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Woman in Clark murder case acquitted of records charges

ROCKFORD — A Department of Human Services employee was acquitted today of charges she tampered with public records even though she brought home thousands of documents that included private information, Social Security numbers and medical bills of at least 10 public aid applicants.

Diane Chavez — who along with her tenant, Richard E. Wanke, was once considered a person of interest by detectives investigating the Feb. 6, 2008, slaying of attorney Gregory H. Clark — was found not guilty by Judge Joseph McGraw.

McGraw ruled Winnebago County prosecutors did not prove removing sensitive case files from the state Human Services offices on Avon Street was illegal. The files included original applications, documents and financial information on residents who sought financial assistance, food stamps and Medicaid.

“It was never demonstrated to the court there was a prohibition against removing files and other materials from the office,” McGraw said.

Obstruction of justice
Although cleared of charges she tampered with public records, Chavez still faces charges of obstruction of justice. Police say Chavez lied to them about who resided with her at 1113 Grant Ave. as detectives investigated Clark’s death.

Clark was shot while he was pushing a snowblower on the sidewalk around his home in the 1700 block of Oak Forest Drive. Police said a gunman jumped out of a van and shot Clark several times, returned to the van and sped off.

Both Chavez, 53, and Wanke, a former client of Clark’s, were arrested on the day of Clark’s killing but were never charged with his death. Clark was Wanke’s attorney of record when he was killed.

Wanke was later sentenced to 14 years in prison for unrelated burglary charges in Winnebago County. No one has been arrested in Clark’s homicide. Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato and Rockford police Lt. Marc Welsh said it remains under investigation.

As detectives investigated the shooting in February 2008, state records were found stored in 11 boxes inside the house Chavez shared with Wanke on Grant Avenue. The materials were wheeled into the courtroom on a flatbed cart.

Chavez has been on unpaid “suspension pending judicial verdict” from the public aid office since her arrest. Now that she has been acquitted, her employment status with the Department of Human Services is unclear.

Excessive workload
Chavez testified that she was an excellent employee and consistently one of the most productive caseworkers for the local office. She said she didn’t know removing the files was prohibited.

Chavez said she had in 2006 and 2007 become overwhelmed with work as caseworkers were being forced to pull double duty as clerks. She described a chaotic state office overwhelmed with case files and entire offices stuffed with paperwork stacked in boxes. Documents were routinely misplaced or lost, she said.

She started bringing work home with her because she couldn’t get it all done during the regular workday.

But prosecutors pointed out that she never returned the documents, sought overtime pay, sought permission or informed supervisors she was taking work home. Prosecutors said she was “hoarding” documents and could provide no plausible explanation for keeping them.

This wasn’t for work purposes, prosecutor Kate Kurtz said.

Chavez sneaked files out of the office and created an insurmountable mountain of sensitive documents in her home, Kurtz said.

“She knew she wasn’t supposed to do it, otherwise she would have returned them,” Kurtz said.

Staff writer Jeff Kolkey can be reached at or at 815-987-1374.

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