Filenko retiring as Lake County crime task force commander
George Filenko, who led the investigation of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz's death and other high-profile cases, plans to end his six-year tenure as Lake County Major Crime Task Force commander.
Lake County sheriff's office Detective Christopher Covelli announced Wednesday that Filenko's retirement from the task force is effective April 1. He said Filenko, whose resignation was submitted Monday, will remain with the task force on an as-needed advisory capacity.
Filenko said his decision to step down was his alone, and it has been in the works for about a year -- he wound up staying longer than planned because of the volume of active homicide cases. His resignation came in the wake of his 60th birthday last weekend and stemmed from a desire to spend more time with his family.
"It gets to a point where you know, hey, I've got only so many years left and I'd like to get back to my personal life," said Filenko, who will remain Round Lake Park's police chief.
Filenko has served the major crime task force for 11 years. He was an investigator and assistant task force commander before rising to the top spot six years ago.
Covelli said Filenko's tenure with the task force was longer than usual in a role that becomes physically and emotionally taxing. Lake County towns contribute police personnel to the regional investigative unit in exchange for services.
"He'll be greatly missed," Covelli said. "He's been a great asset, a great resource."
Filenko was in the national spotlight last year during the investigation of Gliniewicz's death, which was ruled a suicide. In the middle of the probe, he clashed with Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd, who first suggested the possibility of suicide in September before the task force revealed the official finding two months later.
Rudd complimented Filenko after learning about his retirement announcement.
"The members of the crime task force were incredibly professional and working with them was a pleasure," Rudd said. "We had some bumps in the road. No big deal. We resolved that."
Filenko also was scrutinized by defense attorney Kathleen Zellner and Rudd in the investigation of the high-profile Melissa Calusinski case. Filenko was one of two task force detectives assigned to question Calusinski.
Rudd and Zellner have questioned the evidence in the case of Calusinski, who was sentenced to 31 years in prison after she was convicted of first-degree murder in 2011 in the death of a toddler at a Lincolnshire day care center in 2009. Calusinski, 28, of Carpentersville, is seeking a new trial.
An assistant to Zellner at her Downers Grove office said she would not comment about Filenko's planned departure from the task force.
Task force officials said Filenko has been involved in about 200 homicide investigations. The memorable cases include Gliniewicz, Calusinski, the murder of a former Chicago Bears player's girlfriend and her unborn child, and the death of a Zion infant, Filenko said.
Marni Yang was convicted of shooting and killing Rhoni Reuter, who was pregnant with Shaun Gayle's baby, in October 2007. Lake County prosecutors painted Yang as obsessed with former the Bears safety and carried out a plan to kill Reuter, a romantic rival.
Demetries Thorpe was convicted of killing 5-month-old Joshua Summeries in Zion in August 2013. Thorpe, who was the boyfriend of Joshua's mother, pleaded guilty to suffocating the boy and placing a backpack with his body into a large trash bin, which was emptied by a truck into a Zion landfill.
Filenko said he vividly remembers how investigators made an unsuccessful four-day search for the backpack in the landfill. Investigators used rakes and bare hands to hunt for the backpack amid medical and other hazardous waste.
"That took a mental and physical toll on the entire task force," he said.
Major crimes task force board members are expected to soon begin the process of selecting a new commander. Zion police Detective Kyle Helgesen has been named acting commander, officials said.
Filenko, who did not receive extra pay beyond his Round Lake Park police chief's salary to serve as task force commander, said he expects to miss the cases and the camaraderie among investigators. What he won't miss is canceling vacations at the last minute or the stress of seemingly being on call around the clock.
"I'll tell you," he said, "the most ecstatic person in this situation is my wife."
• Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.