By Jim Hagerty
A former Rock Valley College (RVC) trustee will spend the next three months in jail after pleading guilty to felony theft earlier this week.
Donald Johannes, 82, was initially charged in June 2012 with one count of theft/unauthorized control of money, $100,000-$500,00; and one count of theft/unauthorized control of money, greater than $10,000.
According to court records, Johannes was taken into custody in another jurisdiction, flown back to Rockford and booked into the Winnebago County Jail on a $50,000 bond Jan. 31, 2013.
A Bill of Indictment filed June 20, 2012, alleged that between Feb. 6, 2007 and Sept. 24, 2010, Johannes knowingly exerted control over property of 94-year-Beverly Blake, property worth more than $100,000.
Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, Johannes pleaded guilty to one count of theft/unauthorized control of money, greater than $100,000. He was sentenced Monday, Nov. 3, to 120 days in the county jail and credited with 27 days served. Judge John Truitt also ordered Johannes’ bond refund of $4,500 be directed to the victim. The second charge against Johannes was dismissed. Johannes was represented by three different attorneys in the case: Samuel Amirante, Elliot Zingler and Assistant Winnebago County Public Defender Will Weatherby.
Theft/unauthorized control of money, $100,000-$500,00, is a Class 1 felony.
Johannes, an insurance broker, served as a Rock Valley College Trustee from 1985 to 2004. He also unsuccessfully sued The Rock River Times for libel in 2003. The suit was in response to a series of investigative articles by former Staff Writer Jeff Havens pertaining to mismanagement at RVC. The series led to the ultimate dismissal of former RVC President Roland “Chip” Chapdelaine.
Approximately five months after the news series began, Havens and The Rock River Times were named defendants June 5, 2003, by Johannes (Winnebago County Circuit Court case 03-L-219). Johannes alleged he was defamed when the newspaper published an article on April 23, 2003, in which Johannes denied benefiting from the sale of insurance to RVC. Johannes was an insurance agent for more than 20 years, in addition to being an RVC trustee.
Johannes’ lawsuit was thrown out of court on Jan. 22, 2004, after the court ruled Johannes failed to prove anything in the article was false—nine days after Chapdelaine was fired as RVC president. However, the court allowed Johannes a second chance to file his complaint. The second complaint was dismissed May 28, 2004, after Johannes again failed to prove libel. When Johannes re-filed his lawsuit, he admitted there was truth to claims of conspiracy and mismanagement at the college.
The articles by Jeff Havens won a 2004 Illinois Press Association award for Best Investigative Series.