Ex-Crestwood water operator pleads guilty in contamination case
Frank Scaccia, Crestwood's former water operator pleaded guilty today to lying about the south suburb's secret use of a community well contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals. (WGN-TV)
Crestwood’s former water operator pleaded guilty today to lying about the south suburb’s secret use of a community well contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals.
Frank Scaccia, 61, who had been scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Chicago with another village employee, admitted to a single count of making a false statement. He faces up to 27 months in prison and a $250,000 fine for his role in cloaking the use of the tainted well.
A 23-count indictment against Scaccia and Theresa Neubauer, a former water department supervisor who is on leave as Crestwood’s police chief, charged a systematic cover-up that was first revealed by the Tribune in a 2009 investigation.
The plea and trial are part of a long legal battle that has cost the village of 11,000 about $5.7 million in attorney fees and forced elected officials to cut off annual property tax rebates that had drawn national attention to Crestwood for its penny-pinching ways.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency told Crestwood officials in 1986 that the well was contaminated with vinyl chloride and dichloroethylene, hazardous chemicals related to the dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene, known as perc.
Yet for more than two decades Crestwood kept drawing water from the well, fending off authorities by telling them it would be used only in emergencies.
The officials tapped the tainted well for up to 20 percent of Crestwood’s water supply to avoid the cost of fixing leaky water mains, according to court documents. It was shut off for good in December 2007.
A 2010 study by the Illinois Department of Public Health found that toxic chemicals in the village's drinking water could have contributed to “significantly elevated” cancer rates in Crestwood, though researchers could not make a definitive link.
Court documents filed by federal prosecutors allege that Scaccia and Neubauer followed the orders of former Crestwood Mayor Chester Stranzcek, identified as “Public Official A” in court documents.
Prosecutors say Stranczek, Scaccia, Neubauer, village employees and contractors participated in a scheme to supplement Crestwood’s water supply with tainted well water, then repeatedly lied about it in reports required under federal and state law.
The false reports stated that the village’s only source of drinking water was treated Lake Michigan water purchased from neighboring Alsip.
Stranzcek, who led the village for more than 40 years and boasted that he ran it like a business, was not charged. His paid experts concluded the former mayor has “mild to moderate” dementia caused by Parkinson’s disease and isn’t fit to stand trial.
Neubauer’s trial was delayed until April 22.
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