Despite solicitation acquittal, deputy sheriff’s firing upheld

Eric Francke
Eric Francke

A deputy with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office has been terminated after an arbitrator agreed the sheriff’s office proved misconduct, even though a judge found him not guilty of criminal charges.

Last December, Judge John Phillips found Eric Francke, 33, of Antioch, not guilty of soliciting a prostitute and obstruction of justice.

Francke had been assigned to the Criminal Investigations Division and had been on the force since 2008.

Despite Phillips’ decision, an administrative review resulted in the Lake County Sheriff’s Office pursuit of Francke’s termination based on departmental policy violations.

Francke appealed the termination through arbitration. On Tuesday, Arbitrator Robert Perkovick upheld Francke’s firing, rejecting the union’s assertion that the sheriff’s office was guilty of disparate treatment in issuing discipline and should have proceeded with progressive discipline and not gone directly to discharging Francke.

According to prosecutors in the criminal case, Francke arranged to meet a prostitute in May of 2013 after responding to an ad under the adult escorts section of a website, and allegedly offered her $300 to perform a sexual act.

The meeting never occurred. The woman and two men were stopped for a traffic offense on the way to the meeting with Francke.

Mundelein police then arrested the woman on an outstanding warrant for prostitution.

She later told police she had been forced into prostitution by the men in the car, and surrendered her cell phone to investigators, who found a series of text messages arranging the meeting between Francke and the woman.

That woman was scheduled to testify in the criminal case, but did not show up at the courthouse in Waukegan.

Francke told police he called the woman for a massage to help with a leg cramping problem he was having.

Prosecutor Fred Day had said that from Francke’s behavior, it could be inferred he had solicited sex and tried to conceal that by deleting texts on his phone, but in his ruling, Judge Phillips said inferences can be made, but “the court can’t take leaps” and found Francke not guilty in a directed verdict.

At the time, Sheriff Mark Curran said that an offense being considered in civil proceedings does not have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the same manner that it must be proven in criminal court.

The two Chicago men in the car when the escort was arrested faced more serious charges of involuntary servitude, trafficking, conspiracy and promoting prostitution. Both have pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the case.

The woman was not charged locally with prostitution, but was jailed earlier this year for failing to testify against one of the Chicago men in the case. She has been referred to as a victim in the case, which is why she is not being named.

Law officials have not alleged that Francke had any knowledge of the trafficking operation. He has been on unpaid leave from the sheriff’s office since his arrest in May, 2013.

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