When an ex-cop with a felony on his criminal record applied with the Will County Sheriff’s Office, the chief and a lieutenant with his old department both penned positive recommendations for him.
“In the few years that I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Carson, I found him to be diligent in his work and respected by his peers,” wrote former Summit Police Chief Charles Wasko.
Wasko rated former Summit Police Officer James Frezados Carson “excellent”—the highest rating—in five of six categories. He merely graded him “good”—the second highest—in his “quality of work.”
“I have also known Jim since I was hired as a patrol officer in August of 1978 and have no personal knowledge of any information that would be derogatory against Mr. James F. Carson,” the chief wrote to Will County Sheriff Paul Kaupas on Summit Police Department letterhead.
Wasko’s letter and employee inquiry questionnaire neglected to mention that Carson had pleaded guilty to forgery and official misconduct in January 1986, less than 10 years before he wrote Kaupas.
Carson, who was hired by the Will County Sheriff's Department in 2005 and later promoted to the security services coordinator at the courthouse, shot and killed himself in December.
A Chicago Tribune story from the time of Carson’s 1986 plea said the criminal charges stemmed from his having allegedly held onto more than a gram of cocaine that had been confiscated in a June 1984 drug raid.
“According to (Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Tom) Gardiner, Frezados placed the cocaine in his police department locker even though he told a Cook County grand jury that it had been sent to a crime laboratory,” the story said. “He presented a fake lab report, Gardiner said. When the state’s attorney’s office asked the lab chemist to testify in the case, the chemist said the signature on the report was not his, Gardiner said.”
Court records show Frezados was charged with four counts of perjury, six counts of official misconduct and two counts of forgery. Ten of the charges were dismissed in exchange for Frezados pleading guilty to the two remaining felonies.
Another high-ranking former Summit cop, Lt. Michael Long, also vouched for Carson, writing that he was of “good moral character” with “strong family orientation (and is) very involved with his church.” Long said he had known Carson for 36 years when he gave him a reference in September 2005—17 years before and 19 years after his former colleague copped to the felonies.
Carson explained away his departure from the Summit Police Department after seven and a half years as nothing more than marital concern.
“I was married recently (2 mos. prior) and my wife was uncomfortable with my job, and I sought more money to provide for my family,” he wrote in his personal history questionnaire.
Carson started with the Will County Sheriff's Office as a courthouse video surveillance officer in November 2005. A year and two weeks later he was promoted to “court security services coordinator,” nearly doubling his pay for a job that had him carrying a gun in the Will County Courthouse. On Dec. 16, Carson ended his courthouse career when he shot himself in the head in the parking lot of Crest Hill City Hall.
Long failed to return calls for comment about his personal reference for Carson. Wasko’s brother, retired Summit Fire Chief Robert Wasko, said he would pass along a request for an interview to the former police chief, who now lives in Kentucky. Charles Wasko has yet to respond.
Sheriff: Nothing came up in background check
Besides the letters from Charles Wasko and Long vouching for Carson, Sheriff Kaupas said his department ran a background check and a search for fingerprints with the state police that turned up nothing.
“Everything we had was legit,” said Kaupas, who conceded the lack of fingerprints on file with the state police was “disturbing” to him but said he had no interest in trying to find out why the prints are missing.
“What would I gain by pursuing something?” Kaupas asked.
Kaupas also said Charles Wasko and Long broke no laws by neglecting to mention their former colleague’s felony conviction when they were contacted about his prospective employment.
“There’s nothing we can do to the chief,” Kaupas said. “He wrote a letter.”
While Kaupas was not interested in finding out why the fingerprints of the felon he hired and armed were not on file, the Illinois State Police apparently weren’t eager to talk about it. Sgt. Jose DeJesus of the state police’s information office failed to return calls for comment on Carson’s missing prints.
Kaupas insists his department was diligent in exploring Carson’s past. Besides checking references and running his fingerprints with the state police, a criminal background check was conducted on Carson and he was subjected to a polygraph examination. The polygraph examiner never asked Carson whether he was a felon; he did ask if he had been arrested in the preceding five years and about “ever committing a serious undetected crime.”
According to Carson’s personnel file with the sheriff’s department, his records were checked at the Will County Circuit Clerk’s Office. They were not checked at the Cook County Circuit Clerk’s Office, despite Carson having lived most of his life in Cook. His felony conviction is on file with the Cook County Circuit Clerk.
When applying for a job with the Will County Sheriff’s Office, Carson identified himself as James Frezados Carson. He also provided two aliases and explanations for having the three versions of his name: Vasilios Frezados, “Name given at birth—Greek origin;” James Frezados, “Americanized version of birth name;” and James Frezados Carson, “Added last name of biological father.”
In explaining his legal name change, Carson wrote, “I wanted to take the name of my biological father and presented my case to the court, who approved my request after thorough research.”
When one of those four names, James Frezados, is run through the search engine Google, one of the top results is the Tribune story on a crooked Summit cop pleading guilty to a pair of felonies.
Kaupas said running an Internet search was not included in background checks conducted in 2005.
“Google wasn’t a big thing back then,” the