Former parole agent from Danville acquitted of official misconduct

Former parole agent from Danville acquitted of official misconduct

URBANA — A Danville man fired from his job as a parole agent for allegedly not working while being paid has been acquitted of criminal charges.

Three years after the Illinois Department of Corrections launched an investigation against Stanley Orndorff, 49, a Champaign County jury Thursday acquitted him of charges of wire fraud and official misconduct that resulted from that internal review.

Fired in August 2015 after what his attorney, Steve Beckett of Urbana, branded as "false accusations," Orndorff is hoping to be reinstated to the position he held with the corrections department for 12 years. He has been driving a truck while waiting for his pending grievance with the state to be resolved.

The acquittal of the Class 3 felony charges could expedite that.

In a three-and-a-half-day trial before Judge Tom Difanis, prosecutors Michael O'Brien and Lisa Hennelley from the Illinois Attorney General's Office painted a picture of the rural Danville man as one who was "cheating the system" by misreporting his contacts with parolees.

Beckett countered that Orndorff was the victim of balky technology and his own mistakes at entering data.

It took the seven men and five women on the jury about three hours to decide whom to believe.

Testimony revealed that Orndorff was assigned to the Champaign office in 2014 after working for several years as a parole agent and supervisor in Chicago. Prior to becoming a parole agent in 2004, Orndorff had worked at the Stateville prison near Joliet for about four years.

Orndorff's last supervisor in the Champaign office, Todd Bailey, who is now retired, testified that on Jan. 10, 2015, he and another supervisor conducted surveillance on Orndorff, watching him leave his rural Danville home but head in a direction opposite where the men expected he would go.

Bailey said they later received approval from a supervisor in Springfield to put a GPS device in the trunk of Orndorff's state-issued car — without Orndorff's knowledge — to keep track of his movements while on the job. Under questioning by Beckett, Bailey agreed that he and Orndorff were not good friends and said he did not recall asking Orndorff if he was interested in a commander position.

Bailey said he had never disciplined Orndorff and had no meetings with him before launching the surveillance of his activity while on the clock.

The charges against Orndorff centered on the dates of March 6, 10 and 20, 2015. Prosecutors alleged that on those days, he committed wire fraud by reporting, through the state's computer system, that he had contacts with parolees at times when the GPS device in his car showed he was at a trailer in the Fountain Valley mobile-home park in Rantoul.

The official-misconduct charge alleged that he committed wire fraud while acting in his capacity as a public employee.

The state built its case around the days and times stamped on Orndorff's computer reports of parolee contacts, which he had to enter into his laptop from the field, compared with data taken from the GPS that showed where his car was on those days.

GPS expert Kelvin Helmick of Arizona-based Coverttrack, who was paid by the state for his testimony, told the jury where Orndorff's car was at different times on the three dates in March, testifying that Orndorff was at the Rantoul mobile-home park.

Norma Bonelli-Zook, owner of the mobile-home park, testified that she knew Orndorff from his contacts with a former tenant there. She said she frequently saw Orndorff working in his car at a Casey's in Rantoul and offered to let him use a vacant trailer in her park to do his reporting.

She added that on those three March days, none of the parolees that Orndorff reported having contact with were living in her complex.

The state also called one of Orndorff's parolees, who said he did not believe that Orndorff had visited him on March 6 as Orndorff reported.

In Orndorff's defense, Beckett had two co-workers testify about the way agents do their work in the field and Orndorff's good reputation for honesty. Two parolees also testified that Orndorff had visited them in March. He also had William Brown, a University of Illinois employee with 25 years of experience in geographic information systems talk about the interpretation of the data collected by the GPS.

In closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Hennelley said that Orndorff "got caught cheating the system."

"His scheme was to make it look like he was doing his job," she said, walking the jury through Orndorff's entries on the state computer system for times that the GPS indicated he was in the trailer park.

But Beckett argued that jurors should use their common sense about delays that can happen on the internet when data is sent from one point to another.

"We know there are delays, particularly in wireless" communications, he argued.

He also urged the jurors not to convict Orndorff for what could have been simple errors in picking the wrong option on a drop-down menu about the kind of contact he had with a client.

"Mistakes are not fraud. Mistakes are mistakes," he argued. "They want you to assume the (entries) are false. They haven't proved they are false. They have proved there is this absolute misunderstanding about the timestamps."

Beckett asked the jurors to think about Bailey and the other supervisor's decision to launch an investigation into their co-worker, including putting a GPS on Orndorff's car.

"There's something going on. Stan worked out of Chicago. He came to Champaign. There's something going on," he said.

He urged the jurors to look at Orndorff's other records for March 2015, which showed that he contacted one parolee in the hospital and inquired about the progress of another's pregnancy.

"He's not a very good speller, but he cares about his people. He is doing his job," Beckett argued.

In rebuttal, Assistant Attorney General O'Brien said he agreed with Beckett that "something is going on."

"This guy didn't do his job," he said. "What he was doing was sitting in Fountain Valley doing nothing, collecting a paycheck when he's supposed to be out doing his job."

Sections (2):News, Local