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Crestwood Officials Charged With Lying About Water Well

CRESTWOOD, Ill. (CBS) -- Two officials in south suburban Crestwood have been indicted by federal prosecutors, on charges that they lied for more than 20 years about using well water to supplement the supply the town receives from Lake Michigan.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has said the well was tainted with carcinogenic vinyl chloride, and it has been blamed for illnesses and even deaths among residents.

Retired Crestwood certified water operator Frank Scaccia, and former water department clerk and current police chief Theresa Neubauer, were charged in 23-count indictment Thursday.

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The indictment does not say the false statements led to sickness or death for residents, but does allege that the village lied about using well water to get around regulations requiring testing and monitoring of a commingled water supply, federal prosecutors said.

Most of the water in Crestwood has come from Lake Michigan since 1973. Crestwood buys the water from Alsip, which in turn buys it from the City of Chicago, federal prosecutors said. Since then, the village has supplemented its water supply with well water, initially because of leakage in the water distribution system, prosecutors said.

But Scaccia and Neubauer allegedly covered up the fact that the well was being used, in a scheme that went on from the beginning of 1987 all the way through 2008, prosecutors said. They allegedly claimed that Crestwood only used Lake Michigan drinking water, and the well was out of use.

They also lied about the unaccounted-for water losses in Crestwood, and about water consumption in the town, prosecutors said.

Each count against the defendants could result in five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Village of Crestwood in 1986 learned from the state EPA that the water in the well was the source of carcinogenic contamination. But it wasn't shut off until 2007.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the village in 2009 over the contamination. Many in Crestwood believed the water made them sick or led to their loved ones' deaths.

Former Crestwood resident Tricia Krause was largely responsible getting other residents to share their worries about the local water supply with authorities.

She eventually moved to Orland Park, but by then all three of her children had serious health issues, including brain cancer.

"My kids were poisoned, and it was so unfair. I hope justice will be done," Krause told CBS 2's Mike Parker. "They should have some kind of grave punishment. It was unconscionable what they did to all of us."

The village later settled with state authorities for $500,000.

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