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Mayor: Not Enough Evidence to Charge City Official with Felony

Palos Heights' Mayor Bob Straz talked Tuesday night about investigation that led to a charge of misdemeanor theft for Building Commissioner James Dougherty.

For the first time since the investigation began in July, Mayor Bob Straz offered details at a meeting about investigators peeking into Building Department records and the subsequent firing of the department's head.

Representatives from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, including an investigator from the Public Integrity Unit, working with local officials were unable to find enough evidence to bring felony charges against former Building Commissioner James Dougherty, Straz said Tuesday night. Instead, Palos Heights police charged the Bolingbrook man with misdemeanor theft. He turned himself in on Friday.

Dougherty is accused of taking $600 in payment for fines and permit fees on July 25 but not turning in the cash or issuing a receipt to the business owner, said.

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"It became apparent, if nothing else, that there was something wrong with the management in the department," Straz said, addressing the public. "We decided to take it a little further and turn it over to the police department and State's Attorney."

The investigation into Dougherty and the building department began in July. Interviews were conducted over weeks.

Palos Patch detailed the investigation—specifically, the interview conducted by police, an Assistant State's Attorney and an investigator from the State's Attorney's Office's with Dougherty on July 27—in an article last month. The State's Attorney's Office eventually decided they would not charge Dougherty.

Straz said he let the commissioner go because of "deficiencies in his management and unprofessional behavior. City officials are now conducting an examination of how the department conducts its affairs.

"There's an overall review of the flow of money and work in the department," Straz said. He said some procedures already have changed. Cash will now only be handled at the front desk inside City Hall.

City Building Inspector William Hayes has been appointed interim Building Commissioner for the time being. Hayes was identified in a Palos Park police report as the one who brought to their attention a discrepancy in department records regarding cash collected for fines and fees.

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Dougherty and department secretary Lisa Kean were terminated on Aug. 17. (Kean also was questioned in the criminal investigation as well. She has not been charged with any crime connected to recent events.)

Dougherty is due in court on Oct. 23.

Straz said the investigation remains ongoing. He had provided few details prior to police charging Dougherty because of the open investigation.

"We've been fortunate. In the 12 years I've been in office, this is the first time something like this has happened. This is the last time it's going to happen," Straz said."

"We work for the people of the town here," he said. "Not to steal from the people of the town here."

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South side Native September 05, 2012 at 03:59 PM
You and I agree on that!
Jim Jones September 05, 2012 at 06:21 PM
They should immediately stop allowing payments in cash, for starters. And the mayor is fooling himself if he thinks this only occured under the current commissioner. I heard enough stories about the past one to inidicate it was common enough. I agree. Clean house
Rock Bobster September 05, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Bear in mind that this police department is the same one that was ticketing young kids who were cutting their neighbors grass! Seems the landscaping outfits who had an "arrangement" with city hall didn't like the competition from ten-year-olds so they had the cops cuff the kids. At one time home expansions and renovations were very big in the Heights, and I heard all sorts of horror stories from home owners and builders regarding the inspection and permit "culture" there, including the guy who ratted his way into the commissioners' chair. Just like in public school Maintenance Departments and often procurement offices, you find a lot of people who "seem so nice" that are doing the most crooked things. Smilin' faces....smilin faces sometimes... THEY DON'T TELL THE TRUTH!
Rock Bobster September 05, 2012 at 07:29 PM
The guy probably knows where the Heights "skeletons" are buried, as well as his replacement. This exposure probably happened because he wasn't "kicking down" enough. He gets off with a misdemeanor slap on the wrist, no jail time, a small fine, and the next municipality that hires him will look the other way about his criminal record just like Mayor Straz did. They probably won't touch his pension, and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a nice severance package. He knows how to "play ball" and "take care of people". He won't be out of work long in the South Suburbs.
Mary Carumba September 06, 2012 at 10:54 AM
If this were a regular citizen and not a political butt sniffer he would have been charged with multiple felonies.

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