'We know how bad it is out there': How Wheeling police are helping people in need
We could all use some good news right about now. Thankfully, Wheeling police were there Thursday to give us some.
More than a dozen officers helped pack up and deliver hundreds of pounds of food to the Wheeling Food Pantry, the proceeds of a record-breaking "Wheeling Police Arrest Hunger" food drive.
The annual drive, organized by the police department and the Carnicerias Jimenez grocery store, typically finishes with one large cardboard bin -- like what you might see filled with pumpkins around Halloween -- full of food. This year's effort ended with four of those bins stuffed with donations.
Knowing that many in the community are struggling financially through the COVID-19 pandemic, the department and grocery store made an extra effort to promote the food drive and encourage donations, officer Scott Laverd told us Thursday.
"We're not immune to the news. We know how bad it is out there," Laverd said. "We know how many people out there are hungry, how many have lost their job, how some have to make a decision between rent and food,"
Laverd gave much of the credit for the drive's success to Carnicerias Jimenez, whose workers encouraged customers to donate and made it easy by prepackaging bags of donations that could be purchased for $5 or $10.
"This year I wanted to do more," store manager Pat Bedolla told Daily Herald photographer John Starks. "More than anyone who deserves credit are our customer service people who suggested items for their customers to buy."
The Wheeling Food Pantry opened in March as a joint effort between the Knights of Columbus at St. Joseph the Worker Parish and the nonprofit Wheeling Helping Hands.
Back then, organizer David Vogel said, the pantry was serving 30 to 40 families a week. These days, it's up to 75 to 80 families -- as many as 400 individuals -- and they hit an all-time high last week.
"It's unbelievable," said Vogel, who's also a Wheeling village trustee. "It seems to be getting worse."
'Stooge and swindler'
That was a federal appellate court's recent assessment of a Lake in the Hills man convicted of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from fellow church members.
The comment comes in a unanimous 20-page ruling upholding a lower court's order requiring Carlos Meza to pay his victims $881,500 in restitution.
Meza was convicted in 2019 and sentenced to 19 months in prison on a wire fraud charge stemming from allegations he misled friends and associates about his financial background and wealth to get them to invest in trading programs, made false promises and guarantees, and converted tens of thousands of their dollars for his own use.
In their ruling, the three-judge panel described Meza's crime as "a total hoax, with ridiculous promises" prompted by his own financial woes from being a victim of the same scam.
"Deep in debt, he fell for fraudulent international trading programs promising incredible profits," the court states. "He then tricked people he knew into investing in these programs."
Meza's appeal sought to have the restitution order thrown out, arguing the specific charge for which he was convicted involved only $50,000 in thefts. The 7th Circuit appeals court, however, ruled his trial judge had the authority to incorporate other thefts into the restitution, since they resulted from the same, ongoing scam.
Although now finished with his federal prison term, Meza is not out of legal hot water. He's still facing state theft and fraud charges. A status hearing in that case is set for Feb. 22 in McHenry County court.
Kliner back in court
Ronald Kliner, who's spent more than 25 years in prison for his conviction in the murder-for-hire of a Palatine Township woman, will be back in court today in his long-running effort to win exoneration.
The 59-year-old former Des Plaines man is asking a court to vacate his 1996 murder conviction based on new evidence, including DNA test results, he says clears him of the 1988 killing of Dana Rinaldi.
Authorities say Kliner shot Rinaldi in her car outside her home as part of a plot orchestrated by his childhood friend and Rinaldi's husband, Joseph Rinaldi. He turned state's evidence against Kliner to avoid a potential death sentence of his own.
Kliner initially was given the death penalty, but his sentence was commuted to natural life by then-Gov. George Ryan in 2003.
The hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows and can be viewed on Zoom.
Show some respect
Just because Kane County court cases are being conducted on Zoom doesn't mean judges don't expect defendants to show the appropriate decorum. A defendant who got a little too comfortable while participating in a Kane County court session this week learned that the hard way.
"Sit up like you are in court," Judge Alice Tracy scolded a defendant, who was reclining on pillows while pleading guilty. "This is not a lounge time."
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