Ex-deputy fire chief's felony conviction for alleged false time sheets overturned

The former deputy fire chief may be retried after an appellate court said pieces of evidence at his original trial were "unsatisfactory"


Karen Berkowitz
Pioneer Press Newspapers, Suburban Chicago, Ill.

LAKE COUNTY, Ill. — Illinois Appellate Court has reversed the 2015 felony conviction of a former Highwood fire official and sent the case back to the Lake County Circuit Court for retrial.

Former Deputy Fire Chief Ronald Pieri was found guilty of false entry in connection with time sheets submitted between 2006 and 2010 while he was serving as a firefighter, shift commander and deputy fire chief.

The Second District Appellate Court found the data and statistical reports relied on by prosecutors to prove that Pieri falsified time sheets were “so unreliable as to create a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.”

In a 15-page ruling, the appellate justices said prosecutors, the state’s forensics examiner and the judge assumed that when Pieri’s time sheets did not match records in Firehouse, the department’s computer management system, that the Firehouse records were correct.

But the appellate court said its own review of four months of Firehouse records from 2006 “reveals a multitude of questionable or improper data in the logs.” The appellate court found some of the state’s exhibits to be “rife with errors.”

“As the saying goes, ‘Garbage in, garbage out,” wrote the justices in their Jan. 13 opinion.

“We conclude that the evidence … was so improbable, unsatisfactory or inconclusive that it creates a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.”

Lee Filas, a spokesman for Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim, said the office has received the appellate court’s decision in the Pieri case.

“We are reviewing the case and evaluating our options,” Filas said.

Pieri could not be reached for comment.

Defense attorney Richard Blass declined to comment on a case that is still pending in court.

“We are waiting to hear what the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office plans to do,” Blass said. “We don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”

Circuit Court Judge Victoria Rossetti found Pieri guilty of one count of false entry and not guilty on two counts of official misconduct and two counts of theft of government property. Rossetti sentenced Pieri to two years’ probation and 150 hours of community service.

Pieri was the highest-ranking member of the Highwood Fire Department when he was arrested in 2011 and at one time had served as Highwood’s fire chief. At the time of his arrest, he was the husband of a sitting alderman and the son of a former alderman.

Though Highwood residents voted to dissolve the Highwood Fire Department in a 2016 and turn fire and paramedic services over to the City of Highland Park, Pieri’s employment status remains in limbo.

He is currently seeking back pay through the Highwood Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.

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©2020 Pioneer Press Newspapers (Suburban Chicago, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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