Man nearly wrongly arrested over death of officer who staged his suicide

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As details unravel following the death of an Illinois police officer, a man who was nearly arrested is breathing a big sigh of relief.

Authorities questioned Thomas Corso and his two friends shortly after the death of Lt. Joe Gliniewicz in September.

An investigation determined the Fox Lake officer staged his suicide after years of embezzling funds from a youth program, according to officials, who said he was not gunned down on the job as previously thought.

But before authorities reached that conclusion, Corso said police considered him and his two friends suspects in the case.

"I can't sleep. I can't eat. I can't work. I've been living in constant fear," Corso told CNN affiliate WLS.

Description, manhunt

The veteran officer was found fatally shot on September 1.

His death sparked a massive manhunt because just before the shooting, he had radioed that he was chasing suspects into a wooded area.

At the time, he described three possible suspects. Corso told the affiliate the officer described him and his two friends -- one who has dreadlocks and a second one who is Hispanic.

"I'm out near the old concrete plant checking out two male white, a male black," Gliniewicz said over the radio on September 1, according to the affiliate.

The lieutenant sent word over his radio at 7:52 a.m. that he was pursuing a trio on foot. Three minutes later, he requested backup. His radio communication then dropped off. It was the last time anyone heard from Gliniewicz.

Backup arrived minutes later and found him dead.

His body was near his cruiser, police said, while his .40-caliber pistol was at the scene.

A massive manhunt followed as 400 law enforcement officers scoured the woods looking for his killers.

'I had nothing to do with it'

A few days later, authorities questioned Corso and his friends,

"I had nothing to do with it, and I told them that," he told the affiliate.

Corso said the officer may have seen them as they used a nearby ATM the same day. The three were cleared after they presented receipts from a diner, where witnesses confirmed their presence at the time of the shooting.

"There was a great possibility that Lt. Gliniewicz may have driven by those three individuals on his way to that scene," Cmdr. George Filenko of Lake County told the affiliate.

Mourning, questions

For weeks, the community mourned the officer, thinking he was the victim of a senseless killing.

But about two weeks ago, bank statements and text messages revealed the extent of his embezzlement, Filenko said.

And with that, suspicions arose about how he died.

Embezzled funds

Gliniewicz stole "tens of thousands" of dollars from the Explorers Post, an organization for youths interested in law enforcement, Fox Lake Village Administrator Anne Marrin said.

The police department sponsored the group, and he was the leader. Investigators said he used the money to pay his mortgage and other expenses.

Shortly before his death, Marrin said she asked for an inventory of equipment owned by the Explorers. He didn't provide it by the deadline and she asked again.

"His email said, 'I will have that information for you by noon or 1 o'clock at the latest,' " she said.

Not only did Gliniewicz stage his suicide, apparently to avoid being revealed as a thief, but he made an inquiry about hiring a motorcycle gang to kill the city administrator, a police official said Thursday.

Recovered text messages

Gliniewicz had deleted 6,500 incriminating text messages, which investigators spent weeks recovering.

More people may be arrested as the investigation is ongoing.

An attorney for the family declined to comment.

Read more at KFOR's sister station WGN-TV

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