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Cities to keep the once-disputed SAFE Team money

Illinois Supreme Court denies Donnelly’s appeal; the case is over

La Salle County State's Attorney Karen Donnelly
La Salle County State's Attorney Karen Donnelly

The fight over the SAFE Team money is over.

The Illinois Supreme Court announced Wednesday they have denied a request for appeal by La Salle County State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly. She had asked the state’s top court to decide once and for all who gets to keep more than $573,000 in assets seized by the disbanded La Salle County State’s Attorney Felony Enforcement Team.

Wednesday’s denial means the cities of Spring Valley, La Salle and Ottawa all keep the confiscated assets. Lawyers consulted for the story said Donnelly has exhausted her remedies and the case is finished.

Donnelly did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The cities’ mayors welcomed the news the dispute finally is finished.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Ottawa Mayor Dan Aussem said. “Hopefully, everyone can just move on.”

“We’re ready to just get back to business and focus on what we need to focus on,” said La Salle Mayor Jeff Grove.

Donnelly had successfully campaigned for office in 2016 by questioning the validity of the SAFE Team, a drug interdiction unit founded and operated by predecessor Brian Towne. After she won election, Donnelly disbanded the unit for good.

Within months of taking office, Donnelly sued the city of the Spring Valley to recover $573,451.18, its share of the assets seized from motorists who’d been stopped and searched by the unit. Her lawsuit was later extended to include La Salle and Ottawa, which shared in the proceeds.

An out-of-county judge assigned to hear the case twice ruled against her and she lost an appeal in June. The Third District Appellate Court’s ruled Donnelly lacked standing to pursue the matter, as the SAFE Team is “a non-existent entity.”

But the ruling was by a vote of 2-1 and Donnelly seized upon the dissenting opinion, arguing the appeals court relied on a flawed interpretation of the case law. She first filed a motion to reconsider and then appealed to the state’s top court, but without success.

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