By Joseph Ryan
COUNTRY CLUB HILLS, Ill. — A former south suburban police chief pleaded guilty today to coercing a witness in a federal fraud probe of the ex-cop's state grant.
It is the latest in a string of guilty pleas for ex-Country Club Hills Chief Regina Evans, who has been in custody since March when authorities accused her of coaching a witness to lie to a grand jury about the spending of a $1.25 million job-training grant.
Evans, 50, has previously pleaded guilty to several fraud-related charges that stem from spending hundreds of thousands of the dollars from the state grant on family, friends and debt payments on a theater she owned. In court in Springfield today, Evans pleaded guilty to witness tampering, obstruction of justice and a conspiracy charge, her attorney said.
During their grant fraud investigation, prosecutors say Evans urged an unidentified witness to lie to authorities about being paid to teach "soft skills" courses that included resume writing, manners and personal grooming. But, prosecutors say the witness didn't teach anything and actually funneled the grant money back to Evans.
Authorities said they caught the coercion on tape.
"Don't let them mess with your mind," Evans told the witness, according to court records. "They can't prove you're lying about anything unless you go in there and tell them."
Evans was once a rising name in the south suburbs. The former Chicago police lieutenant worked for about two years leading Country Club Hills cops. Her husband, Ronald, was the suburb's inspector general.
But the couple's side ventures in the entertainment industry would prove a problem. After taking a stab at concert and limo businesses in the south suburbs, the Evanses staked their claim with the New Regal Theater, an old movie palace they believed had great promise on Chicago's South Side.
Around the same time, the couple's non-profit, We Are Our Brothers Keeper, secured the grant with the help of unions and lawmakers to train minorities and women in the well-paid building trades. The Tribune reported in 2011 that the state was raising questions about how the grant money was spent and demanding the money back, even as Regina Evans was the top cop in Country Club Hills.
When the state finally sued the non-profit in 2011, the Evanses left their suburban posts and were charged the following year.
The federal probe also ensnared Jeri Wright — daughter of President Barack Obama's controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Jeri Wright has pleaded not guilty to charges that she helped Regina Evans convert paychecks from the non-profit to Evans' personal use.
Ronald Evans pleaded guilty earlier this month to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering, court records show. Ronald and Regina Evans are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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