Ex-Crestwood water operator pleads guilty in tainted water case - FOX 35 News Orlando

Ex-Crestwood water operator pleads guilty in tainted water case

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Investigators called it the first time in American history that local water officials were accused of crimes related to intentional contamination.

On Thursday, Crestwood's former certified water operator pleaded guilty, claiming he was only following orders from the south suburb's longtime mayor.

Crestwood's police chief faces trial on similar charges later this month.

On a very wet day, Frank Scaccia told a federal judge that he lied and knowingly falsified official records for about 20 years--all to cover up the fact that Crestwood's longtime mayor had ordered him to pollute the town's drinking supply with water from a well contaminated by dangerous chemicals. It's the same well the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency ordered closed in 1986.

Scaccia's lawyer talked for him after court.

"You know, I assume they'll have their day in court," Scaccia's attorney, Patrick Blegen, says in response to a question about people who think they were harmed by contaminated water. "So, they'll proceed on that. But what was talked about here today was just false statements."

Indeed, prosecutors did not allege that any specific illness in Crestwood was caused by the tainted well water. It contained cancer-causing chemicals that may have come from dumped dry-cleaning solvent.

Nonetheless, some angrily blame their life-threatening diseases on the decision by Crestwood's former Mayor Chester Stranczek to illegally re-open the well, apparently because the tainted water was a lot cheaper than clean Lake Michigan water.

"Hundreds have showed up to the town meetings, crying, complaining of their health; and the cancers and the brain tumors," Krause says. "There is a latency period of 20 to 30 years that anyone of us at a given time can become sick. "

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. Crestwood Police Chief Therese Neubauer set to go on trial a week from Monday on charges that she also lied and falsified records to cover it up.

Frank Scaccia's guilty plea Thursday did contain a rare footnote. He's asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to rule that this should be a state case, not federal. If he wins that appeal, the case against him could yet be dismissed.

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