his chin to his chest to demonstrate the fatal shot.
Officials said Gliniewicz first radioed dispatchers at 7:52 a.m., claiming he'd be at the village-owned old concrete plant on Honing Road to check on two white men and a black man who were acting suspiciously.
He radioed again at 7:55 a.m., saying the suspicious suspects took off into the swamp and that he'd need backup. The next radio dispatch was from the officer who found Gliniewicz shot at 8:09 a.m. He was pronounced dead at 8:25 a.m.
The immediate discovery of Gliniewicz's body and radio transmissions he made before his death led officers to believe Gliniewicz was gunned down by the offenders he was chasing, Filenko said. In addition, Filenko said there were signs of a struggle near where officers found him.
On Wednesday, Filenko said the three men might not have been invented by Gliniewicz as part of his charade. He may have seen them as he drove to the spot where he killed himself, Filenko said.
Three men who matched that description were questioned by police but not charged. On Wednesday, Filenko said the men "have rock-solid alibis."
Evidence was staged
Gliniewicz's death touched off a massive manhunt that involved scores of heavily armed police officers who used helicopters and dogs to search for the three suspected gunmen.
Village hall, schools, and the Fox Lake Public Library were locked down and closed during the search, and several roads were blocked off by police during the hunt.
But on Wednesday, Filenko revealed Gliniewicz created a trail of equipment consisting of his pepper spray canister, an extended baton and his glasses to mislead officers and rescue units, Filenko said. The items were scattered over an area about 300 feet long, leading to where his body was found.
Filenko added that members of the FBI determined Gliniewicz had not fought for his life at the scene and was not dragged after the initial shot was fired. In addition, Gliniewicz's gun was found at the scene in tall grass less than 3 feet from his body.
Gliniewicz had significant experience in staging mock crime scenes for police explorer training, which ultimately assisted him in staging the crime scene, Filenko said. That knowledge helped throw investigators off the right trail, he said.
Didn't mislead public
At the news conference, Filenko repeatedly denied deliberately misleading the public about the nature of Gliniewicz's death.
Investigators considered the case a homicide until all the financial and text evidence came to light, he said.
"We did not know," he said. "(We) never intended to mislead the public."
When asked if he felt he owed the public an apology, Filenko said no.
"We go where the facts lead us," he said. "We don't jump to conclusions. We work on facts."
Rudd, who came under fire from police for releasing details about Gliniewicz's death early in the investigation, also said he had no regrets about how the case was handled.
Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit said the last 60 days have taken a toll on the community "like never before."
"For two months, our residents were left with few answers about what took place the morning of Sept. 1 in our community," Schmit said in a statement. "We are pleased to have finally reached some resolution regarding Lt. Gliniewicz's untimely death."