State police investigating Lake County Board chairman's finances

 
 
Updated 8/21/2018 7:34 PM
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  • Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor

    Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor

  • Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim

    Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim

Illinois State Police are investigating Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor's misuse of public funds and other aspects of his professional and political finances, authorities revealed Tuesday.

That includes looking into the bank accounts for Lawlor's political campaign, which state officials say has broken the law by not filing any reports in nearly two years.

"Everything is on the table," Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said.

Lawlor is on indefinite leave from the county board. He hasn't responded to interview requests.

Nerheim said he and Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran had requested state police handle the investigation to ensure impartiality. In addition to being Lake County's top prosecutor, Nerheim represents the county board and the chairman in legal matters.

"While I know myself and my staff can be completely neutral in this case, this investigation must be as independent, thorough and transparent as possible," Nerheim said.

The revelation of the state police department's role in the case comes after growing concern about the investigation and repeated questions from county board members and other people about what agency is looking into the matter.

At the Aug. 14 county board meeting, Commissioner Sandy Hart, a Lake Bluff Democrat, requested the identity of the "phantom agency" handling the case.

In response, Carol Calabresa, the board's acting chairwoman and a Libertyville Republican, tried to assure Hart the case has been referred to an independent agency but refused to name it.

Nerheim informed county board members of the state police's involvement Tuesday after getting clearance from the agency to do so. Police had requested their involvement not be publicized until they formally accepted the case, Nerheim said.

County Commissioner Paul Frank, a Highland Park Democrat, said transferring the case to the state police is "appropriate."

"It's reassuring that we know who's leading the investigation and we should all be confident in their ability to conduct the investigation," Frank said.

County Commissioner Steve Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican, described the police investigation as "appropriate and necessary."

Lawlor, 36, a Vernon Hills Republican, announced July 30 he was taking a leave of absence from county business to seek treatment for an unspecified drug addiction. In emails to board members and the media, he said the addiction "has damaged my life and personal finances."

Documents subsequently reviewed by the Daily Herald show Lawlor -- the board's chairman since 2012 -- repeatedly used a county credit card for hundreds of dollars in personal purchases dating back to 2016. That's a violation of county policy.

Lawlor's card was used to make more than $3,800 in "inadvertent" personal or "unrecognized" charges since 2016, according to invoices supplied by the county through an open records request. During that time, Lawlor made more than $3,700 in repayments to the county either by cash or a series of checks, mostly in recent months. One check Lawlor wrote was for an August 2018 invoice the county had yet to receive. The check was for just under $300. The county had also approved more than $550 in charges Lawlor made on his card without providing receipts, according to the financial records.

Lawlor's card has since been deactivated, officials said.

The Daily Herald also reported Lawlor faces a $15,000 fine from the Illinois State Board of Elections for "delinquent filing of required reports," a violation of state campaign law.

Lawlor's campaign committee hasn't filed any fiscal reports with the state since November 2016, according to the election board's website.

Lawlor is the sole officer of the Citizens to Elect Aaron Lawlor committee, which formed in 2009. The committee's last quarterly disclosure report, filed in October 2016, indicated about $24,119 in savings.

Additionally, Lawlor has been a defendant in foreclosure and eviction proceedings in the last two years, according to Lake County court records. He also was ordered to pay more than $10,000 to credit card companies this year, court records show.

Prompted by the revelations, Lake County officials announced they intend to change procedures and improve oversight of county credit card usage. Administrators reviewing the current procedures will suggest changes to the board by late September.

Lawlor hasn't stepped down from his position as chairman or as the representative for the county's 18th District, which includes Vernon Hills and Indian Creek and parts of Hawthorn Woods, Long Grove and Mundelein. But he has ended his re-election bid for the 18th District seat.

Republican leaders have appointed Vernon Hills resident Karimar "Kari" Brown to run for the post instead.

Julie Simpson of Vernon Hills is the Democratic Party candidate.

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