Another SAFE lawsuit has been filed in Chicago federal court, this one citing the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act — a law usually used against gangsters.
On Thursday, a group of 17 out-of-state people filed for a class action against the La Salle County Board, former state's attorney Brian Towne, the state appellate prosecutor's office, the cities of Ottawa, La Salle, Peru, Spring Valley and various police officers. The suit claimed the now defunct SAFE anti-drug unit violated their constitutional rights.
In 2011, Towne formed the State's Attorney's Felony Enforcement team, saying the unit's purpose was to make drug arrests and seize drug money on Interstate 80. The unit was abolished after court rulings found the unit was not allowed by law. At times, officers from Ottawa, La Salle, Peru and Spring Valley took part in SAFE, as well as two retired state police officers who were solely SAFE officers.
Thursday's suit is the fourth suit filed by people, who were pulled over and-or arrested by SAFE. The first suit was dismissed March 5 on grounds the suit was filed after the statute of limitations had expired. The two other suits remain pending.
Plaintiffs in Thursday's suit were stopped by SAFE between December 2011 and January 2015. Some had only money or vehicles seized, while others were charged and sent to prison. The money seized amounted to about $250,000 total.
The suit alleges that when some SAFE arrestees asked in court for outside prosecutors, because Towne could not be part of SAFE and also prosecute SAFE arrestees, Towne said SAFE was not the agency that arrested the defendants, but rather officers of other departments made the arrests. However, in another connection, Towne told state police SAFE was the arresting agency, according to the suit.
The suit also named the La Salle County Board as a defendant, because plaintiffs said the board gave its blessing to SAFE. The suit further accuses the Illinois Office of the State's Attorney Appellate Prosecutor, which received money seized by SAFE, of "conspiring" with Towne to set up SAFE. After losing re-election in 2016, Towne went to work for the appellate prosecutor office.
Unlike the previous SAFE suits, Thursday's action claimed Towne and the others violated the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizatons Act, a law better known as the RICO Act and which is usually applied to organized crime groups, such as the Mob and outlaw biker gangs. Plaintiffs are invoking RICO, because they said SAFE was a continuing unlawful enterprise.
Plaintiffs want seized assets returned, as well as an unspecified dollar amount of damages.
Plaintiffs are represented by Compton Law Group of Elgin.