Updated: February 16, 2013 6:15AM
Huntley police Detective Joe Willard has been named McHenry County Officer of the Year after he arrested a well-known local insurance broker for allegedly defrauding clients, warned some of the man’s customers that they weren’t really covered by insurance, and solved a burglary/gun-trafficking case that had ties to Elgin.
The award was announced by the McHenry County Chiefs of Police Association. Seven other officers, from six police departments, were cited as runners-up.
Huntley Police Chief John Perkins said in a press release that Willard developed evidence that a local insurance agent (Russell Palermo, owner of the Palermo Insurance Agency) was taking premium payments from customers but not actually writing insurance policies for them. This resulted in numerous businesses and residential customers — even the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Jaycees — operating without insurance while they believed they were fully covered.
“This complex investigation involved several subpoenas and search warrants, and required Detective Willard to review several file cabinets of documents that were seized,” Perkins said. “Detective Willard spent several months examining the documents and information found on seized computers. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation assisted with the investigation.
“During this investigation, Detective Willard uncovered numerous other people who appeared to be victims of the same circumstances. Detective Willard contacted these potential victims and included them in his investigation. These unsuspecting victims had also been paying insurance premiums to their insurance agent, who was not applying payments to their policies. These new victims also thought that they had insurance policies, only to find out that they had been uninsured for several years.”
Perkins said that through his investigation, Willard was able to determine that the insurance agent had stolen thousands of dollars through an elaborate scheme in which he claimed to have been maintaining policies for the victims but instead was stealing their premiums. After several months, Palermo was charged with 33 counts of felony insurance fraud. He went on the lam for a month but, thanks to an anonymous phone tip, finally was found and arrested in March at a condominium complex in South Elgin, authorities said.
In the second case, Perkins said, Willard was assigned to investigate a burglary. The intruders had stolen cash and a .38-caliber revolver from a home. Willard obtained information that led him to a possible suspect. He then worked quickly to identify other people possibly involved.
“He developed information leading him to the fact that the weapon had been sold to a member of the Vice Lords (street gang) from Elgin,” Perkins said. “Understanding the urgency of the situation involving the weapon now being in the hands of a gang member, Detective Willard was able to identify the gang member who was now in possession of the weapon and work with detectives from the Elgin Police Department to locate that suspect. The weapon was found and subsequently confiscated before it was used in a more serious crime.”
He said Willard was able to get 20 charges filed in that case against four offenders.
“Detective Willard was able to make an arrest in this case and recover the stolen firearm within 48 hours of the original report, bringing an extremely fast closure to a difficult case. Detective Willard showed great dedication to both these cases and used his skills as a veteran investigator to successfully close both cases,” the release said.
Perkins said of the insurance case, “Detective Joe Willard’s ability to give maximum effort to every detail of this complex case prevented many of our citizens from suffering serious financial problems. Even though they were scammed out of insurance premiums, the situation could have been much worse if there was an incident requiring an insurance claim. Both of these cases demonstrate the tenacity that Detective Willard put into his work.”
The other nominees were:
Officer Amy Bucci of the Algonquin Police Department
Officer Kathy Eiring of the Cary Police Department
Officer Jason Williamson of the Cary Police Department
Officer Jason Draftz of the Lake in the Hills Police Department
Detective Craig L’Esperance of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office
Detective Jennifer Garafol of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office
Detective George Kopulos of the Woodstock Police Department.