DECATUR — The Macon County Sheriff's Office lieutenant caught up in a state police probe of real estate sales resigned his position Friday, saying he was pressured to quit by Sheriff Tony Brown.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald & Review, Kris Thompson said he accepted a negotiated separation agreement. Thompson had already been permanently replaced as jail administrator by Brown, who recently named Lt. Jamie Belcher to the job.
Brown, in a phone interview Friday, declined to comment on Thompson's claims that he was pressured to quit. However, he said the decision to replace Thompson as jail superintendent was made because he didn't return to work because of the state police investigation, and Brown could not leave the position unfilled.
Brown, a Democrat, was elected sheriff in November by a handful of votes, and a legal battle is ongoing with his Republican opponent, Lt. Jim Root. Thompson had been Root's campaign manager.
Thompson said he is disappointed at being forced out of the sheriff’s office, where he has worked since 2005, enjoying a rapid rise through the ranks. “All that got accomplished because I worked hard,” he said. “And now this.”
He first ran into trouble in March when the Illinois State Police investigation started. It centers on whether members of the sheriff’s department can legally take part as bidders in foreclosure real estate sales conducted by the sheriff’s office. Thompson has run a sideline business for 14 years as a buyer, seller and renter of family homes, and frequently shops what are known as “judicial sales” involving foreclosed properties when he is off duty.
An anonymous letter complaining about sheriff’s deputies taking part in such sales prompted the state police investigation. The results of that investigation were passed to the Illinois Office of the State Attorney’s Appellate Prosecutor which, by request of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in late March, was to appoint special prosecutors to review the police findings.
The result of that review is still awaited. The office of Patrick Delfino, director of the appellate prosecutor’s office, did not return a call seeking comment. Thompson has always strongly denied any wrongdoing.
The section of Illinois law that appears to bar sheriff’s deputies from bidding in real estate sales in their own counties is an old one, dating to the 1800s. It includes the phrase “no purchase of property at own sale,” leaving open the question of whether that means any sale conducted by the department or a sale conducted by a department officer who is also making his own bid.
Thompson has previously insisted there is nothing to stop him, when off duty, from spending his own money to bid on foreclosed real estate. He said he was initially told that a separate examination by the sheriff’s office into his conduct had cleared him of wrongdoing, but that changed in April. He said a senior member of the sheriff’s office, whom he would not identify, told him there was going to be a new investigation that would look at whether he had accepted secondary employment without authority of the sheriff.
“That was a reference to my real estate investments,” said Thompson. “I told them I don’t have a second job, I have investments in real estate.”
Thompson said what really appears to have angered the sheriff is a posting on Root’s Facebook page March 20 updating his supporters on Root’s bid for sheriff. The Facebook post said the post-election legal battle now being fought over the outcome has seen Brown’s supporters attempting to “bankrupt us with their high-powered, high-paid lawyers.”
“I was told that post got the sheriff really ticked off at me,” Thompson said.
He accused the sheriff of handing out payback in the aftermath of the election, gunning for all those involved in Root’s campaign. “On April 18, the sheriff’s office had a mandatory command meeting,” Thompson said. “At that meeting, Jim Root’s entire campaign committee had their shifts reassigned. So Jim Root, who has been emergency manager for Decatur and Macon County for the last 10 years on day shift, got re-assigned to third shift patrol.”
Root did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Thompson said the real estate probe gave Brown the cover to force him out. Thompson said he wanted to stay away on leave until the appellate prosecutors in Springfield had finally decided what to do, but with the sheriff’s moves against him it was best to go now.
“Like I said, I am disappointed, very disappointed,” he added.
Brown denied allegations that he is punishing Root and his supporters. "That's false," Brown said. "That's not the case whatsoever."
DECATUR — In the wake of an Illinois State Police probe into Macon County Sheriff’s Office employees bidding at foreclosure real estate sales,…
The sheriff said the reassignments were also a result of Thompson's absence from work, as doing so was a way to help ensure the department would continue to run as efficiently as possible. He said he will reevaluate the reassignments within six months depending on the state of the office.
As for the Facebook post on Root's campaign page, Brown said he heard of it, but "doesn't respond to those things" and never has. He said the election is over and the sheriff's office is no place for politically motivated governing.
"I took office Dec. 1, and it's been over five months for me to make any kind of changes," Brown said. "(Thompson's) absence is what forced me ... It's not anything personal. I need to make sure that the critical needs are met."