Former Illinois Fire Chief, Wife Sent to Prison

JOLIET, Ill. --

Former Joliet Fire Chief Joe Drick and his wife will spend eight years in prison for stealing more than $200,000 from an elderly woman.

They also must pay back the money to the estate of Gladys Farrington, Will County Judge Robert Livas ruled Wednesday afternoon. He told them to sell their house, to sell their cars -- to do whatever they had to do to return the money.

"They acted like two predators," Livas said, looking at the crowded courtroom.

By then, the Dricks' two children were sobbing in each other's arms. Friends and family were sitting nearby, and their expressions were grim. But the Dricks didn't seem to react at all when they heard the news.

It all began in the winter of 2002. Joe and Cheri Drick befriended Farrington after spotting her walking to Mass at the Cathedral of St. Raymond. Then 83, Farrington was a shy, frugal woman who didn't have any children and was long divorced. She went to church daily and nursed a half-dozen relatives in her home during the last days of their lives.

After knowing Farrington for mere months, Cheri Drick, 49, obtained her power of attorney and gained access to her bank accounts. At the time, the senior citizen's assets totaled about $1.5 million.

Cheri Drick quickly began looting the older woman's accounts, writing checks for clothing from popular chain stores and new Andersen windows for the couple's Mason Avenue home, one of the few in town with an indoor swimming pool. They also used her cash to buy a $62,000 Cadillac Escalade, cemetery plots and to pay their mortgage, credit card and cell phone bills. They funneled huge chunks of Farrington's money into Drick Education Services, the private business owned by Joe Drick, 51.

Meanwhile, they began isolating Farrington. They pushed away neighbors who had helped with household chores, rerouted her bank statements to their address and severed her relationship with her doctor.

But when Cheri Drick went to court to gain legal guardianship over Farrington, someone noticed: Paul Boetto, the Joliet lawyer who had been handling Farrington's legal affairs. Farrington was a family friend. He already had her power of attorney, but never had used it. Boetto knew something was wrong and began the process of exposing the Dricks.

After a thorough investigation by Chrystel Gavlin, a local lawyer who had been appointed by the court to evaluate the situation, the couple were arrested in August 2004. They were charged with several felonies: unlawful financial exploitation of an elderly person, conspiracy to commit financial exploitation of an elderly person, and theft by deception.

Their trial began Sept. 10. Throughout the proceedings, the Dricks' lawyers argued that they had the right to spend the money because of a power of attorney created by Chet June, another Joliet lawyer who specializes in elder law.

But after a trial that lasted 3½ weeks, the jury did not agree. On Oct. 1, they found the Dricks guilty on all counts. Livas immediately sent them to the county jail.

Minutes before the sentencing hearing was scheduled to begin Wednesday afternoon, the Dricks' lawyers arranged a deal with Boetto and his lawyer, Roman Okrei, for restitution. They agreed to give $28,000, the proceeds from the sale of the Dricks' two cars, to Farrington's estate, said Doug DeBoer, Joe Drick's lawyer. The $30,000 in bond posted by the Dricks also would go to the estate. And they promised monthly payments of $1,500, DeBoer said.

The Dricks also agreed to renounce a will naming them as beneficiaries of the remainder of Farrington's estate, Okrei said after the hearing.

During the hearing, Will County Assistant State's Attorney Chris Koch asked the judge to send the Dricks to prison.

"This whole case is about their lifestyle and never being happy with what they had -- and always wanting more," Koch said. "They took everything she had -- everything -- including her trust and her heart."

Then DeBoer and Gerald Kielian, Cheri Drick's lawyer, asked the judge to give their clients probation. They cited several reasons, including the fact that Joe Drick has been active in his church and was studying to become a minister.

Near the end of the hearing, Cheri Drick spoke to the judge. When she started speaking, she rushed through the words and didn't raise her voice. Kielian had to push her toward a lectern in the front of the room so the judge could hear. "The relationship that Gladys and I shared was very special, to me as well as Gladys," Cheri Drick said, her voice choking with tears. "I loved Gladys as much as my own grandmother." The Drick family even called her "Grandma Gladys," she said.

"I'm sorry it had to turn out this way," Cheri Drick told the judge.

When it was Joe Drick's turn, the former fire chief was smooth and polished. He urged the judge to chose probation as a sentence. If he could stay out of prison, he could find a job and repay the estate, Joe Drick said.

But Livas didn't buy it.

He gave a stirring speech that moved some people in the crowd to tears. It recognized Boetto, Gavlin and Farrington's neighbors for the things they did for the elderly woman. "Joliet and Will County should be proud of the fact that there are people like that," Livas said.

He also talked about firefighters and their unflinching bravery, particularly Sept. 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers fell in New York City. Then he looked right at Joe Drick.

"You were never a fireman," Livas said, his voice cold.

Gladys Farrington was a vulnerable woman who trusted the Dricks and considered them friends, he said. To her, they were glamorous friends with powerful roles in the community. In the end, the Dricks conned her. And despite their claims, they didn't care about Farrington at all, Livas said. All they cared about was her bank accounts.

"Money seems to be their God. When they needed it, they stole it. And when they're about to go to prison, (they'll) give it back," he said.

Copyright 2007, Sun-Times News Group