News Feature | December 4, 2013

'Evil Genius' Hides Use of Contaminated Well For Over 20 Years

By Sara Jerome

courtreg

A U.S. District judge sentenced two officials to two years of probation for funneling tainted water into the drinking supply of an Illinois town.

"Evidence at a trial this summer showed that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency determined in 1986 that the well was contaminated" but the officials "helped hide the continued use of the well," according to the Chicago Sun-Times

The well water in Crestwood, IL contained vinyl chloride, which can cause cancer, the Sun-Times said. The cover-up dragged on from 1986 to 2007. When the Illinois EPA checked the levels in October 2007, it found "5.4 ppb of vinyl chloride and 1.61 ppb of cis-1,2-DCE," according to agency documents on the scandal. 

The officials who were sentenced included "Theresa Neubauer, 55 — a former Crestwood Police Chief, who also ran the water department for years — and water operator Frank Scaccia, 61," the report said.

The prosecution pushed for harsher penalties, but the judge saw them as simply carrying out the orders of a higher-up, who she termed an "evil genius." The higher-up was former Crestwood Mayor Chester Stranczek.

The paper reported that Stranczek, who moved to Florida, "only escaped prosecution because of his failing mental health, which prevents him from ever standing trial."

The two officials who were charged expressed remorse and said they kept silent out of fear. 

"Both Neubauer and Scaccia, who has late stage renal failure, made emotional apologies Thursday, saying they and their own families also drank the tainted water and that they’d gone along with the scam because Stranczek would have fired them if they’d blown the whistle," the report said. 

Under the scheme, Crestwood kept two sets of documents, according to the Chicago Tribune: "One set, for internal use only, outlined how much water was pumped monthly from the tainted well directly into the village's drinking water system. The other set, sent to state and federal regulators, claimed the well never was used." 

The scandal could have grave effects on public health.

"Pending lawsuits, one that includes Krause as a plaintiff, blame the well water for a variety of illnesses. A 2010 health department report did find cancer rates were higher than average in Crestwood but didn't make a definite link to the tainted water," the Associated Press reported

For more on water quality scheming and plotting, including news on officials who might face more than just probation, visit Water Online. 

Image credit: "Courtroom," © 2010 srqpix, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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