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Prosecutors say civilian took license in dirty trick

As far as Jo Marie Lang knew, she had a near-perfect driving record and an up-to-date driver's license.

Then last November, the Illinois secretary of state's office demanded that she undergo new testing or face losing her license. Making it all the more perplexing for Lang was that her elderly father had received a similar order a few years earlier and lost his license despite his clean driving record.

"I was sick to my stomach. I mean I was up until like 2 in the morning reading the rules of the road," Lang, 48, said in a telephone interview. "And half the time reading it, I wasn't really comprehending it because I was so distraught over the whole situation."

Only later did Lang learn that she, her father and more than a dozen others had been the victims of an odd scam. Cook County prosecutors have charged a neighbor of Lang's father with taking retribution against those he apparently felt had done him wrong by misusing a little-known power of police to order license retests for wayward drivers. And he wasn't even a police officer himself.

Among the 17 alleged victims of Ronald Stancy, many of whom have no idea why they were singled out, were his auto mechanic, a work acquaintance and an in-law.

The ease with which Stancy allegedly pulled off the scam prompted the secretary of state's office last month to change the way it processes driver retest requests, evaluating them with a more critical eye than before, officials said.

"I've been doing this 30 years, and this is the first time I've ever seen this happen," said Terry Montalbano, administrator of the office's commercial driver's license division, which oversees the retest forms.

Stancy allegedly exploited an obscure responsibility for police officers to notify the secretary of state if motorists need to be retested for any number of reasons, including health concerns, vision problems or mental issues.

Authorities aren't sure how Stancy, a nuclear medicine technician by trade, even knew the retest policy existed, but he was active at one time with the Illinois State Crime Commission, an organization that brings attention to crime issues and has a lot of interaction with law enforcement.

Stancy, 47, of Niles, was arrested in March and has pleaded not guilty to 67 felony counts ranging from identity theft and forgery to impersonation of a police officer and mail fraud. Authorities confiscated more than 60 legally owned firearms from his home and placed him on electronic home monitoring.

Only police officers, prosecutors, judges, doctors and various government agencies are supposed to have access to the retest forms. But prosecutors suspect that Stancy obtained the forms as well as critical driver's license information on his victims with the help of a friend who worked in law enforcement.

Prosecutors believe the friend, a civilian community service officer who worked for the Skokie Police Department, not only supplied Stancy with a retest form he could copy but also ran victims' names through a sensitive law enforcement data base to obtain their driver's license numbers and other personal details.

Prosecutors allege that Stancy forged the retest forms by signing the names of Wheeling police officers he found online and using the personal information he obtained on the victims from his friend. He then mailed the forms to the secretary of state's office.

The office followed up by alerting the drivers that they must be retested.

After Lang received her letter in November, her husband complained repeatedly to the secretary of state's office, prompting investigators from the office to eventually look into the case. They realized something was amiss because Lang had no police contact for traffic-related offenses in years, if not decades, according to prosecutors.

Investigators found out about several other victims and checked whether their names had ever been run in the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, or LEADS, prosecutors said. The investigators learned that the Skokie officer had searched all the names on LEADS, they said.

The civilian officer, who was fired in February, ran the names for Stancy in hopes Stancy would use his connections to get the officer a police position, according to prosecutors. But Stancy later threatened to get his friend fired if he didn't continue to help him out, they said.

The Tribune is not naming the former officer because he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Police employees are not allowed to use LEADS for nonofficial business.

Reached by telephone, Stancy declined to comment, but his lawyer, Scott Sherwin, said prosecutors "overcharged" his client.

"He's not public enemy No. 1," Sherwin said. "This guy has never been arrested before. He works in the nuclear imaging field. He's got a beautiful wife, three beautiful children. Assuming for the sake of discussion … assuming everything they say is true, this is not a bad guy that deserves the harshness (or) the aggressiveness of this prosecution."

Montalbano, the driver's license administrator, said the retest forms were improved in June and now require police officers and others to provide more detailed explanations for why they think certain drivers are unfit for the road. The secretary of state's office will look for red flags in the requests and follow up with a phone call to the requesting agency if necessary — something they didn't do before.

"Before, we never really questioned what they said," Montalbano said.

Prosecutors said Stancy had ties to all of his victims, some through business dealings. A cardiologist at a suburban hospital had twice hired Stancy to test medical equipment. Another victim, Theodoros Mougolias, a jeweler, said his son is married to Stancy's sister. Steven Berk, an auto mechanic, used to fix classic cars bought and sold online by Stancy.

None of those reached by the Tribune, though, had a clue as to why Stancy targeted them.

Mougolias, 67, who eventually didn't have to retest, said he saw Stancy at holiday gatherings but had little interaction with him. After losing a lucrative job at a hospital a few years ago, Stancy distanced himself from some of his family, Mougolias said.

In an interview at his Skokie auto shop, Berk, 58, said he was "shaking like a leaf" when he had to take the road, vision and written tests last year at a licensing facility. But he still passed.

"I was surprised because he's the nicest guy," Berk said of Stancy. "I never had a problem with that man."

Stancy's neighbor, George Schiro, whom prosecutors said is a World War II veteran who was injured in the Battle of the Bulge, had a few disputes over the years with Stancy, according to Lang, Schiro's daughter who was targeted.

Lang said her father called police some time ago after Stancy hosted a Fourth of July party at his home, set off loud fireworks and debris landed on Schiro's roof. Another time, during a heavy rainfall, a downspout at Stancy's house caused flooding in Schiro's garage. Lang said her family complained to the village and Stancy had to redirect the downspout.

Prosecutors said Schiro, now 93, was one of the few victims who lost his license as a result of the scheme. That stopped him from driving his other daughter, who is disabled, to work every day, forcing her to take taxicabs, Lang said.

jgorner@tribune.com

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