Former Crestwood water official Theresa Neubauer leaves Dirksen Federal Building following guilty verdict with Attorney Thomas Breen, Monday, April 29, 2013 | John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: June 2, 2013 6:19AM
No one would expect their town to pump poisoned water into their homes just to save a few nickels.
But that’s what happened in southwest suburban Crestwood for more than 20 years. Finally, justice is catching up.
On Monday, a federal jury convicted the former head of the water department, Theresa Neubauer, for falsifying documents to cover up the scheme. The village’s former water operator, Frank Scaccia, previously pleaded guilty.
Neubauer said she was just following orders. But, as Phil Kadner wrote in a Daily Southtown column Tuesday, that’s just another way of saying she was paid to look the other way. Truth is, former Mayor Chester Stranczek ran the village for years with a philosophy that government regulations were a waste of time and money — who needs stupid federal water standards? — and that government should be run like a business.
That’s unfair to businesses, at least the good ones that deliver reliable products and services. As for saving money, the village has paid more than $5 million in legal fees and still faces about 100 civil suits from residents and a criminal complaint by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Way back in 1986, the Illinois EPA ordered Crestwood to stop using the well because its water contained cancer-causing substances. That’s when Stranczek — widely understood to be “Public Official A” in the federal indictment — allegedly gave secret orders to mix the well with water pumped in from Lake Michigan.
The real shame is that Stranczek has been charged with no crime, apparently because he suffers from dementia.
Defense lawyer Thomas Breen said, “This is not an Erin Brockovich case,” meaning there was no wide-scale poisoning. Let’s hope he’s right, though local residents link the tainted water to their health problems.
The lesson here is that often maligned government regulations serve a real good, and you can’t get good government on the cheap.