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Theft from chief's desk possibly an inside job; About $4,000 taken, former cop contends

Belleville News-Democrat (Illinois) May 10, 2009
BYLINE: GEORGE PAWLACZYK

Alorton,IL

Nearly $4,000 in cash in the police chief's desk should have been in the department's safe. After all, it was evidence from a robbery that occurred three months earlier. But about 4 a.m. April 6, someone gained entry by smashing a window at the Alorton Police Department on Bond Avenue and stole an envelope containing the money from a drawer in the desk of Police Chief Robert Cummings. Tony Tomlinson, a former Alorton police captain, was on duty until about 9 p.m. on the night before the theft. He said he is certain the heist was an inside job. Tomlinson identified an Alorton official, who is not part of the Police Department, as the main suspect. He said the official was confronted using the men's room of the Police Department late that same night when only officers should have been in the building. Tomlinson and Cummings each said they called the Public Integrity Unit of Illinois State Police. As for whether he too thought the crime was an inside job, Cummings, said, "I don't know. That's why I called the Public Integrity Unit." He declined to answer why cash seized as part of a robbery investigation in December would still be in his desk. In February, another theft occurred in the same building, which houses both the police department and the village offices. Tomlinson said $700 was taken from the desk of Alorton administrative assistant Verna McClendon. That crime also is unsolved. Just a few days after the April 6 heist, Tomlinson was fired although no reason was given for his dismissal. In an interview last week, he said he believes he was canned because he did not campaign for Mayor Randy McCallum, who won a hard-fought election against challenger JoAnn Reed, the village clerk, on April 7, the day after the theft. McCallum could not be reached for comment. Tomlinson, 42, said he also believes other factors contributed to his firing including that he targeted the appointed Alorton official as the primary theft suspect and because he was attempting to bring federal weapons charges against the son of still another Alorton official. A dismissal letter from Cummings stated, "I have determined your services as a captain and member of this police department are no longer needed." It did not state a reason for the firing. Tomlinson said Cummings told him the order to dismiss him came from McCallum. "The Alorton department is foul. The people of Alorton are victims of their own police," Tomlinson said.

The day after his firing, he was hired by the Centreville Police Department as a part-time patrolman. His main employment is with the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in St. Louis where he is a sergeant first class with the Congressional Liaison Office.

When his shift started the day of the theft, Tomlinson said he supervised the investigation of the break-in. Tomlin-son, who worked for Alorton for about three years, laid out this scenario of the theft from Cummings' desk:

About 4 a.m., the only person in the small station house was 18-year-old DeShawn Bell, alone in a cell on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. Just a few minutes earlier, the first of what would turn out to be two phony 911 calls was made to the police dispatcher in nearby Centreville where Alorton's emergency calls are handled.

The two Alorton officers on duty left Bell alone at the station and took off to investigate the first robbery claim, which they soon determined to be false. It was followed by a second bogus robbery call that drew them to another location. Meanwhile, Bell, who would eventually plead guilty to the trespass and is now in the St. Clair County Jail on a murder charge, was sleeping, according to what he later claimed. The burglars had to pass right by his cell to get to the chief's office, Tomlinson said.

Ignoring a locked evidence room where drugs and weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles were stored, an intruder went to Cummings' desk and found the envelope in a drawer. More than $2,000 in cash in bond money and a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun in another desk were ignored. There was no burglar alarm. But Tomlinson said he believes what really upset Alorton officials was his ongoing investigation involving the weapons case against the son of an elected official. And that probe, he said, has been thwarted despite witnesses who stated the official's son was in possession of the weapons.

According to copies of four witness interviews conducted by Tomlinson on March 23 at the police station, the official's son that night possessed an illegal 12-gauge pump shotgun and a pistol. A police report stated that when someone tossed the shotgun out a rear window at the Greystone Apartments, it discharged and alarmed officers who had been covering the rear of an apartment building into thinking they were being fired on.

Tomlinson said he referred the case to St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida's office for prosecution. He said he also requested that a detective make sure that the firearms were sent to the office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Fairview Heights to be processed for fingerprints. But on the day he was fired and was returning his Alorton police identification and department-issued stun gun, Tomlinson said he was surprised when he noticed what was in the chief's office. "I saw the shotgun standing in the corner," he said. This was more than a month after it had been seized as part of the robbery investigation.

Tomlinson said he asked Cummings, "I thought you were going to send that out." He said Cummings answered, "You see it right there, don't you?"

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