Mercer County Treasurer arrested and charged with theft

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Some new details are being released in the arrest of Mercer County Treasurer Mike Bertelsen over the weekend.

Bertelsen is charged with felony theft, accused of stealing money from the local Republican Party.

"The Mercer County Republicans believe that Mr. Bertelsen improperly took about $800 from the Mercer County Republican funds, and they launched some kind of investigation," said Bertelsen's newly hired defense attorney, Jack Schwartz, of Rock Island.

"My client is innocent," Schwartz said, adding that his client's laptop was seized by police.

Mercer County States Attorney Greg McHugh declined an on camera interview, instead commenting by fax. He confirms the complaint against Bertelsen originated from the Republican Central Committee of Mercer County.

McHugh reiterated that the allegations "do not involve any Mercer County funds," but says to protect the integrity of the Treasurer's office, the "Mercer County Sheriff is restricting access to the office."  He didn't explain any further.

The Mercer County Board says it plans to hire a forensic auditor to make sure "taxpayer funds are being properly handled," according to McHugh's press release.

The Illinois State Police are in charge of the ongoing investigation.

"It's too early to comment on what we have accomplished, but certainly we will want to look at all accounts that this person has access to and get a full account of what could be missing," said Chris Endress, head of investigations for Illinois State Police District 7.

Schwartz says the auditors won't find anything fishy, and says the allegations are over-kill and small potatoes.

"This is strictly an alleged theft from Mercer County Republicans. There can be no comparison to that lady in Dixon. Rita Crundwell. That theft was huge," Schwartz said.  "We will plead not guilty."

Bertelsen was not availabe for comment today. He remains on the job, but was not at work Monday. His next court appearance is September 19th.

"He is still the Treasurer. He remains Mercer County Treasurer," Schwartz said.

Bertelsen, a five-term Republican treasurer, unsuccessfully ran for State Senator against incumbent Mike Jacobs four years ago.

READ: Affidavit regarding theft charge against Michael Bertelsen