McHenry prosecutors want to seize Huntley home, $1 million cash tied to drug investigation
More than $1 million in cash, bank accounts, a house in Huntley, another in Chicago, two Ford transit vans, a 2018 Bobcat skid-steer loader, a Dodge pickup truck, a 2018 Mercedes-Benz, a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, jewelry and tools.
The McHenry County State's Attorney's Office is seeking to have these items forfeited by Matthew D. Lilla, 36, of Chicago and three suspected associates from the suburbs. They allege in court documents that Lilla led a money-laundering and cross-country drug-trafficking operation.
Criminal cases are ongoing against Lilla as well as two Huntley men and another from Lake in the Hills in what could be the "largest 'drug bust' " in McHenry County, according to the McHenry County Sheriff's Office.
"This case is still pending criminally and in the drug forfeiture process through the courts," sheriff's office spokesperson Emily Matusek wrote in an email Monday, adding that the office's assessment is based on "the combination of narcotics, assets and cash seized."
"However, until the criminal and forfeiture process is complete by the courts, it is not possible to say for certain," Matusek wrote.
All four men have pleaded not guilty. Attorneys for each declined to comment for this article.
The two Huntley men -- Michael A. Ferrante, 32, and Michael W. Krawczyk, 33 -- are listed as living at a home in the 11600 block of Hawthorne Way, which is part of the state's forfeiture list.
They, along with Mark R. Bennett Jr., 32, of the 300 block of Council Road in Lake in the Hills, are named repeatedly throughout the complaints that describe Lilla as the director of the "Lilla's Drug Trafficking Organization."
Lilla is accused "orchestrating" drug deals, using multiple associates driving large Ford transit vans to various locations throughout the country to illegally bring "large amounts" of marijuana into the state and dealing a plethora of other narcotics, according to the documents.
A detective from the McHenry County Sheriff's Office wrote in an affidavit that associates "would receive specific instructions from Matthew Lilla regarding ... specific routes of travel, drop off and pickup locations, and how much money/narcotics to pick up at those specific locations."
Lilla also is accused of using storage units, industrial warehouses and houses to store narcotics and the proceeds of his illegal operation, the detective said in the affidavit.
The forfeiture documents filed in the McHenry County courthouse detail the organization's alleged activities from late 2020 until late 2022.
Prosecutors list 16 limited liability corporations, set up by Lilla as "shell corporations" to launder the drug money, that show "several irregularities or suspicious activities," according to the documents.
"The results of this investigation revealed numerous suspicious cash, Venmo and peer-to-peer deposits, transfers, withdrawals and no legitimate source of income," prosectors allege.
Lilla and Ferrante each are charged with trafficking more than 2,500 grams of marijuana and possession with the intent to deliver more than 5,000 grams of marijuana, both Class X felonies, as well as money laundering and calculated criminal marijuana conspiracy, among other charges, according to the indictment.
Krawczyk is charged with possession with intent to deliver 15 to 200 parts of LSD, a Class X felony, as well as possession of the LSD, alprazolam, less than 50 grams each of psilocybin and diazepam and less than 200 grams of amphetamine, according to the indictment.
They face decades in prison if convicted, according to court documents.
Bennett is charged with four counts of money laundering, a Class 2 felony, and four counts of forgery, a Class 3 felony, according to the indictment. Class 2 felonies can result in a prison sentence of three to seven years, but probation also is possible.
The investigation involved the McHenry County Sheriff's Office, Cook County Sheriff's Office, the Rockford Drug Enforcement Administration Office, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and other agencies from across the country, court documents show.
In October, Ferrante was pulled over by North Dakota State Police near the border with Minnesota while driving one of Lilla's vans, according to the forfeiture complaints. In the van, police found 583 pounds of marijuana, various prescription pills, cocaine, fentanyl, a cellphone and various drug ledgers, according to the complaints.
Police searched the cellphone and read "numerous" text messages to and from a phone number linked to Lilla, court documents state. The messages included Ferrante providing Lilla with his location and Lilla telling Ferrante different locations to make "drops," according to the complaints.
On the day Ferrante was arrested, the sheriff's office executed a search warrant of the Huntley house and found "multiple Home Depot and Lowes cardboard boxes containing individually vacuum sealed bags of (marijuana) as well as psilocybin mushrooms, cocaine and LSD, ... $3,532, multiple drug ledgers, packaging materials," according to the forfeiture complaints.
Arguments for the forfeitures are being heard before McHenry County Judge James Cowlin, who will ultimately decide whether the assets can be forfeited to the government.
"Asset forfeiture is often used as a tool to aid the government in stopping criminal behavior," said Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli, whose office is not involved in this case. "It serves to stop an individual from profiting from gains obtained illegally or to stop criminals from utilizing property to commit crimes."
Should the state seize the assets, they must adhere to specific regulations in what it all can be used for, he said.
"Almost always the money must be specifically used for enforcement or education," Covelli said.