Illinois police officer stole thousands before staging suicide, officials say

When Fox Lake Lt. Joe Gliniewicz died while on duty two months ago, the entire nation mourned. Now, investigators say it was a 'carefully staged' suicide prompted by the knowledge that his criminal activities would soon be uncovered. 

Lake County Sheriff/Handout
Fox Lake Lieutenant Charles Joseph Gliniewicz is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by Lake County Sheriff's Office in Illinois on September 1, 2015. Gliniewicz, whose September death prompted an extensive manhunt for murder suspects committed "a carefully staged suicide" as authorities began an audit that would have exposed his embezzling public funds, authorities said on November 4, 2015.

Reversing the narrative of a beloved police officer tragically slain on duty, investigators in Fox Lake, Illinois announced Wednesday that Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was stealing money from the police department before staging an elaborate suicide, drawing on his experience working at crime scenes.

"There are no winners here. Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal to the citizens he served and the entire law enforcement community," George Filenko, Lake County Major Crimes Task Force commander said in his announcement of the investigation’s conclusions.

"This staged suicide was the end result of extensive criminal acts that Gliniewicz had been committing."

Following the discovery of Gliniewicz’s body, shot twice in the torso, on the morning of Sept. 1, local authorities launched a massive manhunt to find his murderers.

The FBI, US marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were all involved in the ensuing search, but the case became more and more puzzling as no serious suspects were identified.

Wednesday's briefing not only confirmed the cause of Gliniewicz’s death as suicide, but also revealed the likely motive: an ongoing department audit would soon have uncovered that he had been stealing money from a youth mentorship program for which he was a leader.

For the past seven years, Gliniewicz stole thousands of money from the Fox Lake Police Explorer Post, a program for teenagers and young adults between ages 14 and 21 who are interested in becoming police officers.

Forging signatures on official documents, Gliniewicz used department money for travel expenses, mortgages, gym memberships, adult websites, and other personal purchases.

Officials said 6,500 pages of text messages were reviewed in the investigation, at least one of which revealed Gliniewicz's anxiety about the audit. Another message indicated that he used the Explorer account to pay for a $600 flight.

"The embarrassment comes to me personally that this is the first time, in my career, that I’ve felt ashamed by the acts of another police officer," Filenko said. "We completely believed from day one that this was a homicide."

There is evidence suggesting criminal activity by at least two other people, he added, but no further information was disclosed because authorities are still looking into the case.

Since it was launched over two months ago, the investigation into Gliniewicz’s death has cost at least $300,000, the estimated figure in October. A Lake County detective said more than 430 leads were analyzed, in addition to 250 pieces of evidence and 40,000 emails.

Before taking his life, officials say Gliniewicz had deliberately positioned a baton, pepper spray, and eyeglasses at the crime scene to misguide the investigators into believing it was a homicide. He was last heard on the police radio saying he was in pursuit of three suspicious men in a remote area south of the Wisconsin state border.

Receiving full military honors at his funeral, which more than 1,000 police officers attended, the 52-year-old veteran is survived by his wife of 30 years and four sons.

Attorneys say the suicide ruling would disqualify the family from hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits for officers killed in line of duty, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Leroy Marre, a neighbor to the Gliniewicz family, told the Tribune that the news Wednesday has left him in shock.

"What a surprise, from hero to criminal," he said, standing outside their home. 

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