FOX LAKE, Ill. (AP) – Authorities are investigating the wife and one of the sons of an Illinois police officer who they say killed himself after embezzling money for years from a department youth program he oversaw, an official said Thursday.
The case centers on the Fox Lake Police Explorer Post from which Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz allegedly stole thousands of dollars over the course of seven years. Gliniewicz’s wife, Melodie, and one of their sons, D.J., are caught up in the probe, said the official, who was briefed on the investigation. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
Authorities revealed the embezzlement investigation Wednesday and confirmed weeks of suspicion that Gliniewicz killed himself and staged the scene to look like he died in the line of duty. They also said their investigation points to criminal activity by at least two other people, but they refused to identify them or to say whether Melodie Gliniewicz was one of them.
The family – the couple had three other children – issued a brief statement Wednesday through their attorneys in which they said they were still grieving but which didn’t mention the finding that Lt. Gliniewicz took his own life or that he had been stealing from the youth program. The attorneys, Henry Tonigan and Andrew Kelleher, didn’t immediately respond to voicemail and email messages sent Thursday seeking comment.
Melodie Gliniewicz helped her husband run the explorer program, in which he put young people interested in law enforcement careers through sophisticated training exercises. In a newspaper interview weeks ago, D.J. Gliniewicz, who is in his 20s, angrily dismissed suggestions that his father took his own life.
On Sept. 1 – the day he died – Gliniewicz radioed in that he was chasing three suspicious men into a swampy area. Backup officers found the Army veteran’s body about 50 yards from his squad car.
Authorities launched a large and costly manhunt for the suspects, but the only arrest it yielded was of a woman accused of calling in a false lead. As the probe into Gliniewicz’s death stretched on, suspicion grew that he had killed himself. Along the way, investigators were careful to say they continued to treat it as a homicide investigation, though they couldn’t rule out suicide.
On Wednesday, investigators confirmed those suspicions, saying the 30-year police veteran meticulously staged his own suicide to make it look like he died in a confrontation with several suspects. Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko, who led the investigation, said Gliniewicz had the kind of intimate knowledge of crime scenes needed to pull it off and that it was clear he did it intentionally to mislead investigators.
Investigators said they believe Gliniewicz killed himself because his criminal activity was about to be exposed. Up until the day he died, a new village administrator was pressing him to see the explorer program’s books as part of a village-wide audit.
Recovered text messages and other records now show Gliniewicz embezzled from the program for seven years, spending the money on mortgage payments, travel expenses, gym memberships, adult websites, withdrawing cash and making loans, Filenko said.
His precise motive for trying to make his death look like a homicide remains unclear. Asked whether a suicide would prevent his family from receiving benefits, Filenko said he didn’t know. Gliniewicz may also have been concerned with preserving his reputation.
“Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal,” Filenko said Wednesday. “We completely believed from Day One that this was a homicide.”
There was a huge outpouring of grief after Gliniewicz’s death in Fox Lake, the village of about 10,000 residents about 50 miles north of Chicago where the 52-year-old officer had long been a role model. That good will was replaced by a sense of betrayal on Wednesday, with public works employees cutting the blue ribbons that residents had tied to trees and poles as a tribute to their slain hero. Signs around the small town that had praised the officer known as “G.I. Joe” suddenly disappeared, replaced in one instance by a poster that labeled him “G.I. Joke.”
“It’s breaking my heart,” said Mark Weihofen, a 41-year-old school bus mechanic. “There is a ‘We love you, Joe’ sign that I pass by every day. … It was already down.”
Kathy Pederson, a single mother who considered Gliniewicz a father figure to her son in the explorer program, said she felt profound disappointment.
“You never thought he was this kind of man,” she said.