ROCKFORD, Ill. — Charges for patronizing a prostitute and soliciting a sex act against Tyson Fettes, the former Racine County register of deeds, have been dropped and his attorney says records of them will soon be expunged.
Fettes’ attorney, Elder Granger II, said that there “was lack of evidence to support the charges against him.” During a phone interview last week, Granger said with confidence that “the case is going to be expunged.”
The hearing on the petition to expunge/impound records is scheduled for May 12 in Rockford. The charges were dismissed on March 4, less than three months after a jury trial was scheduled but then canceled at the last minute, according to online court records from Winnebago County, Ill.
Public allegations, quiet dismissals
Fettes — who had been a member of the Burlington Town Board at the time of his arrest, but resigned not long thereafter — was one of 27 men arrested in August 2019 in what law enforcement deemed “Operation Exclusive.” Illinois law enforcement officials widely publicized the arrests, holding a news conference to threaten future “johns” with public shame and prosecution if they are caught purchasing sex.
Among those arrested in Operation Exclusive were at least one other elected official besides Fettes, multiple doctors and business leaders.
Complaints filed against Fettes, based on an investigation by multiple law enforcement entities, claimed that he offered money to two different people — named as witnesses in the case — on Dec. 1, 2018, and May 23, 2019. However, the complaints provided to The Journal Times, following an open records request, detail very little evidence from law enforcement regarding the alleged encounters — unlike criminal complaints typical in Wisconsin that often include grisly details of sex-crime allegations.
In a statement following his arrest, Fettes had said “I ask that the public withhold judgment until the case is processed through the justice system.”
Fettes is not the only one of the 27 men charged to have his case dismissed. Others have been convicted.
A doctor wasn’t sentenced to incarceration and returned to his family medicine practice after pleading guilty. Another doctor was able to get the charges dismissed, according to online Winnebago County court records. The founder of Rockford’s Thomason Machine Works Inc. pleaded guilty in December to solicitation of a sexual act but got charges for patronizing a prostitute dismissed; the founder of another Rockford-area manufacturing company, who was charged for similar crimes, got all of his charges dismissed.
“These are the men who walk among us, who live with us, who do business with us and who work with us,” Jennifer Cacciapaglia, manager of the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention, told the Rockford Register-Star after the arrests were made public. “The idea that this is something that we can clearly see coming — an individual who will purchase a human being for their use and abuse — is false. We have to do better at raising awareness around the idea that they look like the rest of us.”
Peggy Smith, a woman accused of running a brothel out of one of the two Rockford lingerie shops that were investigated, is still fighting her case after pleading not guilty. Her husband, who had owned the shop for years before her, had died less than a year before the raids, according to news reports.