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Crime & Courts

Cleveland testifies in request to withdraw guilty plea in forgery case

Former Kingston Township Assessor said she ‘didn’t have time to think straight’

Former Kingston Township Assessor Jennifer Cleveland, of Kingston, testifies at a hearing on her request to withdraw her guilty plea to charges of forgery in DeKalb County court on Wednesday.
Former Kingston Township Assessor Jennifer Cleveland, of Kingston, testifies at a hearing on her request to withdraw her guilty plea to charges of forgery in DeKalb County court on Wednesday.

SYCAMORE – The former Kingston Township assessor who pleaded guilty to forgery and official misconduct in March will have to wait awhile to find out if a judge will allow her to rescind her plea.

Jennifer Cleveland, 50, asked the court to withdraw her guilty plea because she says she didn’t understand what she was agreeing to. At a hearing Wednesday, she said she was rushed into making a decision when she pleaded guilty March 19.

“I believed I had no other option,” Cleveland said.

During the hearing, Cleveland said she was told by her attorney at the time, Riley Oncken, that after a conference between Oncken, prosecutors and a judge, that the offer of pleading guilty and serving 15 days in jail would be the best she could get. She also said she was unaware at the time that a trial date had been set.

“I was nervous doing it that way,” she said Wednesday. “I didn’t have time to think straight.”

Cleveland is now represented by attorney Liam Dixon.

Cleveland was charged with forgery, official misconduct and failure of a local assessment officer to perform duties in November of 2017.

If convicted of forgery, she could face two to five years in prison. She also would be ineligible to hold office under Illinois law.

She already resigned her position as Kingston Township assessor.

Illinois State Police alleged in court records that on Aug. 25, 2017, Cleveland filed a request to reduce the assessed value of her son’s newly bought property in the 8700 block of South Rood Road in Kingston, and also filed two requests to reduce the assessed value of the property because of destruction to the property.

Police said Cleveland signed the former property owner’s name on the documents, which were filed Sept. 21., 2017, and Oct. 23, 2017, according to the records.

After her March 18 guilty plea, Cleveland said Wednesday that she discussed her case with other attorneys, and that was when she decided to vacate her plea.

Assistant State’s Attorney Brooks Locke asked if Cleveland was aware of previous offers from prosecutors before the March 18 conference, and if she knew that the 15 days was significantly less than the previous offers. Cleveland said yes.

Locke also noted that Cleveland had understood resigning her position as Kingston Township assessor was a precondition of any agreement.

Judge Phillip Montgomery presided over the hearing. Cleveland is next due in court at 9 a.m. Sept. 20.

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