One lawman, two villages
GRANT PARK (WLS) -- How is the downfall of a rural police chief connected to a corruption case 60 miles away in Melrose Park?
The lawman is named Scott Fitts, a career, small-town police chief. The villages are Grant Park down near Kankakee, and Melrose Park just west of Chicago, two towns that are not just miles apart, they are worlds apart in culture and make-up.
Grant Park is a quaint farm town that most Chicagoans have never even heard of. Melrose Park is a well-manicured suburb with a history of untidy connections.
Last summer, Melrose Park Police Chief Vito Scavo and his six top cronies were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges they operated a private security company on village time, then strong-armed suburban businesses to hire them.
Two weeks ago and 60 miles south in the village of Grant Park, Police Chief Scott Fitts was indicted by the feds on charges he operated a phony prostitution sting, then strong-armed sex customers for money to avoid being charged.
They seemed to be two separate, unrelated federal corruption cases. until the I-Team found a federal search warrant used to gather evidence in the Melrose Park corruption case in 2005 - a search warrant signed by *Scott Fitts,* the very same Scott Fitts who was, himself, just charged with corruption.
"Well, he's charged basically with theft of funds and money received by the village of Grant Park, relating to a sting the village conducted, a prostitution sting," said Fitts' lawyer Tom Durkin. "He's also charged with making false statements to agents, failure to report some income on his tax return and obstruction of justice."
The 40-year-old Chief Fitts has spent his entire career on the force in tiny Grant Park, population 1,400.
"He's been shot at, stabbed, run over, all in the line of duty. arrested thousands of people," said Durkin.
After advanced police training at the FBI academy a few years ago, Fitts applied to become a special agent with the U.S. Labor Department.
"He felt that he had the training and the background to seek a more expansive position then the one he had in Grant Park. He remained as a volunteer at Grant Park, but he took a job with the Department of Labor," said Durkin.
With the public corruption squad in Chicago that in 2005 was zeroing in allegations of corruption at the Melrose Park police, Fitts was the labor department's lead investigator on the case. While working as a special agent in Chicago, authorities say Fitts arrested a prostitute named Brooke and told her that she could "work off her case" by helping him in an investigation back home.
According to the indictment, Fitts "paid for Brooke" to travel from Texas to Illinois and that she "posed as a prostitute." Fitts would arrest her customers and allow them to make a $3,500 payment in cash to avoid public disclosure and charges, a scheme federal prosecutors say netted ore than $400,000.
In Grant Park, the village board has allowed Chief Fitts to take a leave of absence and replaced him as chief with his brother, Tom, a longtime village policeman. But the mayor there says even though Scott Fitts has been indicted on corruption charges, he will still be paid his full salary of $83,000 a year.
Robert Schurman, Grant Park Village President says they're all behind him and that he's done nothing wrong and is being framed.
Many in the village share that opinion.
Fitts did not answer the door at his new home in nearby Manteno and did not return I-Team phone calls. Authorities are said to be curious about how Fitts could afford such a lavish spread on a police salary. But his lawyer says he is innocent of all charges and suggestions of wrongdoing.
"He's grown up in that community. He's lived in that community. He has friends throughout the entire community. It's a small area, small community, all of Kankakee law enforcement is a fairly close group of people, so this has been a devastating indictment to him personally," said durkin.
Fitts is accused of falsifying $20,000 in payroll checks in the names of officers who didn't even work the hours, then cashing them for himself and trying to cover it up. He's been stripped of police powers. And it may not be finished. Other law enforcement officials in Kankakee County are said to be under scrutiny. Unknown is whether chief Fitts' predicament will have any bearing on the Melrose Park case that he worked on.
local, chuck goudie
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