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SAFE claims 'tip of iceberg'

La Salle County State's Attorney Karen Donnelly says some people may see her as continuing to "beat a dead horse" with her lawsuit to recover money from Spring Valley, Ottawa and La Salle.

But she said she wants to protect taxpayers.

Last summer, Donnelly brought suit to the three cities in La Salle County Court for $573,451. The money was generated from cash seizures on Interstate 80 by a disbanded anti-drug unit known as SAFE, formed by Donnelly's predecessor, Brian Towne. The money was first given to Spring Valley, which then allegedly gave $100,000 apiece to Ottawa and La Salle.

In December, the court tossed out Donnelly's lawsuit, saying she had 28 days to refile it with different arguments, which she did a couple weeks later.

In a recent Facebook post, Donnelly defended her lawsuit. In the week before that post, she said, nine people filed claims trying to recover money seized by SAFE. That's because the state Supreme Court ruled last summer the unit was an illegal extension of the state's attorney's powers.

"So for those of you wondering why I am continuing to 'beat a dead horse,' especially when we haven't had a friendly reception in the courts thus far, last week's filings provide 188,000 reasons why," Donnelly said. "That's how much of the forfeited money at issue in these nine filings was given to Spring Valley. And I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg."

Donnelly promised to fight the claims with legal arguments "that my staff is currently working on, but the money the claimants seek to recover is long gone."

The majority of the money, she said, went to Spring Valley, while the state's attorney's office and the state appellate prosecutor's office each got $36,000.

"But that, too, is gone, as it was spent by my predecessor on travel, donationsĀ  and the like," Donnelly said in the Facebook post. "I might add that in my first year as your state's attorney, I accepted zero taxpayer dollars for travel or any other kind of reimbursement."

If the nine people win in court, Donnelly said, the money will have to come from someone's pockets. She said she hoped that it wouldn't come from local taxpayers.

After an appeals court ruled against SAFE in 2015, Towne disbanded it. He started the unit in 2011.

Towne lost to Donnelly in the 2016 election. In her campaign, she opposed SAFE.

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