More than half of people shown in Proft mailer’s SAFE-T Act item already out of DeKalb County jail: records

The Oct. 17-23, 2022 edition of the DeKalb Times, a mailer owned by Local Government Information Services. Concerns have been raised in recent weeks related to the contents of the mailed publications, that have drawn attention – including from Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker – for being politically charged and exclusively containing conservative talking points.

DeKALB – Earlier this week, DeKalb resident Eric Petruchuis said he was angry when he learned his photo had been included in a publication circulating around town beneath a headline that read, “Under the SAFE-T Act, these suspects would be released into your neighborhood.”

His photo was on a page with 15 other mugshots, along with full names and bullet points of the charges allegedly pending against them. No other details were published with the arrest photos.

One problem, for Petruchuis at least, is it wasn’t accurate.

While Petruchuis had been arrested in October, and spent a night in the DeKalb County Jail, the charges were dismissed the next day, according to court records and the DeKalb County state’s attorney’s office.

“I own up to my mistakes,” said Petruchuis, who has some past criminal history in DeKalb County. “But definitely if I’m innocent I’m going to defend myself. I did not do this. But now everywhere I go, I gotta talk to people, and they tell me they’ve seen it [the mailer] and I have to tell them it’s not true.”

The publication that ran Petruchuis’ photo was the DeKalb Times, which is published by Local Government Information Services. According to its website, LGIS holds 34 publications, including the McHenry Times, the Kane County Reporter and the Chicago City Wire.

Multiple emails sent to the DeKalb Times were not returned.

Dan Proft, a conservative radio show host who has run for office and runs the People Who Play By the Rules PAC, was listed as a principal on the company’s board of directors in 2019, documents filed with the state show. Proft’s exact affiliation with the company is unclear. Multiple attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

The Local Government Information Services publications, including the McHenry Times, the Kane County Reporter and the DuPage Policy Journal, have been direct mailed to homes across the Chicago region.

The SAFE-T Act, portions of which are set to take effect Jan. 1, has become a political flashpoint in races across the state leading up to Tuesday’s general election. Among other things, the measure will eliminate pretrial cash bail and Republican candidates have used it as an attempt to paint Democrats as soft on crime.

Under the SAFE-T Act, those arrested for forcible felonies such as second-degree murder, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnaping and aggravated battery – the crimes often cited by opponents of the bill on social media – are not required to have a detention hearing since they are offenses subject to probation, the Associated Press reported. The suspects could, however, still be held in custody until trial if a judge determines they are a threat or flight risk.

Judges also will still maintain the ability to rule whether a person is detained, however, updated criteria will be required.

Petruchuis’ mugshot was included in the Oct. 23 edition of the DeKalb Times, which was mailed to homes in the area. Several of those listed under the publication’s mugshot page, which states the individuals would be released under the SAFE-T Act, are already out of jail, according to DeKalb County court records.

Eight of the individuals – facing such charges as misdemeanor domestic battery or felony domestic violence and weapons charges – already have been released on recognizance bonds or posted bail, records show.

Two individuals listed already have been sentenced to jail time. Randall Stiles pleaded guilty to arson on Sept. 29 and was sentenced to four years in prison after setting fires in a Plano and DeKalb Walmart, records show.

Larue M. Johnson was sentenced to two years after he pleaded guilty in 2017 to possession of a stolen vehicle, records show. Johnson’s mugshot in the DeKalb Times lists charges of aggravated battery and domestic battery, however, a DeKalb County court records search didn’t reveal such charges for Johnson.

A court search for one man doesn’t reveal any DeKalb County charges, though the publication claims he’s in jail pending charges of aggravated arson, arson and burglary.

Petruchuis said his published mugshot paints an incorrect picture of what actually happened in October. Authorities the next day dropped the charges, after more details emerged about Petruchuis’ role in the alleged incident, he said.

Others listed on the DeKalb Times’ mugshot page – including Ronald J. Bieberitz, currently in jail awaiting sentencing after he was convicted last month of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and Richard W. Morningstar, facing the same charge – also will not be eligible for release under the SAFE-T Act.

Neither Bieberitz’s child sexual assault conviction or Morningstar’s child sexual assault charge would make them eligible for release under the SAFE-T Act, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Conservative ties

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks related to the contents of the mailed publications, that have drawn attention – including from Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker – for being politically charged and exclusively containing conservative talking points.

The DeKalb Times website does not declare any affiliation to a specific political party, and says the publication reports on local government and public data to show taxpayers where their money is going.

Content in the DeKalb Times also includes front page headlines declaring the “end of days,” sparse advertising and limited contact information.

LGIS, according to its website, aims to be “a real media watchdog” that is keeping tabs on how tax dollars on both the local and state level are being spent. The company was started in the months leading up to the November 2016 election, documents from the Secretary of State’s Office show.

Republican State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, whose picture appears alongside a story in the Oct. 17-23 publication, issued a public statement on social media this week condemning the DeKalb Times, calling it “illegitimate news.”

The DeKalb Times story was about Keicher’s comments condemning Pritzker and the governor’s approach to the state’s unemployment debt. The story included quotes from Keicher’s public state representative Facebook page posted Sept. 29. The story also lists Keicher as a DeKalb resident. He lives in Sycamore.

In a followup interview, Keicher told the Daily Chronicle his inclusion in the publication concerned him, and said he doesn’t align himself with the DeKalb Times.

“I do not condone the publication and circulation of these types of publications,” Keicher said. “Because I am featured in one of the articles in there. I don’t give them quotes or anything but they’ve pulled the information off of my social media feed.”

A similar concern was voiced by an area nonprofit this week.

Michelle Donahoe, executive director of the DeKalb County History Center, said Friday the center’s logo was featured in a recent edition. The center has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the DeKalb Times for use of its logo, Donahoe said, but has not yet received a response.

“Last Friday one of our [event] speakers called me and wanted to know if we were aware of it and wanted to confirm that,” Donahoe said. “It was very disappointing to be associated with this newspaper and the information that they were sharing. The other piece is that now I have people that have supported the history center thinking that I am supporting ideas that are in this newspaper.”

Donahoe said the center doesn’t have a budget for advertising.

‘You need to check it out’

In today’s digital world, unlimited information is often available to anyone as long as they have an internet connection. In an election year, unsolicited mailers supporting candidates and issues of all forms are not uncommon.

News literacy, however – the ability to parse what is fact and what is fiction – is all the more paramount, said Bill Cassidy, a Northern Illinois University journalism professor.

“One of the things I talk about with my students is, we’re very dependent on media as a society,” Cassidy said. “With the advent of new technologies even back in the mid-90s when online journalism started and now social media, we as consumers of news have access to tons of information at our fingertips. But because of that, more of the responsibility falls on the public to gate-keep.”

He said not all readers have received training on how to vet content and, often, trust appears a matter of opinion these days.

“Check the source. Who owns the company?” Cassidy said. “Who’s funding [the publication]? If something doesn’t pass the smell test, you really need to kind of check it out.”

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