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Crestwood police chief pleads innocent in water scandal

TheresNeubauer as she arrives Dirksen federal courthouse downtown Chicago 2011. | Sun-Times files

Theresa Neubauer as she arrives at the Dirksen federal courthouse in downtown Chicago in 2011. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: November 3, 2011 9:48AM

Crestwood’s police chief, under federal indictment in connection with a water scandal, has to surrender her weapons and gun permit, a federal judge told her Wednesday.

Theresa Neubauer, 53, appeared before Judge Joan B. Gottschall to plead not guilty to 22 federal charges accusing her of lying to state and federal regulators for more than 20 years about the quality of Crestwood’s water while she worked as a water department clerk and supervisor.

Neubauer and the village’s former certified water operator, Frank Scaccia, were indicted Aug. 11 in an alleged scheme to cover up the use of tainted well water in the south suburban village of about 11,000.

The village told residents and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency it was only using Lake Michigan water after 1985, when it discovered that a village well had been tainted by vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. But regulators later found that the village continued to use the well for as much as 20 percent of its water from 1985 to 2007.

Federal prosecutors said Neubauer and Scaccia acted with Public Official A, who was confirmed to be retired Mayor Chester Stranczek by his own attorney. Stranczek has not been charged with any crime. His attorney said he has dementia and is unfit to stand trial.

Neubauer must turn over any firearms, including guns she uses in her job, and her Firearm Owner’s Identification Card.

Her attorney, Thomas Breen, said she may ask on a future date to get them back.

Neubauer, who’s on administrative leave from the police department, was released on a personal recognizance bond and may await trial in her Crestwood home. She left the courthouse without commenting Wednesday.

Scaccia, 59, was fired in March 2010. His arraignment has not yet been scheduled.

The village denies any problems with its water.

“The government’s investigation — resulting in only these false statements charges — confirms that there is not now and never has been any concern with the safety or quality of the drinking water in Crestwood and the health of our citizens has never been compromised or threatened,” it said in a statement released Aug. 11. “Our citizens’ well-being has always been and will always continue to be our top priority.”

An arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined there is no safe level of exposure to vinyl chloride, which can cause damage to the liver and nervous system.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the village over the use of the well water, including one by the Illinois attorney general’s office. Crestwood has footed the multimillion-dollar bill for various defense attorneys.

In December, the village settled one of those lawsuits, which covered water bills paid by current and former residents and village business owners.

The settlement established a $500,000 fund to give residents partial refunds on their water bills from January 1985 to September 2007 — the years the village was found to have tapped the contaminated well.

The village also agreed to a two-year freeze on the cost of vehicle stickers, business licenses and garbage collection fees, among other conditions.

Other lawsuits alleging wrongful death and personal injury still are pending.

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