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Winnebago County Board chairman locks out coroner accused of stealing

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ROCKFORD — Winnebago County Board Chairman Joe Chiarelli has locked embattled Coroner Bill Hintz out of his office and taken away his county email access.

Hintz has been accused of theft of government funds, forgery and official misconduct. Although the Winnebago County Board has called for his resignation, officials say there is no way to legally remove him from office during his term unless he is convicted of a crime.

Chiarelli said given the disarray and leadership vacuum left by the allegations against Hintz, he was obligated to take action.

"Because the coroner has not been actively involved in that office on a daily basis for months, death certificates have been backlogged, constituents from Winnebago County have been calling me on a daily basis wondering where their relatives' death certificates are, that there have been no good answers given to them," Chiarelli said Tuesday morning. "I have a duty to the citizens of Winnebago County, and I have a duty to the coroner's office.

Chiarelli said he ordered Hintz' county email access cut off and canceled his office access cards on Friday.

That was a day after the Winnebago County Board approved a resolution that gave Hintz the option to resign or take paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal cases against him.

Chiarelli said he reached out to Hintz but did not get a response.

The office is being run temporarily by deputy coroners with the assistance of the sheriff's department.

Mark Byrd, Hintz' lawyer, said Hintz is pleading not guilty to all charges against him and that Hintz must be presumed innocent. They are weighing options on how to respond to the lockout, including potential legal action.

Byrd said there is concern about how the public would view accepting either option offered by the Winnebago County Board. One of his major goals is to make sure Hintz gets a fair trial.

"You see in just about every report that the county does not have the authority to remove him as coroner, so they are trying the backdoor way of doing it," Byrd said. "Legal action is one thing that is under consideration at this point, but we have not made a decision yet."

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