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FBI to probe heroin theft from Will County sheriff's holding area

Chicago Tribune, WGN Radio,
BYLINE: Steve Schmadeke, Tribune reporter,
Link to Article

Will County, IL

Kaupas says the stealing of evidence was likely an inside job

2011-10-21_FBI to probe heroin theft from Will County_01

The FBI has agreed to take over an investigation into a large amount of heroin stolen last week from a Will County sheriff's police storage yard, the sheriff said Thursday.

In an interview at his office, Sheriff Paul Kaupas said "common sense" hadn't been followed when a supervisor at a sheriff's substation requested that 3.2 kilos of heroin that had just been returned from testing at the state crime lab be moved to an outdoor storage container months ago.

Kaupas believes the theft was likely an inside job. Contrary to a police report, there were no signs of forced entry into the shipping container, which was secured by a keyed lock that was not easily accessible, he said.

"This is the first time in the 39 years I've been doing this that I'd ever been (faced) with a situation like this," Kaupas said, saying he'd never seen a case involving possible police involvement in stealing evidence.

Kaupas acknowledged that his daughter, Jana Schaeffer, a coordinator who works in the evidence section, was the one who moved the heroin into the shipping container on April 1. But he said she was ordered to do so.

Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas, who is also a department spokesman and a relative of the sheriff, said "there was a mistake made but we've already taken steps so this will never happen again."

None of the other shipping containers at the Laraway Road site, where impounded vehicles are stored, were touched, the sheriff said.

On Oct. 14 someone noticed that the door was ajar, said Deputy Chief Kaupas. The kilos of heroin were gone, along with some marijuana and tools. Left untouched was a "buffet" of narcotics in boxes at the back of the container from criminal cases that have concluded, Ken Kaupas said.

Those drugs, along with the kilos of heroin, were supposed to have been stored inside a narcotics section of the evidence vault, he said.

All of the stolen heroin was seized by police in February and is tied to a single case — the drug prosecution of Jose A. Zamago-Mena, 41, who was allegedly transporting the narcotics for a Mexican cartel, officials said. He appeared in court Wednesday.

In February, a deputy in the gang suppression unit saw a semi weaving through traffic on Interstate Highway 55 and U.S. Route 6 and pulled it over. Authorities found the heroin behind a rear passenger seat in the truck, which was being driven here from New Mexico.

Police have found no evidence that Zamago-Mena was involved in the theft, Ken Kaupas said.

The sheriff's son-in-law, Brett Schaeffer, heads the gang suppression unit that arrested Zamago-Mena. The sheriff said his daughter and her husband had nothing to do with the theft.

A spokesman for the Will County state's attorney said it sought to have the case handled by an outside agency after a Tribune phone call about the relationships on Thursday.

"That was information that had not been initially disclosed to us," said spokesman Charles Pelkie, "and we insisted that they bring in an outside agency to complete the investigation."

Sheriff's police had already considered bringing in an outside agency once their initial investigation was done but new concerns over the family relationships convinced leaders it was necessary.

Other collar-county sheriff's departments say they never store drugs seized as evidence outside or only do so under certain situations. In Cook County, the only narcotic ever stored outside is marijuana — and only under high security, said spokesman Frank Bilecki.

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