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Diversion, drugs, embezzlement



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Updated: October 21, 2012 2:39PM

HAMPSHIRE — Speaking to Hampshire Area Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon warned parents that today’s drugs are not the ones present during their own youths. He also praised the county’s “diversion” program as a way to keep one misguided act from ruining a young person’s life, and he said the recession has caused an increase in two kinds of white-collar crime.

McMahon, who grew up in Carpentersville and now lives in Plato Center, said that “every drug you ever heard of or read about moves through Kane County at some point. Maybe not on a daily basis, but on a yearly basis.”

Since he was an assistant state’s attorney in the 1990s, he said, the trendy drug has changed from cocaine to heroin. But it’s not the same heroin that was around 30 years ago.

“It comes in a purer form,” he said. “People can use heroin just once or twice and very quickly become addicted. We have noticed people dying soon after the first time they used the drug. The parents will hear a thud in the bathroom. They break in and find their daughter or son, dead or almost dead, with a syringe and cotton balls on the counter.”

That even happened to the daughter of a St. Charles medical doctor, he said.

‘Diversion’ lauded

McMahon praised a program known as “diversion” that he inherited from his predecessors. Diversion allows nonviolent, first-time offenders to be taken before a panel of four to five volunteers from the community rather than facing normal criminal charges in court. If they make complete restitution to the victim, write a letter of apology, perform community service and complete their schooling (or earn a GED certificate), the state’s attorney drops the charges at the end of 12 to 18 months.

The panel members also ask the offender some questions, McMahon said. “Questions like, ‘How were you so stupid to think you could get away with this?’ or ‘How did you think stealing that laptop or that cellphone would make the owner feel, something that he saved up money to buy, something that had all his personal contact information inside it?’ They ask, ‘What if someday you want to become a nurse, or a teacher, or a firefighter, all of which require a background check, and you now have a felony conviction on your record?’ ”

McMahon said only 20 percent of the new offenders who go through the process end up being arrested again.

He said one perfect case for diversion came a few years ago when two respected college students came home on spring break, went into a neighbor’s garage and stole the neighbor’s car for a joy ride. A conviction for felony auto theft could have aborted their promising careers before those careers had even started.

The program was designed for “youthful” offenders, but McMahon said that “a year ago we had our oldest graduate — a 78-year-old woman.”

The woman had been caught shoplifting several hundred dollars worth of clothes from a Kohl’s store, he said. She had never gotten into trouble before. “She had lived a great life for 78 years. So near the end of that life, do we convict her of a felony?”

Crime surge

McMahon warned the Hampshire businesspeople that the economic slump has caused a local surge in two white-collar crimes — employees stealing from their employers, and relatives financially exploiting the elderly.

Often these crimes are committed by someone who is having trouble paying their bills, because of unemployment, lowered wages, or a gambling or drug addiction, he said. Meanwhile, businesses that also are struggling to make ends meet often have cut down on the number of people who check their books and receipts. Suddenly tens of thousands of dollars turn out to be missing.

“Our ability to prosecute (employee theft) crimes depends heavily on the quality of the business’s records,” McMahon warned. “And too often, the person who keeps those records is the same one accused of stealing the money.”

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