Police chief accused of lying about Crestwood water

August 11, 2011 9:31:57 PM PDT
Two former Crestwood water department officials -- one of whom is the current police chief -- are accused of lying to environmental regulators for more than 20 years about the south suburban village's water supply.

Authorities say Frank Scaccia, a retired water operator, and Theresa Neubauer, a former water department clerk and the current Crestwood police chief, lied about the use of a well to supplement the village's supply of water from Lake Michigan. Neubauer has been placed on leave because of the indictment.

Police guarded her house Thursday night, and neighbors reacted to the news.

"It's not really suprising considering what went on," said neighbor David Suddoth.

Scaccia answered his apartment intercom Thursday night but declined to comment. Neubauer and Scaccia worked at the water department at the time in question.

The well -- which in 2007 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said was tainted with more than twice the legal limit of vinyl Chloride, a chemical linked to cancer -- is at the center of a tainted water scandal. In 2009, a Crestwood resident filed a lawsuit alleging the village was using that same well and its contaminated water in conjunction with Lake Michigan water. That lawsuit led to a raid on the Crestwood Water Department by the EPA.

Village officials insist that the chemical components of the Crestwood water supply were always within acceptable limits and drinking the water was safe. Statements from the EPA support that claim, but residents are skeptical because Crestwood said for years its water was 100 percent from Lake Michigan, which documents proved was untrue.

The Village of Crestwood responded to the news with a statement, saying in part: "The government's investigation - resulting in only these false statement charges - confirms that there is not now and never has been any concern with the safety or quality of the drinking water in Crestwood."

John Toscas, a village trustee, had a question on Thursday, however: "Where in the world could I have gotten this cancer from?"

A cancer survivor, Toscas was swept into office after rowdy community meetings about the water. The Feds moved in following the meetings.

"If these people are found guilty, they should get the most severe sentence," said Toscas.

That is a sentiment shared by mother Tricia Krause, whose son was 3 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Her daughter was 5 years old when she fought a brain tumor.

"I had waited for a very long time trying to uncover the truth for 12 years, and now today we have a few of our answers," said Krause.

Some citizens have already won a civil case.

"As the citizens of Crestwood, if they're able to obtain some additional relief as a result of this or further peace of mind, then it's good," said attorney Larry Drury.

"The Indictment does not allege that the defendants' false statements in regulatory reports concealing the use of well water resulted in any harm to Crestwood's nearly 11,000 residents or to the environment, but the alleged concealment avoided regulations requiring that Crestwood test its commingled water supply and monitor the amount of certain contaminants," according to a release from Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States District Court Northern District Of Illinois.

According to that statement, most of Crestwood's water supply came from Lake Michigan via neighboring Alsip, which had purchased the water from the City of Chicago after it was treated and tested. However, that water supply has been supplemented by a well located on Playfield Drive, according to the indictment. The defendants are accused of lying about the use of that well. Scaccia, 59, and Neubauer, 53, both of Crestwood, were charged with 23 and 22 felony counts, respectively, of making false statements. They also face one count each of scheming to conceal the use of the well between January 1987 and 2008. During that time they allegedly prepared and submitted various false reports pertaining to the well.

"The indictment alleges that for 20 years, Crestwood officials purposely hid the fact that they commingled well water with Lake Michigan water and, by doing so, avoided complying with state and federal environmental regulations. As a result, Crestwood's water customers were exposed to well water that was not adequately tested for contamination," Mr. Fitzgerald said in a release.

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