Lake County officials being lined up for Philpot trial

2012-08-10T19:00:00Z 2012-08-11T22:41:17Z Lake County officials being lined up for Philpot trialBill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
August 10, 2012 7:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Lake County Coroner Thomas Philpot may have to confront fellow county government officials and former employees in his upcoming fraud trial.

Elected officials and several employees of the county clerk, auditor, treasurer and County Council have been notified they could be called as witnesses for the government or the defense in the U.S. District Court case, which is scheduled to begin the week of Aug. 20.

Philpot, 54, of Highland, is pleading not guilty to charges he illegally funneled more than $24,000 in federal grant money to himself in the form of incentive payments to which he wasn't legally entitled from the years 2004 to 2009 when he was serving as the county clerk.

Lake County Council members Ted Bilski, Jerome Smith, Christine Cid and former Councilman Larry Blanchard said they have received subpoenas.

Bilski, who said he won't know whether he actually will be called to the witness stand until sometime later, said he expects to be questioned about the council's role in approving officials' salaries. Others may be called to testify about county government payroll records or practices in the clerk's office during Philpot's tenure.

It may be the first time in months Philpot and those potential witnesses will be seen in public together. Philpot has kept a low profile, avoiding public appearances at County Council meeting since federal authorities signaled their investigation of him two years ago.

Their potential testimony could be crucial to establishing whether Philpot did break the law, and whether he did so intentionally.

The money in question was earmarked by the state to assist local government employees to enforce the collection of court-ordered child support payments by compensating employees for child support work they do in addition to their other duties.

Philpot took the money for himself and a select number of deputy clerks. State officials later said the money only could be used as salary bonuses with council approval. Council members at the time said they were stunned to learn what Philpot had done without asking them.

Philpot later returned the money with interest and explained he got erroneous advice from David Saks, an attorney the county hired to give him legal counsel when he was clerk.

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