(Lake County, IL) – A former Vernon Hills Deputy Chief of Police apologized to his family and the community of Vernon Hills Tuesday, as he pleaded guilty to theft.
Under a negotiated plea deal in Lake County Circuit Court, Patrick Zimmerman, 51, pleaded guilty to one count of theft for the falsification of records in order to obtain money for work he did not perform. The theft was related to a traffic enforcement program, known as “STEP,” administered by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Terms specify Zimmerman will pay $4,365.29 in restitution to Vernon Hills, complete 50 public service hours, and serve 18 months of non-reporting probation, known as conditional discharge, in exchange for the state dropping an additional charge of official misconduct.
“We feel that this resolution takes into account former Deputy Chief Zimmerman’s years of service to our community, but also holds him accountable for violating the public trust,” State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said of the negotiated plea. “The taxpayers will be reimbursed under this plea agreement, and former officer Zimmerman will have a criminal conviction on his record.”
Zimmerman resigned from the Vernon Hills Police Department in September 2020, after the department identified discrepancies in his STEP documentation. It was eventually determined that Zimmerman had been paid over $4,000 based on false traffic citations he had written.
He was indicted by a Lake County Grand Jury on theft and official misconduct charges in March 2021, after incoming State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart reviewed the 2020 investigation.
“He is also being de-certified as a police officer under several new police reforms that recently went into effect. He will no longer be able to serve as a police officer in the State of Illinois because of this plea,” Rinehart added.
Prosecutors further noted that Zimmerman will be placed on the office’s “Brady List.” The placement on the list was not part of the negotiation. The list is a compilation of officers and former officers who have engaged in misconduct. This list is disclosed to defense attorneys in cases in which those officers or former officers are involved.
Zimmerman is not the first law enforcement official to illegally take advantage of traffic enforcement grants. In 2013, a police commander in the Des Plaines Police Department pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft charges for improperly receiving over $34,000 in grant funds.
In Zimmerman’s case, police and prosecutors determined that no motorist was affected by the scheme. “Zimmerman wrote false tickets, but never submitted them to the clerk’s office or to municipal officials. Luckily, no motorists were directly impacted by Zimmerman’s actions,” prosecutors explained after the presentation of the plea.
The case was prosecuted by First Assistant/Chief Deputy of Criminal Sharmila Manak of the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Vernon Hills Chief of Police Patrick L. Kreis, who initiated the internal investigation, said that he agreed with the resolution of the case. He noted that the police department is committed to holding itself accountable to the community.
Kreis said the village and his department conducted a complete audit of STEP program activities, and although no other misconduct was identified, improved oversight measures were implemented as a result. “We believe that traffic enforcement measures through the STEP program are important in keeping our roads safe.”
The STEP program disperses grant funding to local police departments who use the money to compensate officers for additional time spent on traffic enforcement. It is widely used throughout Illinois and Lake County.
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