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Crestwood water official was pawn in scheme, defense attorney says

Former Crestwood Illinois water official TheresNeubauer  arrives Dirksen Federal Courthouse Chicago. Photographed Tuesday April 23 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago

Former Crestwood, Illinois water official, Theresa Neubauer , arrives at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago. Photographed on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: May 25, 2013 6:48AM

The former head of the Crestwood water department, who is accused of lying to state regulators about tainted well water, was a small cog in an elaborate cover-up by former Mayor Chester Stranczek, her attorney said Tuesday during opening statements at her federal trial.

Theresa Neubauer, 55, who’s on paid leave as Crestwood’s police chief, is charged with 11 counts of deliberately misleading inspectors for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about the village mixing the contaminated water with Lake Michigan water, which went on for about 22 years.

Her attorney, Jonathan Brayman, downplayed Neubauer’s position with the water department and argued that she lacked the expertise to give definitive answers to IEPA investigators.

“She didn’t have all the answers,” he told jurors. “She wasn’t in those closed-door meetings with the mayor, the [village] board, the elected officials. She didn’t know all the answers.”

Neubauer and former Crestwood water operator Frank Scaccia were indicted in August 2011, accused of taking part in a cover-up of the use of the well water, which contained vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, to supplement the drinking water supply.

Brayman described Stranczek, who was mayor for 38 years until 2007, as a successful businessman who “ran Crestwood like a business. He said Crestwood’s water lines were leaking, and Stranczek didn’t want the village to pay to install new lines.”

“It was a financial decision for the mayor,” he said of the use of the well water to mask the loss of Lake Michigan water from the aging lines. “It would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions [in repairs] if he reported the well to regulators.”

So Stranczek concealed the leaking lines and use of tainted water from the IEPA as well as the residents and directed former water operator Frank Scaccia to do so as well, Brayman said. He said Scaccia submitted the reports on water quality and use to the IEPA.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Erika Csicsila characterized Neubauer as an integral player in the scheme who didn’t give a second thought to the potential danger to residents from the water they were drinking.

“It was her responsibility to make sure the water was tested and monitored properly,” Csicsila said. “She didn’t do her job. The defendant and other Crestwood officials told lie after lie, year after year, decade after decade.”

Five witnesses appeared for the government on Tuesday, including IEPA water supplies manager David McMillian, who testified that Neubauer notarized water reports from 2000 to 2006 that were published in a local newspaper and that falsely indicated that the tainted well was not used during that time.

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