Lake County Sheriff’s deputy found not guilty in solicitation trial
By Jim Newton firstname.lastname@example.org December 5, 2013 2:06PM
Updated: January 7, 2014 6:29AM
The trial of a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy charged with obstruction of justice and solicitation, both in connection with a prostitution case, didn’t make it to closing arguments before the judge reached a not guilty verdict.
Judge John Phillips found Eric Francke, 33, of Antioch, not guilty of both counts once testimony concluded Thursday afternoon. Defense attorneys had requested a directed verdict of not guilty, claiming that the state had not met its burden of proof, and Phillips agreed.
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, Phillips said inferences can be made, but “the court can’t take leaps.”
Defense attorneys David Del Re and Christopher Lombardo said Francke wants to keep his job. He has been on unpaid leave from the sheriff’s office since his arrest in May.
Del Re said he and Lombardo were positive Francke never committed a crime.
“We believe he deserves to have his job back immediately,” Del Re said.
Sheriff Mark Curran said Thursday after the verdict that he will review the trial results with his command staff and come to a decision shortly about how to proceed. He 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 trial got off to a shaky start Thursday morning, after a key witness did not show up in court.
According to prosecutors Day and Jason Grindel, Francke arranged a meeting for prostitution services in May, after responding to an ad under the adult escorts section of a website. But the meeting never occurred after 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 police, who found a series of text messages arranging the meeting between Francke and the woman.
That woman was scheduled to testify Thursday, but did not arrive at the courthouse in Waukegan.
David Del Re and Lombardo contended that Francke committed no crime because none of the text messages contain any mention of sexual activity in return for money. Francke told police he called the woman for a massage to help with a leg cramping problem he was having.
A sheriff’s deputy since 2008, Francke was accused of offering the victim in the case $300 to perform a sexual act and of knowingly destroying text messages to the victim, according to court records.
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.