We recently discovered that the teenage son of DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba was given access to a confidential law enforcement database, even though he isn’t a deputy or officially employed by his father’s agency.

BGA Public EyeTold of the situation, numerous Chicago-area law enforcement officials said it was totally inappropriate – and, perhaps, a violation of the rules – for the sheriff’s office to help Zaruba’s then-17-year-old son Patrick become certified to use the Illinois Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, or LEADS.

LEADS is to be used only for criminal justice purposes. We can’t think of a legitimate reason why a teenager with no police powers would need access to a database with information on every licensed driver in Illinois, as well as sensitive law enforcement intelligence on gang members, fugitives and more.

It’s easy to point the finger at Sheriff Zaruba, but another party needs some scrutiny here – the Illinois State Police, which oversees LEADS and approved Patrick Zaruba’s certification in November 2010.

Sheriff Zaruba wouldn’t tell us why he helped his son obtain LEADS access, or explain why the privilege was needed in the first place. He also was tight-lipped when it came to the subjects of any LEADS searches his son may have conducted.

As overseers of the system, the State Police also has the power to find out who or what Patrick Zaruba has looked up and determine if those searches were legitimate. After initially saying it couldn’t investigate unless a formal complaint was filed, the State Police changed its stance this week. An agency spokeswoman now says that officials “will look into the matter,” although wouldn’t commit to reviewing what LEADS searches Patrick Zaruba may have conducted.

The BGA had already asked the sheriff’s office for the same data via the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, which compels government agencies to release public documents. But the sheriff’s office refused to turn over anything.

As a result, the BGA filed a lawsuit last week in Cook County Circuit Court alleging the sheriff violated the state’s FOIA law. The State Police was not named as a party in that lawsuit.

“We are concerned anytime sensitive information is compromised or accessed unlawfully,” State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said in an emailed statement.

“At this time there is no evidence that misuse has occurred…However, the [State Police] LEADS Administrator will look into the matter as a result of the BGA allegations.”

Glad they’re following our leads.

Closed-door no-no

Speaking of DuPage County, board members for the DuPage County Forest Preserve District got a rap on the knuckles last month from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office for violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act, which bars public bodies from meeting behind closed doors, except in very specific, limited situations.

The violation occurred when the board went into closed session (meaning the public wasn’t allowed to be there) April 3 to discuss the “setting of a price for sale or lease of property owned by the public body,” an acceptable exemption under the act.

Only problem: board members never discussed how much to charge the City of Elmhurst for land the forest preserve district was contemplating selling, according to the attorney general’s office.

“The topic of setting a price for the sale of the property never arose because no board members advocated selling the property,” Steve Silverman, an assistant attorney general, wrote in a non-binding opinion, dated June 27.

In short, the board, meeting in closed session, inappropriately discussed whether to sell the land, a topic that should’ve been aired in public. Silverman said in his opinion that the minutes of the closed session should be publicly released.

The attorney general’s office looked at the matter after receiving a complaint from Steve Leopoldo, a Democratic forest preserve district board candidate.