Former state employee won't be charged for taking documents

Bruce Rushton

A former secretary of state employee suspected of taking documents containing Social Security numbers, medical reports, bank account numbers and other personal information and stashing them in a storage locker won’t be charged with a crime. 

Sheryl Lovell, 56, was fired, but that’s not enough, says John Adams, the auctioneer who bought the locker contents last year after rent wasn’t paid. 

He found the records, plus $7,000 in uncashed checks and money orders payable to the state. 

“What you’re basically telling the people of Illinois is, if you’re a state employee, you can steal from us and you’ll lose your job, but you won’t be charged,” said Adams, who lives in Kane, near Jerseyville. 

“I had driver’s license numbers. I had Social Security numbers. I had bank statements where a couple different people had their vehicle financed. I had where they had it financed, their loan numbers — I had the whole deal. What would have happened if it got in the wrong hands? 

“I think there’s some wrongdoing here. The state’s attorney’s office is not doing a damn thing about it.” 

Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt said Tuesday that he can’t make a criminal case against Lovell. 

For one thing, he said, she did not have exclusive access to the locker at Northend Storage. For another, there was no criminal intent, Schmidt said. 

Lovell didn’t cash any of the money orders or checks, nor did she use any of the information in the documents to steal anyone’s identity. Rather, investigators concluded that Lovell, who had worked for the secretary of state as a clerical worker since 1996, was simply overwhelmed by her workload, Schmidt said. 

“The evidence was, she was a poor worker and was falling behind and was trying to cover it up,” Schmidt said. 

Lovell, who was put on unpaid leave when the documents were found in December and fired in May, could not be reached for comment. 

Henry Haupt, spokesman for the secretary of state, said the office expedited processing for people whose paperwork was found and that everyone was made whole in the end. 

Steven Beckett, a University of Illinois law professor who practices criminal law, said he can’t judge individual cases from afar, but he also said charges of theft and official misconduct can be brought against people who take something that doesn’t belong to them. 

“If you take something with the intent to deprive the owner of the use and benefit of the property, then you’ve committed theft,” Beckett said. “It would seem to me there’s an argument that titles and title applications are pieces of property. If, in fact, those papers never got processed, we forced the applicant to re-initiate the title process and they’ve lost something. My reaction is, I’m seeing a theft in there somewhere. ... I don’t think you have to gain anything. If I stole your money and gave it to charity, that doesn’t mean I didn’t commit a theft.” 

Beckett’s logic didn’t sway Schmidt. 

“Did Mr. Beckett know that there was more than one person who had control of that storage locker?” Schmidt asked. 

Under the law, Schmidt said he would still need to prove Lovell was the only person who had access to the locker even if she was the only person who not only had access to the locker, but was in a position to take the documents. 

“I would still need to prove, in a criminal case, exclusive control on the back end,” Schmidt said. “Also, there’s no evidence she intended to criminally deprive anyone of the documents. ... Cases are not an algebraic equation that you can cram into a formula and come up with an answer.” 

But Adams said something doesn’t add up. 

“There were 125 people who were affected by this,” Adams said. “I think the investigators need to be investigated.”

Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542 or