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Fox Lake community grapples with beloved cop's apparent double life

The community of Fox Lake, Ill., finds itself angry and confused after learning a 'role model' cop stole thousands before taking his own life.

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A woman lays flowers at a vigil for slain Fox Lake Police Lieutenant Charles Joseph Gliniewicz in Fox Lake, Ill., September 2. Lt. Gliniewicz, whose September death prompted an extensive manhunt for murder suspects committed 'a carefully staged suicide' as authorities began an audit that would have exposed his embezzling public funds, authorities said on Wednesday.

Jim Young/Reuters/File

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Public tributes to fallen police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz are being taken down throughout Fox Lake, Ill., after the community learned that the beloved officer was not killed in the line of duty, but rather staged his suicide after stealing for years from a police club for youth.

“It’s breaking my heart,” Mark Weihofen, a local bus mechanic told The Associated Press. “There is a ‘We love you, Joe’ sign that I pass by every day ... It was already down.”

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In the three weeks following Lieutenant's Gliniewicz’s apparent homicide on Sept. 1, 50 suburban jurisdictions spent almost $300,000 in a manhunt for no one. Lake County Major Crimes Task Force spokesman Chris Covelli told Illinois' Daily Herald that over 150 investigators put in over 25,000 hours, examining more than 430 potential leads.

Members of the community are reeling from the apparent betrayal, the cost to the community, and the loss of funds that were intended to train young people interested in joining law enforcement.

“You never thought he was this kind of man,” Kathy Pederson, a single mother whose son was a member of Gliniewicz’s Explorer program told the AP. But now, “People are outraged and they are taking down the posters ... They want their money back.”

Two weeks ago, the illusion of a fallen hero began to seem more and more questionable when the FBI recovered Gliniewicz’s deleted text messages and subpoenaed bank records that suggested questionable activity. The 32-year veteran is believed to have embezzled more than $50,000 from the Fox Lake Explorer Program over a seven-year period. Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Cmdr. George Filenko said Gliniewicz used the stolen funds for mortgage payments, vacations, adult websites, and gym memberships.

“Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal to the citizens he served and the entire law enforcement community,” Commander Filenko said. “The facts of his actions prove he behaved for years in a manner completely contrary to the image he portrayed.”

Incriminating text messages show Gliniewicz was unnerved after Fox Lake hired Anne Martin, its first professional administrator, to audit all departments. On August 31, the day before Gliniewicz's death, Ms. Martin asked the police officer for an inventory of the Explorers program.

Gliniewicz’s family continues to deny all suicide accusations. His wife and four children continue to assert he “never once” thought of taking his own life and he was excited about his upcoming retirement at the end of September. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Gliniewicz’s wife Mel and his son D.J. are also under investigation.

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And even if Gliniewicz’s family is cleared of any wrongdoing, they will face serious financial consequences. His family will no longer be eligible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of benefits for families of officers killed in the line of duty. The 100 Club of Chicago, an organization that assists officers’ families after their loved ones are killed on the job, has already asked Gliniewicz’s family to return a previous $15,000 donation.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.