Officials: Fox Lake Cop Stole From Youth Program, Shot Himself

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Upending the portrayal of Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz as a hero cop tragically gunned down in the line of duty just before his planned retirement, authorities on Wednesday said the Fox Lake officer died in a suicide he staged as it became clear he could face consequences for years of criminal behavior.

At a news conference, Lake County Major Crime Task Force Cmdr. George Filenko said Gliniewicz, 52, shot himself in a "carefully staged suicide" designed to look like a murder after he had engaged in "extensive criminal acts."

Gliniewicz ran the village's Explorers program, which gave youths interested in policing exposure to the field, and he had been stealing and laundering money for years, Filenko said. Gliniewicz stole a dollar amount in the five figures and used the money for personal expenses, including mortgage payments, travel and adult websites, Filenko said.

The announcement marks the completion of a 180-degree turn for an investigation that began Sept. 1 with hundreds of officers, as well as dogs and helicopters, searching for suspects who apparently never existed. In the weeks that followed, Lake County authorities downplayed the possibility that Gliniewicz had committed suicide while they followed leads and reviewed forensic test results.

Gliniewicz, a 30-year veteran and fixture of the village near the Wisconsin border, was laid to rest after a funeral attended by thousands at which he was portrayed as a selfless public servant and devoted family man who gave his life for his community. The lieutenant, a heavily tattooed Army veteran known to many as "G.I. Joe," mentored many youths through the Explorers program, and some portrayed his death as evidence of an escalating war on police.

To the contrary, authorities said Wednesday, Gliniewicz staged his suicide as it became clear that an audit of village procedures and equipment would reveal his purported thefts. Text messages Gliniewicz sent before his death, which authorities revealed Wednesday, appeared to suggest threats against Village Manager Anne Marrin.

"There are no winners here. Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal to the citizens he served and the entire law enforcement community," Filenko said. "The facts of his actions proved he behaved for years in a manner completely contrary to the image he portrayed.

This is the first time as a law enforcement officer ... that I've felt ashamed by the acts of another police officer," he said.

Members of the lieutenant's family, who have insisted he did not kill himself, could not immediately be reached for comment. The ruling of suicide could have serious financial consequences for Gliniewicz's survivors, as the families of officers killed in the line of duty are eligible for benefits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, attorneys said.

His death will likely continue to reverberate, and other people involved in alleged criminal activity before his death could face prosecution, authorities said. The investigation indicates criminal acts by at least two other people, police said.

Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said the results of the investigation have been turned over to his office, as well as to the FBI, for investigation and potential prosecution of alleged crimes that are not related to Gliniewicz's shooting but were uncovered during the investigation into it. Nerheim declined to go into further detail, and the FBI declined to comment.

Leroy Marre, 79, who lives in the same Antioch neighborhood as the Gliniewicz family, said the news of the late officer's suicide left him in shock.

"What a surprise, from hero to criminal," he said, standing outside the Gliniewicz home while the news conference continued.

The question of how he died has driven controversy since shortly after officers found Gliniewicz mortally wounded in a remote, marshy area of the village. Wednesday's revelations left Filenko and others to answer pointed questions as to why authorities spent weeks discouraging the idea that Gliniewicz had committed suicide.

"Our intention was never to mislead the public. We completely believed that this was a homicide," Filenko said, adding that the investigation began to decisively indicate suicide only in recent weeks.

About 8 a.m. Sept. 1, Gliniewicz radioed in that he was pursuing two white males and a black male. After dispatchers lost contact with Gliniewicz, responding officers found him shot, with his .40-caliber handgun resting nearby. Officers didn't initially find the weapon in the tall grass, Filenko said, but eventually found it a little more than 2 feet away from him.

That touched off a massive but fruitless manhunt followed by an investigation initially geared toward finding the trio Gliniewicz described before he died. Officers tracked down three men captured on video in the area, but then announced they'd been ruled out as suspects. Police never mentioned any other suspects as the investigation ground on for weeks and — with a dearth of information coming from authorities — rumors and vague information proliferated.

On Wednesday, authorities laid out the stunning details of what they believed happened.

Gliniewicz staged his death by leaving a trail of his equipment around the scene to try to mislead investigators, Filenko said. He fired a shot into his protective vest and aimed a second, fatal bullet beneath his vest in his upper torso, Filenko said. With the help of FBI behavioral experts, authorities concluded he'd shot himself, in part because he was not dragged after being shot and there were no physical signs he'd fought for his life.

Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd said, "This to me is a suicide, not something that he just decided to wound himself."

Several matters in Fox Lake remain unresolved. The village has been in the midst of the review of procedures and equipment triggered by the retirement of police Chief Michael Behan days before Gliniewicz died. Just before he retired, Behan and another officer had been put on leave pending an investigation into the department's handling of an altercation between an officer and an arrestee in 2014. The village has revealed very little about those inquiries, and they've generally failed to release records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from the Tribune.

On Wednesday, authorities released text messages that appear to show Gliniewicz grow increasingly concerned toward the end of his life that the review of equipment and property would reveal his alleged improprieties. Several of the text messages show Gliniewicz seemingly trying to orchestrate some explanation for thousands of missing dollars. One text message appears to suggest he'd considered harming Marrin, the village manager.

In a text exchange with an unnamed person, he wrote, "Trust me ive thougit through MANY SCENARIOS from planting things to the volo bog!!!" Volo Bog State Natural Area is an extensive marshy area near Fox Lake.

Marrin said she supports the prosecution of any surviving person who committed a crime.

"You've heard today about a side of Lt. Gliniewicz that is in stark contrast to how he was previously portrayed in the community," she said. "The community is the real victim, so let's always carry that in mind."