Some of the people and organizations who donated money to the family of a now-disgraced Illinois police officer want their cash back after investigators revealed last week that the cop embezzled thousands of dollars from his department before staging his suicide to look like a murder.
“I think that our community feels duped and betrayed,” said Ashley Lambert, who organized a charity event in honor of the officer.
A tally of the more-publicized fundraisers held for the family of Lt. Joe Gliniewicz indicates a minimum of $201,000 was raised.
The official Joe Gliniewicz Memorial Fund was set up at the BMO Harris Bank. The bank won’t reveal how much money has been deposited or withdrawn from the account, but officials told the Northwest Daily Herald the account has been frozen.
Investigators initially believed Gliniewicz was gunned down by three male suspects in Fox Lake on Sept. 1, based on his radio communication. His family was immediately propelled into the national spotlight as a result, and donations poured in.
Sympathy for the small-town family has faded sharply, however, since police revealed last week that the officer’s wife, Melody, and eldest son, D.J., were knowingly receiving some of the money Gliniewicz stole. Gliniewicz's family is now being investigated and could face felony theft and money laundering charges.
Investigators say Gliniewicz was using the embezzled money for personal expenses such as his mortgage, vacations, gym membership and pornographic websites. Gliniewicz took his wife on a Hawaiian vacation and text messages from his phone indicate he likely gave his son money to repair his truck.
One of the most successful fundraisers was a T-shirt campaign organized by Gliniewicz’s colleagues on Booster.com. The website indicates over 8,000 Gliniewicz T-shirts sold for $20 each, raising $127,000 for his family.
“I think [the money] should be donated to someone who deserves it. Like animal shelters," one of the donors wrote on Booster.com. "How do I get my $20 back??”
A Booster.com spokesperson told Fox News that the money was deposited into the official Joe Gliniewicz memorial fund at BMO Bank, however, the website will provide returns and refunds upon request.
“This is obviously a terrible situation,” the spokesperson said.
The 100 Club of Chicago -- a group that takes care of families of first responders who die in the line of duty -- gave a $15,000 check to the Gliniewicz family at the official community memorial for the officer. For the first time in the club’s history it will be asking for the money to be returned.
The Woodstock, Ill. Harley-Davidson raised $17,100 through a memorial ride on Sept. 16. Ashley Lambert, the store’s marketing manager, said a $14,000 check was given to Gliniewicz's wife the same day. Additional money was later put into the memorial fund with the intent it would go to the Explorers -- the young adult “citizens academy” from which investigators say Gliniewicz stole cash.
Lambert said the store hasn’t requested the check be returned.
The Lemonade Brigade, a quartet of girls raising money for national causes, told Fox News it raised $5,600 but recently decided not to give the money to the Gliniewicz family. The Brigade is working with attorneys to determine if it can legally give the funds to a police-related charity.
The Volo Auto Museum raised $10,100 auctioning off a custom Camaro with Gliniewicz’s decal on eBay. The money was given to Gliniewicz’s brother with the intent of distributing it to his four sons.
Among other fundraisers: a bar that Gliniewicz frequented raised $22,864, an outdoor movie theater raised $5,000, and a deli raised an estimated $1,400.
“On the criminal side, if they are proven guilty or any deals are worked out directly tied to theft then restitution can be part of the deal,” Fox News contributor and attorney Bob Massi said. “Civilly, they can be sued by the community but it’s probably not going to get anything from them.”
Matt Finn is a Fox News correspondent based in the Chicago bureau. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFinnFNC