A recent fundraising event benefiting a local police officer under federal indictment was not attended by other village commissioners, though a colleague of theirs, Commissioner Mark Hosty, helped organize the get-together.

Hosty declined to comment on the guest list for the Dec. 29 party, but his fellow commissioners all said they avoided the gathering. Commissioners Rory Hoskins, Mark Curry and Marty Tellalian also said they decided not to donate any money to the cause, which seeks to assist Sgt. Michael Murphy in paying for his legal defense.

Immediately prior to the fundraiser, each of the commissioners said they had not decided whether to get involved.

“We’re all commissioners,” Curry said. “Nobody can say I’m doing this as a friend, because ultimately you’re a commissioner.”

Curry tempered that remark by pointing out that Hosty’s only motivation appears to be to help a longtime friend.

Murphy, a 17-year veteran of the local police department, is a childhood friend of Hosty’s. Murphy is currently on paid leave from his duties with the department pending the adjudication of two felony criminal charges filed against him by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office. Federal prosecutors earned an indictment against Murphy in late October that alleges the sergeant beat a homeless man in 2003 and then falsified a department report on the event.

A trial date has not been set in the case.

In addition to his administrative duties, Village Administrator Mike Sturino also serves as the ethics advisor to public officials in Forest Park. The title carries the responsibility of providing guidance to employees and elected officials so that they understand and comply with local and state ethics laws. Sturino declined to comment on whether Hosty’s involvement in helping raise funds for a village employee presented an ethical dilemma. Further, he would not say whether he discussed the issue with Hosty, other members of the council or village employees.

“I’m just not talking about it,” Sturino said.

According to Hosty, he was never advised by Sturino with respect to the fundraiser. Several other commissioners also said they had not discussed their participation in the event with Sturino.

Mayor Anthony Calderone did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Prior to the fundraiser, Hosty denied that his involvement presented any potential for conflicts. In declining to speak about who attended or how much money was raised, the commissioner said he’s received nothing but positive feedback.

Any controversy surrounding the benefit is being manufactured by the Review, said Hosty.

“I’ve heard nothing negative from anyone in Forest Park, except the newspaper,” Hosty said.

To get into the Hillside bar where the event was held, attendees paid $40 for a spot on the guest list. Hosty is an owner of that bar, Art’s Tavern.

David Morrison, the assistant director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, cautioned any elected official against shrugging off their obligation to the public in the interest of a personal relationship.

In the case of a fundraiser, the situation can become dicey if contracted vendors or municipal employees were swayed by the authority of the commissioner’s office to participate. There’s no evidence that Hosty used his office to lean on contributors, and donations made to a legal defense fund are not subject to public scrutiny, said Morrison.

“[Murphy’s] innocent until proven guilty. He has a right to a lawyer,” Morrison said. “All of that is fine. The point where it becomes an ethical dilemma is if a village commissioner uses their political position to solicit donors. I don’t know if that happened.”

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is a non-partisan public interest group located in Chicago. The organization focuses its research and advocacy efforts on improving accountability, transparency and public participation in government.

Missed court date prompts bench warrant

A federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Sgt. Michael Murphy late last month after the indicted officer failed to show up for a status hearing in his case. The warrant was quashed the following day by the same judge when Murphy and his attorney appeared in U.S. District Court.

Murphy's attorney, Rick Halprin, also missed the original hearing scheduled for Dec. 20, according to court records.

The purpose of the hearing was to decide on a request from prosecutors that any evidence turned over to the defendant not be revealed to third parties. Witness statements, investigative reports and grand jury information are "confidential law enforcement materials," prosecutors said. The motion was granted by U.S. District Judge David Coar.

Both sides are scheduled to appear in court again on Jan. 16. Murphy is facing two felony charges stemming from his alleged beating of a suspect in August of 2003. An indictment is not an indication of guilt, rather that a grand jury has found sufficient evidence to warrant a trial. No trial date has been set in the case.