Sheriff Caruana files lawsuit against Winnebago County over 2019 budget

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WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) — Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana has filed a lawsuit against the county over the 2019 budget.

The lawsuit is filed against the Winnebago County Board, Chairman Frank Haney and the County. The lawsuit alleges that the budget the county board passed for 2019 was illegal.

In a press conference Friday, Caruana was joined by other area sheriffs, including Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle and Stephenson County Sheriff David Snyders.

Back in October, the Winnebago County Board voted to cut the sheriff’s by $4.3 million, a 13 percent cut from the previous year.

“We tried talking to the county board but frankly it was like talking to a wall,” said Terry Ekl, the court-appointed lawyer for Sheriff Caruana.

There are three major components of the lawsuit:

The first, according to Ekl, is the board’s decision during approval of the budget to require Sheriff Caruana to approach the board and ask for additional funding if his office needed to make an expenditure, for example: a new hire.

“In other words they were taking the position he could not make any personnel decisions without their approval,” said Ekl. “They were trying to assume internal control over the sheriff’s office. That’s illegal.”

The second, according to Ekl, is the board didn’t fund the sheriff’s office adequately and the board was aware of that.

Sheriff Caruana said he expects his office to run out of money by June or July.

“At this point, the sheriff is going to run out of money and at which point the safety of the community is going to be at stake,” said Terry Ekl, the court-appointed lawyer for Sheriff Caruana.

The third major component of the lawsuit is on alleged improper spending by the Winnebago County Board using money from the public safety tax.

Ekl said he has evidence the county board spent public safety tax money on “grass cutting, painting and window treatments.”

The lawsuit calls for the accounting for the last 10 years on how the board spent public safety tax money. Ekl said he believes there’s more $10 million in that account that could be of use for the sheriff’s office.

“This frankly, is BS,” Ekl said.

13 WREX is following this story and will provide updates as they become available.

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