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Thursday, May 25, 2017 12:09 am

Cop pleads guilty, keeps job

Admits illegal steroid possession

 

A Sangamon County sheriff’s deputy is serving a six-month suspension after pleading guilty to misdemeanor drug possession last month.

Deputy John Bartello was placed on paid administrative leave in June of last year, pending investigation for illegal possession of steroids. The drugs in question were sent to his home from Thailand, where federal Drug Enforcement Agency agents spotted the suspicious shipment. The amount was below the DEA’s threshold for a criminal case, but the information was forwarded to local authorities as a courtesy, according to police reports obtained by Illinois Times pursuant to the state Freedom of Information Act.

According to police reports, Bartello had ordered 1,000 pills of methandrostenolone, one of the world’s most common anabolic steroids. Derived from testosterone, the substance is legal in Thailand but has been illegal for non-medical use in the United States since 1990. It is popular among body builders and other athletes for whom strength is important.

The sheriff’s office turned the case over to Illinois State Police, who obtained a search warrant. Bartello confessed after the package was delivered by a postal inspector posing as a letter carrier and the search warrant served, according to police reports.

When Bartello opened the door to his home and saw officers on the doorstep, he said that he knew why they had come, according to police reports. After leading police to the package, he told officers that he had bought substances from online stores aside from the one in Thailand, and another package was en route. Officers who checked Bartello’s cellphone found an order for Anabol, a steroid that’s illegal without a prescription, methandienone, a generic form of Anabol, and two other injectable steroids. Police also found used and unused syringes in the house.

Bartello told officers that he ordered the substances because he has a low testosterone level. He said that he has a prescription for testosterone shots every other week and that he ordered illegal drugs online to save money. Between copays for testosterone shots and associated blood tests necessary to renew his prescription, Bartello, who earns $69,000 a year, told police that he saved between $300 and $500 per year by using illegal drugs.

Bartello pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance on April 7 and was fined $300. Dan Fultz, his attorney, declined comment. Joe Roesch, chief deputy for the Sangamon County sheriff’s office, said that a collective bargaining agreement covering deputies doesn’t allow him to comment. Asked for Bartello’s employment status, Roesch said that the union contract does not allow him to answer.

“I’m not going to comment on anything regarding something that could potentially get into an internal affairs case or disciplinary matter,” Roesch said.

Sources say that Bartello, after more than six months on paid leave, was placed on suspension in January for six months. That information is buttressed by the county auditor’s office, which says that Bartello stopped receiving regular paychecks in January.

Bartello is the second local law enforcement officer in recent years to be disciplined in connection with steroids. Springfield police terminated Officer Loren Pettit in 2014 after he tested positive for nandrolone, a steroid, and clenbuterol, an asthma medication banned in the Olympics as a performance enhancing drug. Pettit’s termination was overturned by an arbitrator who said that his use of steroids was akin to having too many beers and that his use of steroids was more foolhardy than criminal. (“Cops on drugs? No problem,” May 7, 2015). Sangamon County Associate Judge Rudolph Braud upheld the arbitrator’s decision a year ago, and Pettit was returned to duty. He has two pending lawsuits against the city, one in state court, where he is seeking more than a year’s back pay, and another in federal court, where he claims that the city fired him because he is black.

Former sheriff Neil Williamson, who instituted random testing for steroids and other drugs about 10 years ago, said that testing is important to gain public trust. “If we don’t have that trust, our job is going to be impossible to perform,” said Williamson, who was succeeded by Wes Barr in 2014. “One of the legs of trust is that people believe we’re clean.”

While Williamson instituted drug testing, it didn’t last. Under budget pressure that forced a reduction in staffing, the former sheriff ended random testing. Williamson says he cut out drug testing after the union that represents deputies complained about staffing cutbacks.

“The union, they were squawking and bellyaching: ‘You have money for drug testing but not for deputies,’” the former sheriff said.

Roesch said that the sheriff’s department has the right to randomly test deputies, but such testing hasn’t been done for more than a year.

“The test is very expensive,” Roesch said. “We may consider implementing that in the future. As a whole, I do not believe there is any problem currently with any of our deputies using illegal drugs.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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