Elmwood Park police officer arrested for stealing $20K from senior

John Wasilenko / photo from Cook County Sheriff's office
While an Elmwood Park police sergeant deals with criminal charges after being arrested Friday, the village has started an internal investigation.
Elmwood Park Police Sgt. John Wasilenko surrendered to authorities at Maybrook Courthouse Jan. 10 and was charged with financial exploitation of the elderly and official misconduct, both felonies. His bond was set at $10,000.
In December 2012, an 84-year-old man with advanced dementia contacted Brookfield police claiming he did not write a $20,000 check that was made out to Wasilenko, the sheriff’s office said.
The man’s account was being monitored after he had reported an earlier theft that year at his Elmwood Park home, police said. 
When Wasilenko and other officers responded to that earlier burglary, the man told them that he hid large bundles of cash throughout his apartment, and had several accounts at different area banks, a statement from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said.
Wasilenko apparently befriended the man after that incident, police said.
Then, on Dec. 18, 2012, the man visited First National Bank of Brookfield and complained that a $20,000 check from Dec. 4 had been cleared from his account, prosecutors said. He said he had never written the check and didn’t give anyone permission to do so.
An investigation revealed that Wasilenko had deposited a $20,000 check written to himself from the man’s account into his own account at TCF Bank on Dec. 5, prosecutors said.
Elmwood Park police placed Wasilenko on administrative leave in December, after the officer was named in a citation to discover assets filed Dec. 20 by Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris, the Elm Leaves reported. In the citation, Wasilenko said the check was a gift.
His attorney, Ralph Meczyk, said his client has done nothing wrong.
“It’s an absolute false charge,” he said. “He’s an exemplary police officer. I’m highly confident that he will be exonerated and acquitted in court.”
Elmwood Park Police Chief Frank Fagiano, who was present at Friday’s court proceedings, said his department will perform its own formal internal affairs investigation regarding Wasilenko.
Fagiano said their internal investigation will determine if Wasilenko is subject to disciplinary action in terms of violating any rules and regulations of Elmwood Park Police Department and if so, determine what that disciplinary action will be. He did not know when the investigation would be completed.
“We cannot give you a time frame, but we will be working very vigilantly on it,” he said.
What comes out of the internal investigation will then be brought before the Elmwood Park Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, who can recommend discipline. Actions could go as far as firing Wasilenko.
Elmwood Park Village Manager Paul Volpe said the allegations against Wasilenko will be taken into account. 
“Evidence from the criminal case investigation will prove critical to the village in its disciplinary process,” he said.
Fagiano informed his officers starting the morning shift Friday about Wasilenko’s arrest. He said he believes a police officer has to always operate at a higher standard than others.
“Any police officer that asks for access or takes money unlawfully should not be a police officer,” he said. “Any officer that abuses his authority and power should not be a police officer.”
The majority Elmwood Park’s officers are operating at that higher standard, Fagiano said. 
“They are doing a stellar job each and every day, and can still do a good job and protect the community,” he said.
Fagiano said the department hasn’t received any other allegations of financial exploitation by Wasilenko.
But other types of allegations have surfaced against Wasilenko in the past. 
Most notably, several residents accused Wasilenko was accused of using his police powers to seduce women.
Dewey Paccagnini, 50, said Wasilenko allegedly seduced his wife and then began harassing him. 
“I was one of five other guys who he was sleeping with our wives on company time,” he said. “He started harassing me and sitting parked in a gas station in front of my house.”
He said he went to the police department about the issue, but did not get any satisfaction. 
“All of them stick together and cover their tracks,” he said.
Paccagnini now feels vindicated after hearing Wasilenko has been charged. 
“Thank God justice has overcome these evil doings,” he said. “Thank God justice played its part.”
Wasilenko’s next court date is Jan. 31.
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