The meat of the matter: Pepmeyer denies allegations

 

by Mike Kroll

The Zephyr, Galesburg, Illinois

 

The living room of State’s Attorney John Pepmeyer’s Galesburg home is becoming a familiar location as I have spent two long Sunday afternoons interviewing him as he sat on that floral pattern couch with his wife Laura at his side. On this second occasion I witnessed Pepmeyer read for the first time the specific charges being leveled against him by three women who have worked for him in the Knox County State’s Attorney’s office since he replaced former State’s Attorney (now Circuit Judge) Paul Mangieri in January.

 

The first specific charges leveled against Pepmeyer are contained in a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Galesburg attorney Barry Barash representing Jennifer Brown, Teresa Cummings and Constance Griffith. The women allege a blatant pattern of sexual harassment by Pepmeyer coupled with at least one specific incident of professional misconduct.

 

Since the courthouse saga has begun, Pepmeyer has consistently and vehemently denied all such charges and says that he has never engaged in the actions or conversations alleged by his accusers. He also notes that they are but three of the women he deals with on a continuing basis in the Courthouse apparently without similar incidents. He believes that his accusers are transferring their own motives on to him. “It is they who seek to divert the focus to outrageous and fictional charges against me. This was neither a shock nor unexpected. These same allegations of sexual harassment were initially made to cause me to resign and when I refused, now they are seeking damages.”

 

Pepmeyer is surprised that Griffith has joined in this action with Brown and Cummings. “I have understood from the beginning that Jennifer [Brown] and Teresa [Cummings] were behind the sexual harassment allegations but I had no idea that Connie [Griffith] was also part of it. Connie has always said, ‘I just want to do my job,’ and it never occurred to me that she felt this way or that she would see the other women as her allies.”

 

The irony is that Griffith’s complaint contains the potentially most damning charge against Pepmeyer and there is nothing sexual about it. She says that on Friday, January 12 (the day Pepmeyer was sworn in as State’s Attorney at about 4:30pm) he approached her about a case concerning a defendant Pepmeyer had been defending against a charge of predatory criminal sexual assault before turning the case over to his brother and former law partner Tom Pepmeyer.

 

Griffith’s complaint reads: “He asked me to type an amended information on a sex case... He wanted me to type it to reduce it to a battery (misdemeanor) which would be an offense which would not require registering as a sex offender. I knew the felony attorney Mike Kraycinovich had just recently spoken to the victim and the victim’s family and that they wanted the ...matter to go to trial. They emphatically were opposed to a plea agreement. Mr Pepmeyer’s request (made just hours before he was sworn in as State’s Attorney) made me feel uneasy, so I mentioned it to the felony attorney. He was as uneasy as I was and was immediately on the phone to Paul Mangieri who was at home for lunch. [Kraycinovich] told Paul what John asked me to do and Paul said that I was not to do anything about [Pepmeyer’s] request and that he would speak to me about it in the office when he returned. When Paul returned ...he was very upset because this family deserved justice and that was what they were going to get. [Mangieri] would not sign an amended information and said that he would tell John in no uncertain terms that this case would go to trial.”

 

Pepmeyer acknowledges that since his appointment two days earlier by the Knox County Board he had been in the process of divesting himself of all pending cases including the one in question. Like this one, most were turned over to his brother, Tom. But he is adamant that he never considered making any such request as described by Griffith.

 

“There were several cases that require resolution. On all of these cases and the specific one mentioned in the complaint, I have made motions for the State Appellate Prosecutor to be appointed as Special Prosecutor, the Court granted my motions. These matters have been completely turned over to that office for handling and they have exclusive responsibility for this case. Most importantly, the Court files clearly reflect that since January 12, nothing has occurred in these cases. As to the case mentioned it is still pending, and further comment would be improper at this time.”

 

According to courthouse records the two original charges were filed in October 2005 and amended on October 27, 2006 at the same time that three additional counts were filed. Predatory criminal sexual assault of a child is a Class X felony in Illinois and the defendant could be facing life in prison. Had Pepmeyer contemplated such an action it is unclear how he could have accomplished it. Even if Mangieri were open to a plea agreement of some kind he was likewise relieving himself of the pending cases before being sworn in as circuit judge immediately before Pepmeyer’s own swearing in ceremony. A hearing would have to have been scheduled before a judge with the accused present and all this completed in just two or three hours.

 

“What is of prime importance for the public to know, is that regardless of sexual harassment charges, union grievances, personal smears and civil lawsuits, these ‘counter-actions’ taken by certain staff members of my new office, have occurred only after I commenced my attempts to shake up and change certain routines within the office, organize the mess and turmoil regarding felony files in the office, and most importantly, only after I had begun my inquiries and investigations, and had discovered highly-questionable practices and what I believe amounts to criminal wrong-doing in both the Sheriff’s Office and the State’s Attorney’s Offices.”

 

As documented by the time frame laid out in the EEOC complaint, Brown and Cummings’ decision to pursue grievances against Pepmeyer followed his asking questions related to the investigation of sexual contact between a prisoner and corrections officer in the Knox County Jail, the huge number of DUI cases that were being dismissed or lost when the State’s Attorney’s office failed to respond within the 160 days speedy trial mandate and the now infamous letter from Henry County State’s Attorney Tim Patton regarding the ATM bandit case and the extradition of Timothy Lucas from Utah.

 

“It is my belief that the personal smears directed towards me were and remain, a clear and blatant attempt to stop me from uncovering wrong-doing and criminal activity — nothing more, nothing less,” says Pepmeyer. “Even after these attempts to silence me and to thwart further probing and investigation into these criminal matters, it appears that almost on a daily basis, revelations of further highly-suspect activities and possible criminal wrong-doing continue to surface.”

 

“Well before the accusations, I had discussed with my staff the need to take a much more aggressive attitude towards prosecuting DUI’s and felonies. The need for more trials instead of plea-bargaining or outright dismissals and securing convictions on felony cases as opposed to reducing them to misdemeanors. Of prime importance — perhaps the most important action which took place before these allegations against me were made was my issuance of a memo to all staff attorneys that no more DUI’s and no more felonies were to be dismissed without clearance from me as State’s Attorney. One staff member’s response was to wave this memo wildly in a public courtroom while uttering the “F” word. Another’s was to berate me for not trusting the judgment of my assistants and for not having faith in their judgment and discretion in handling cases assigned to them.”

 

Pepmeyer says that when he arrived there was no system in place to track documents being brought into the office or who or how they were handled once a file was created in the State’s Attorney’s office. “People in law enforcement regularly complained of having to bring documents back a second or third time because they could not be located within the office,” noted Pepmeyer.

 

Pepmeyer describes a workplace where staff infighting was a daily occurrence and where there was a constant effort by some to advance their own position or salary at the expense of a coworker. “The staff members who have made allegations against me, are the precise people I was either attempting to request dramatic changes from, or investigating for either negligent or criminal wrong-doing. They were people I had previously criticized or who had sought dramatic pay raises from me and had been denied. These are the same people who had requested of me daily to fire certain of their fellow co-workers within the office, and were constantly jockeying for a new position and more money.”

 

“Well before the accusations made against me, another secretary within the office had cleaned off the desk of the office manager who was off work due to an injury. During the desk’s ‘cleaning process’ numerous files, police reports, crime lab reports, Petitions to Revoke Probation that were never filed, unfinished forfeitures from the police and sheriff’s office, and a letter containing restitution check to a victim from my former law firm dated November, 2005 were among the items found. There were repeated requests and expectations from my staff that I would fire her when she returned. The other secretaries within the office delighted in this action to the extent that they invited a multitude of employees from other offices within the Courthouse to view the secretary’s desk. Upon her return to work, when I did not fire her, two of the women now accusing me of sexual harassment called me weak for not doing so and told me she needs to go.”

 

While the three woman in the State’s Attorney’s office who have worked for Pepmeyer only since mid-January paint a picture of a man who was obsessed with sex it is intriguing that no other women have come forward to assert similar charges against the embattled attorney. There would appear to be lots of candidates. Former secretaries and assistants in his legal practice or staff at either of the two bars Pepmeyer co-owned with his brother until being named State’s Attorney. The charges of sexual harassment against Pepmeyer have received substantial press coverage and are the talk of this community yet not one other woman has stepped forward to say she too was victimized by John Pepmeyer.

 

Quite the contrary has occurred. Jill Hennenfent has been employed by Pepmeyer & Pepmeyer since October 1989 and continues today as a secretary to John’s brother, Tom. “Having worked with John Pepmeyer for more than 17 years I feel that I can provide a unique perspective as to his behavior and interactions with people. During my employment we have dealt with literally hundreds of clients, both male and female, and I have never witnessed any unwarranted behavior from John Pepmeyer. Further, there have been several female secretaries employed during my tenure, none of whom have ever complained of either being sexually harassed or mistreated by John Pepmeyer.”

 

“I find it very odd that in the first 60 days of John being State’s Attorney that he is being accused of creating a ‘hostile work environment’ and being accused of sexual harassment,” continued Hennenfent. She went on to say how amazing it was following the volume of complaints alleged by Teresa Cummings “that her work environment angers, upsets and frightens her” that this woman would bring her young daughter to work with her for a entire day. “If this workplace is so horrible why would she subject her daughter to this environment? I am of the opinion that these allegations are untrue and that none of these things that John is being accused of ever happened.”

 

Since the week following the March 17th article in the Peoria Journal-Star that ignited this entire scandal when three assistant state’s attorneys and some of the office staff initially ceased coming to work, Pepmeyer has brought new people into the Knox County State’s Attorney’s office to help keep things running. This has included Nicki Gulick, who formerly worked as John Pepmeyer’s legal secretary from March 1999 through June 2006. “Even though I was a young female in my early 20’s never once did I ever feel awkward around [Pepmeyer], even when we were alone. NEVER EVER did I feel that I was threatened in any way, sexually, verbally or physically. I think the allegations made against John are completely ridiculous and I could never picture him saying any of the comments that he has been accused of. I believe that after over seven years of working with someone five days a week I would have a pretty good idea of what could come out of his mouth.”

 

Gulick has worked in the Knox County State’s Attorney’s office since March 26 on a temporary basis after Pepmeyer asked for her help. During her career as a legal secretary, Gulick has worked in another State’s Attorney’s office and is therefore familiar with the operations of such an office. “I have to say that this is the most unorganized State’s Attorney’s office I have ever seen!” Since working in the Knox County office she says, “I have never seen Mr. Pepmeyer treat anyone with disrespect or make them feel uncomfortable in any way. I certainly have never witnessed any harassment of any kind by Mr. Pepmeyer. If anything, it’s the secretaries in the office creating the unpleasant environment. Since I have been here John, only speaks to the secretaries when others are present to protect himself from further allegations.”

 

Louis Glossip was also brought into the Knox County State’s Attorney’s office on a temporary basis in mid-March by Pepmeyer. Glossip has worked for the Pepmeyer brothers for the past six years in the restaurant and bar businesses. “I have never been treated with anything less than courtesy and respect by John Pepmeyer. In fact, I feel that I have been treated as part of the ‘family.’ In my experience Johns has always treated everyone he encounters with the same respect that he affords me. I have never seen John mistreat anyone in my presence. Since the allegations against John first came out I have often wondered why a 55-year-old man who has been an attorney for 30 years and has a clean record would get begin acting so inappropriately immediately after getting appointed to a high profile public office. And why is it that the remainder of the office staff have not witnessed any of this questionable behavior?”

 

 

 

4/19/07