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Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

County Off the Hook for Worker’s Naked Ruse

CHICAGO (CN) - Cook County is not responsible for a man's scheme to extort sexual favors from a woman in return for a nonexistent hospital job, the 7th Circuit ruled.

"Krystal Almaguer (now Wilson), an out-of-work massage therapist, interviewed for a position at Oak Forest Hospital, a part of the Cook County Bureau of Health Services," the ruling states. "Unfortunately, the job existed only in the mind of Felice 'Phil' Vanaria, a politically-appointed staffer at the hospital who had no authority to interview or hire applicants, much less create positions. Vanaria used the promise of the phony job to convince Almaguer to give him erotic massages and engage in sexual contact."

Though Vanaria had beeb fired from his job as a probation officer in 1998 for demanding sexual favors in exchange for more lenient probation conditions, Cook County hired him as an administrative assistant at Oak Forest Hospital in 2005.

Vanaria met Krystal Almaguer, a professional massage therapist, in 2007 and falsely claimed he could hire her to fill a massage therapist position at the hospital.

He interviewed Almaguer at the hospital and offered her a job with a salary of $52,000 a year plus benefits, on the condition that she undress, give him a kiss and massage Vanaria while wearing "something sexy."

When Almaguer refused the offer, he called her back a week later and offered her a different job - if she agreed to give him a naked massage. This time she agreed.

Almaguer became suspicious, however, when Vanaria demanded a second massage. She then called the hospital directly, which informed her that it was not hiring.

The police arrested Vanaria in March 2007, and he eventually pleaded guilty to bribery and official misconduct.

Almaguer subsequently sued Vanaria's employer, Cook County, over his misconduct, but a federal judge entered judgment for the county on all her claims after initially allowing some claims to proceed.

A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit affirmed Monday in a ruling written by U.S. District Judge William Griesbach, sitting by designation from Green Bay, Wis.

Although Vanaria previously lost a government job due to sexual misconduct, "the county's oversight and knowledge of Vanaria's activity was much more limited" because Vanaria had been a state employee during the period of his most egregious sexual misconduct, the court said (italics in original).

Furthermore, the ruse he concocted to win Almaguer's sexual massage was very different from his past misconduct.

"Even if the county had known about his probation history, it could hardly have expected that Vanaria would have impersonated a human resources employee and lured a complete stranger into the building," Griesbach wrote. "He had no history of such conduct."

Cook County hired Vanaria for an administrative position with no supervisory authority at all, merely access to official letterhead and forms that any hospital employee might obtain, from which he created a phony position of power to trick Almaguer, the court found.

"The acts against Almaguer obviously share some similarities with Vanaria's past conduct - all incidents involve bartering for sexual favors - the lengths he went to in order to dupe Almaguer, someone over whom Vanaria had no legitimate power, do not find a comfortable place within the predictable arc of his past conduct," Griesbach wrote

Therefore, the county did not show deliberate indifference in its decision to hire Vanaria, and his conduct is not attributable to it, the 18-page opinion states.

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