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Halpin told to answer county’s complaint

Published: Thursday, May 1, 2014 9:19 p.m. CST

OTTAWA – In early April, a LaSalle County judge denied attempts by the defense of Grundy County Board member Frank Halpin to throw out the appointment of a special state’s attorney for the county – forcing Halpin’s team to now have to answer the complaint against him.

Grundy County filed a civil case in September against Halpin for the money he is accused of misappropriating from the county, not less than $40,000, and the recoupment of all wages and benefits that Halpin received during his alleged breach of duties as chairman and as a board member from 2008 to 2013, at least $200,000.

This lawsuit follows allegations raised years ago by current board Vice Chairman David Welter. At that time, Welter – based on an investigation he did prior to being elected to the board – accused Halpin of receiving reimbursements for meetings he either did not attend or that never took place.

Appellate prosecutor Charles Colburn – who had been appointed to investigate any criminal acts by Halpin – said after an investigation by his office and Illinois State Police that no criminal charges were discovered.

Halpin’s case is being heard in LaSalle County after his attorneys, Mark Rigazio and Jeff Tomczak, requested last year it be moved from Grundy County.

In March, his defense argued the appointment of special prosecutor Nemura Pencyla, an assistant state’s attorney in Kendall County, should not have been requested by Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland because of Helland’s conflict of interest – as state’s attorney he represents all of the County Board, including Halpin.

The argument was Helland and his office should have never appeared in court regarding this case – even for the motion to obtain a special prosecutor. The defense believed a special prosecutor should have been appointed by Colburn.

On April 2, Judge Troy Holland ordered in favor of the county and upheld the appointment of Pencyla, and that Halpin needed to answer or plead to the county’s complaint against him by Tuesday.

“The Court does not find the actions of Grundy County State’s Attorney Helland tainted the appointment of Mr. Pencyla or otherwise requires this Court to vacate the appointment,” states the judge’s order.

On Tuesday, the judge granted Halpin’s team’s request for a time extension to May 23 to answer.

While arguing against the appointment of the special state’s attorney for Grundy County, Halpin’s attorneys also filed a request for the appointment of a special state’s attorney of their own to represent Halpin.

“The statute allows ... when a person is in an official capacity as a county board member, they are entitled to be represented by a state’s attorney. But since [the Grundy County] state’s attorney conflicted out in this situation ... Frank is entitled to defense by a state’s attorney,” Rigazio said. “The judge can appoint a special state’s attorney in his interest.”

If Halpin was appointed a special state’s attorney, Grundy County would be paying for his defense.

Pencyla will be arguing that the allegations against Halpin are as an individual, not in his official capacity as a Grundy County Board member.

The allegations of misappropriating funds are not an act that fall under Halpin’s responsibilities as an elected official or board member, Pencyla said, therefore he doesn’t warrant county representation.

“I don’t think the case law or common sense supports that,” Pencyla said.

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