McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi confirmed to FEN Thursday he had hired a top-gun Illinois criminal defense attorney. That came after Special Prosecutor Henry "Skip" Tonigan announced that morning he would begin to empanel a grand jury today to hear evidence about alleged Bianchi wrongdoing.
Rumors Bianchi had retained Lisle attorney Terry Ekl have been circulating at least since the three-month mark in Tonigan's investigation in January. Ekl, who got ex-Blackhawk's star Chris Chelios off a DUI hook in DuPage County yesterday, has appeared on lots of high-profile cases over more than two decades. Last year he defended Rod Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris who pleaded guilty after providing information against the former governor. He was one of the defense attorneys in the 1999 DuPage 7 case that cleared authorities on charges of railroading Rolando Cruz in the Jeanine Nicarico murder.
No one knows what evidence Tonigan may have turned up in his investigation since last Sept. 19. Three weeks ago he said he had nothing to report to Circuit Judge Gordon Graham after six months' work. Graham appointed Tonigan Special Prosecutor to look into charges Bianchi used County workers and money for political campaigning. Those arose from an earlier investigation by Special Prosecutor David O'Connor. That one ended in a misdemeanor guilty plea from former Bianchi secretary Amy Dalby for copying 1000 pages of State's Attorney's files she thought proved Bianchi wrongdoing five years ago.
Speculation is rife that Tonigan may have turned up something else. The Dalby files were essentially discounted in 2007 when the Attorney General's Office looked at some of them during the Bianchi-Regna primary fight and declined to start an investigation. Two years ago the County Auditor went through Bianchi's bills with a fine-tooth comb ago but all that came of that was a massive expansion of the County's rules on reimbursement.
County administrators said Thursday they still don't know how much Tonigan's Bianchi investigation has cost so far. They said he hasn't submitted any bills since ones in January for the first three months. Those totaled about $34,000.
Bianchi said, "We're going to cooperate completely," in the grand jury investigation. "I have nothing to hide," he said. FEN couldn't reach Ekl for comment late Thursday.