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Forest Preserve watchman accused of growing pot near county home

A Cook County forest preserve staffer CynthiWojtanowski (inset) was arrested Thursday night suspected growing marijuannear this forest preserve-owned house thshe

A Cook County forest preserve staffer, Cynthia Wojtanowski (inset) was arrested Thursday night, suspected of growing marijuana near this forest preserve-owned house that she lives in as a “resident watchman” in Orland Park. | Matt Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 25, 2011 12:20AM

A Cook County Forest Preserve “resident watchman” whose duties include stopping people from growing or smoking pot in the woods has been arrested — accused of growing pot in the woods.

The carefully cultivated cannabis was found growing near the forest preserve-owned house where Cynthia Wojtanowski, 45, lives at Tampier South Woods forest preserve at 135th and Wolf Road in southwest suburban Orland Park.

In exchange for a steeply discounted fee to live in the house, Wojtanowski was charged with clearing wood, removing snow, keeping an eye out for fires and reporting criminal activity, says Forest Preserve Supt. Arnold Randall.

Even reporting people smoking or growing marijuana?

“Yes, that, too,” Randall tells the Sun-Times.

Now Wojtanowski and her live-in boyfriend Mark P. Osmolski, 42, are each charged with a felony count of marijuana production, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

It began with a tip from the public this week.

“We were given a tip by a member of the public to our police force, which we encourage and appreciate, that there was marijuana being grown in the forest preserve in this particular area,” Randall said.

Forest preserve police quickly found the crop.

“We discovered cannabis on the grounds of the forest preserve district — in the vicinity of the home,” Randall said.

Randall didn’t know exactly how much marijuana was found. Asked whether the pot was being sold on forest preserve property or elsewhere, he said: “The amount that was being grown seemed like it was more than for an individual’s use. We do know there was definitely enough [marijuana] there that it may have been more than just for personal use.”

Wojtanowski was arrested at the residence Thursday, and her boyfriend turned himself in to authorities the same day. Both spent the night behind bars and appeared before a judge at Cook County’s Bridgeview courthouse before they were released on $25,000 recognizance bonds, court records show.

The Forest Preserve quickly served Wojtanowski an eviction notice, giving her 30 days to leave her forest preserve home, Randall said. She has been summoned to a disciplinary hearing on Monday that could lead to her firing.

“She acknowledged she knew there was marijuana growing there. We have some strong belief that she had some responsibility for the marijuana being in that location,” Randall said.

The marijuana was pulled out and sent to a crime lab for testing and weighing, law enforcement authorities said.

Neither Wojtanowski nor Osmolski could be reached for comment Friday.

Wojtanowski has worked at the forest preserve since 1996, and began serving in the “resident watchmen” program in 2004. That’s in addition to her duties as an $56,468 administrative assistant for the forest preserve, ordering supplies and tracking repairs for vehicles and other maintenance machinery.

The forest preserve did not provide the fee she is paying to live in the forest preserve home.

The forest preserve “resident watchmen” program — which puts workers in homes throughout the system — has long been viewed as a reward system for political patronage workers.

In 2009, Wojtanowski contributed $500 to the 47th Ward Democratic Party on the city’s Northwest; former Chicago Ald. Eugene Schulter is the committeeman.

Randall — who just took the helm less than a year ago under newly elected Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — said the program is being overhauled and will include background checks on all adults living in the homes.

“It’s [a] slap in the face — you’ve got a resident, a government employee entrusted with a taxpayer-subsidized home, and here she’s accused of growing marijuana,” said Jeff Tobolski, who serves in dual roles as a County Board and Forest Preserve District commissioner.

Tobolski commended the forest preserve for moving quickly on the case and has asked for a full accounting, including the number and addresses of the forest preserve homes as well as the occupants.

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