Former Illinois Fire Chief Charged With Bilking Elderly Widow

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) -- A Will County grand jury has indicted the former chief of the Joliet Fire Department and his wife on charges that they swindled an 84-year-old widow out of more than $200,000 after she granted them power of attorney.

Joseph and Cheri Lynn Drick are charged with unlawful financial exploitation, conspiracy to commit financial exploitation of an elderly person and theft by deception, the Will County state's attorney's office announced Thursday.

In a statement, State's Attorney Jeff Tomszak said the maximum prison sentence of the theft by deception charge could be doubled to 30 years because of the alleged victim's age. If convicted of all the charges, the maximum sentence each could receive is 48 years in prison.

Drick, who was promoted to chief in 1998 after 18 years with the department, resigned his $113,000 a year post last month when they were charged. This week, he reached an agreement with the city in which he was allowed to retire as chief. The agreement calls for him to receive six months severance pay. He will lose medical insurance benefits if he pleads guilty or is convicted in the criminal case, said city spokesman Kevin Hegarty.

The Dricks allegedly stole the money from Gladys Farrington of Joliet, whom they met in 2002, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors contend the couple arranged to gain control of her money by giving Cheri Lynn Drick power of attorney in early 2003, which allowed her to ``gift herself'' cash withdrawals from Farrington's bank accounts.

According to Tomszak, seven days after gaining power of attorney, a $57,000 account was closed and the money was deposited into an account for Drick Educational Services, a company that Joseph Drick runs.

In all, the couple allegedly bilked Farrington out of more than $200,000, and used the money for such items as a new car, cemetery plots and home furnishings.

Roger D. Rickmon -- an attorney representing Cheri Lynn Drick in a civil lawsuit accusing her of taking control of the widow's $1.1 million estate -- would not comment on the charges. He said he did not know who is representing the couple in the criminal case.