Why Explorer post was easy target for Gliniewicz

  • Investigators said Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, left, pilfered funds from his department's Explorers post and then staged his suicide to look like a murder as his financial malfeasance began to be uncovered.

    Investigators said Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, left, pilfered funds from his department's Explorers post and then staged his suicide to look like a murder as his financial malfeasance began to be uncovered. Photo courtesy of D.J. Gliniewicz

  • Most suburban police Explorers programs only have bank accounts with a few thousand dollars, but investigators said Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz stole a "significant five-figure amount" from his department's program.

    Most suburban police Explorers programs only have bank accounts with a few thousand dollars, but investigators said Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz stole a "significant five-figure amount" from his department's program. Daily Herald File Photo/December 2007

 
 
Updated 11/8/2015 8:49 AM

Among the surprise developments in the death of Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz announced last week was that he had pilfered a "five-figure amount" from the Explorers program he oversaw for a number of years.

Experts say the crime of stealing from groups largely made up of parent or neighborhood volunteers like school booster clubs, PTAs, churches and homeowners associations is all too common in the suburbs and court records back that up.

 

So far this year, a Downers Grove youth pastor was sentenced to two weeks in jail for stealing $4,000 in gift cards, Warren Township High School's former band booster club treasurer was sentenced to probation for stealing $27,000, a Villa Park-based Islamic group's ex-finance director received a five-year prison sentence for stealing $450,000, a Gilberts youth football league administrator was granted deferred prosecution after he agreed to repay $2,250 he took from the organization, and a Wheeling woman received probation for stealing more than $21,000 from a Jewish women's group whose finances she once oversaw.

But the level of theft from the Fox Lake Explorers Post 300 uncovered by investigators shocked many municipal leaders where other Explorers posts exist because of the amount of money involved.

"Our Explorers program has one small account that has about $1,000 in it," said Cary Village Manager Chris Clark. "It hasn't had a charge since 2013."

Lake County Major Crimes Task Force spokesman Chris Covelli said investigators wouldn't divulge an exact amount they say was stolen by Gliniewicz, but he called it a "significant five-figure amount." He said the program's accounts had been bolstered over the years by contributions from the village, fees paid for working parking and traffic control at area events and donations from local businesses.

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Covelli said while Gliniewicz had been involved with the Explorers program for most of his 30-year career, investigators were focused on his dealings within the past seven years.

Exploring elsewhere

There are nearly four dozen Explorers programs affiliated in some capacity with either municipal police departments or county sheriff's offices throughout the state. But by all accounts, the Fox Lake program is one of the most comprehensive and active. While most suburban Explorers programs allow youngsters interested in law enforcement careers to hang out with police and sometimes work parking and traffic details at local events, Gliniewicz bragged about training his wards in a variety of police tactics using actual weapons and real police equipment. He also took them to competitions and conferences.

Gliniewicz killed himself Sept. 1, but staged the suicide to look like he had been murdered. After a two-month investigation, authorities last week said Gliniewicz killed himself as Fox Lake village officials were starting to unravel his theft of Explorers funds and attempts to cover it up.

Like most suburban Explorers programs, Fox Lake doesn't have a line item in its budget or audit that outlines its funding and spending. But it's clear it was taking in more money than most.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"My guess is they were soliciting donations for the program," said Doug Krieger, Naperville City manager who also used to be the city's finance director. "We have a whopping $2,000 budgeted this year for Explorers and it does not take donations."

Barrington Police Chief David Dorn oversees his department's Explorers program and the $2,250 the village contributes each year for training, uniforms and to offset costs of participating in the annual state competition and conference. Dorn hasn't received any calls from elected leaders for additional scrutiny of the program in the wake of the Gliniewicz investigation.

"The village has always had complete access and visibility to all of the expenditures from this account," he said. "We will continue to invest in our Explorers program in the same manner as we have in past years. The program not only teaches our youth about policing, but it also builds their relationship with our community at a young age."

Who's watching?

The lack of oversight of the program and high degree of autonomy enabled Gliniewicz to run the Fox Lake Explorers program not only as his "personal bank account" as investigators said last week, but also his personal fiefdom. He gloated in online Explorers message boards about doing "pretty much whatever" because he was the "No. 2" in his department.

"As long as I can justify it and have a documented risk assessment to keep the chief from stopping any of it," he wrote in 2007. "In fact we just got our training flash-bangs in, (Explorers) love them!"

Explorers programs are an offshoot of scouting, officials said. The theft from the program was called "an extremely rare situation" by scouting officials at the Northwest Illinois Council, but they noted the amount of money allegedly taken by Gliniewicz is "incredibly uncommon."

"It's a stunning amount of money," said Mike Hale, scout executive with the council. "Units normally don't have this kind of money. I've never run across anything like this before."

To participate in the program, Explorers pay a $24 annual fee that goes to the national office, Hale said. Any other money comes from government contributions, donations or fundraisers.

Hale said Explorers units routinely hold fundraising events to add to the group's coffers, but he's unaware of what the Fox Lake detail was doing to generate the amount of money Gliniewicz stole.

Investigators said Gliniewicz used the money for all kinds of personal expenses as well as on "adult websites."

Local scouting leaders added they are working with investigators while they review the post's finances.

But there are some who still don't believe Gliniewicz is guilty.

"We entrusted our children with him and he was an upstanding person, so we can't even fathom it," said Lake Zurich's Jean Bianchi, whose son was Explorer under Gliniewicz between 2002 and 2006. "We are just of the camp that something is terribly wrong, and someone is setting him up."

Investigators released numerous text messages in which Gliniewicz appears to outline how he misspent funds throughout the years as municipal leaders began questioning the Explorers program's accounting.

Bianchi also can't believe the amount of money Gliniewicz is accused of stealing. She said she never saw that kind of money coming into the program that, at its highest point, might have had two dozen kids involved.

"We maybe paid $100 a year, at most, but that was for travel and food," she said. "There is no money in Explorer programs. Certainly not anywhere what they are saying. It just doesn't make any sense."

Ounce of prevention

Whenever thefts from these types of small volunteer groups occur, it's generally due to lack of oversight of the finances, said Sandra Pfau Englund, executive director of Florida-based Parent Booster USA, which serves as an advocacy group and training resource for school booster club programs.

"We've actually been tracking these types of cases since January involving just school-related organizations, and we're seeing an average of more than one a week," Pfau Englund said. "And it's up to more than $41 million missing already. It's a very prevalent problem."

There are many ways to prevent theft from these organizations, but the easiest way is simply doubling the personnel responsible for a group's finances, she said.

"Have two people count cash, always. Two people to sign checks. And two people to reconcile the books," she said. "There are other controls, but we think this is a good start."

Krieger said if Naperville's Explorers coordinator, Sgt. Steve Schindlebeck, wanted to spend any of the program's funds, he'd have to request the money -- he doesn't have direct access to it like Gliniewicz appeared to have had in Fox Lake.

That's how it works in Cary as well, Clark said.

Pfau Englund's group has started a website, 2preventtheft.org, devoted to training booster club volunteers on proper financial oversight as well as how to spot potential financial improprieties.

Pfau Englund tells school booster club leaders to be immediately concerned about anyone who questions scrutiny of the group's finances. She said organizations should also cycle through leaders and never leave someone in control of a group's finances for too long.

"It's kind of a red flag when their kids are now gone from school and they have no stake in the organization, but they still want to be the treasurer," she said. "This is very common for all types of smaller organizations, because there are less financial controls with fewer eyes on the money."

Target: Easiest way to prevent theft is having two responsible for group finances

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