Metro-East News

O’Fallon man to target violent crime, opioids, ‘criminal aliens’ as federal prosecutor

Steve Weinhoeft, interim U.S. Attorney for Southern Illinois.
Steve Weinhoeft, interim U.S. Attorney for Southern Illinois.

The interim U.S. Attorney for Southern Illinois is a 47-year-old O’Fallon man who has been prosecuting federal cases for the past 10 years.

Steve Weinhoeft was named Interim U.S. attorney after U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Donald Boyce announced his resignation on July 11. He said he will remain as the interim U.S. Attorney until the Senate confirms a presidential appointment.

Weinhoeft is married with two children. He lives in O’Fallon and coaches youth baseball and basketball.

Looking back on his career, the prosecutor said one of the most interesting cases he worked on was the 1995 murder of Donnah Winger. Her husband Mark Winger, a former Springfield nuclear power plant technician, was convicted of murdering her and two other people.

In his new position as U.S. Attorney, Weinhoeft said he is excited to continue the office’s renewed approach to violent crime. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois represents the southern most 38 counties in Illinois.

“We implemented an enhanced version of Project Safe Neighborhoods. We have prioritized our violent offender program to target violence in the metro-east where East St. Louis, at the time, had the highest murder rate on a per capita basis. In comparing 2017 and 2018, the murder rate in East St. Louis is down 46 percent,” Weinhoeft said.

As of Thursday, police had been called out to 13 homicides in 2018, compared to 24 homicides this time last year.

Weinhoeft said a large part of this success is owed to the East St. Louis Police Department.

“They host violent crime review meetings every two weeks, where we literally do case reviews to identify individuals who are responsible for the shootings. We target our resources toward individuals who are involved in violent crimes, “ said Weinhoeft.

East St. Louis Police Chief Jerry Simon said the department has partnered with Weinhoeft’s office and the St. Clair county States Attorney’s office to reduce crime and increase convictions. He said he believes this partnership is directly responsible, in part, for the reduction in the homicide rate in East St. Louis.

Weinhoeft said the Illinois State Police have also been “an invaluable partner.”

“I can’t overstate how valuable ISP has been to this program. The agency has been a consistent force in law enforcement in East St. Louis for a long time and they’ve increased their efforts,” he said, adding that the St. Clair County State’s Attorneys office has also contributed greatly to the effort.

Weinhoeft added that there is an epidemic of overdoses in the community that are almost always related to opioids. While regular enforcement continues, Weinhoeft said authorities are targeting opioid traffickers on the dark net.

“The ‘dark web’ is a criminal underworld where criminal traffic in countless forms of illegal behavior, including opioid distribution,” Weinhoeft explained.

Weinhoeft said his office will continue to prosecute drug cases and work to educate the community.

He noted local medical communities have worked to reduce the number of patients who are receiving opioid prescriptions in St. Clair County by 35 percent since 2005 but opioid overdoses have continued to increase.

“This tells us that the overdose epidemic is also being fueled by more powerful street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl,” Weinhoeft said.

A third priority for the interim U.S. Attorney is illegal immigration.

“Illinois is a non-border state so we don’t face the same challenges that many of our southern counterparts do. We focus our resources on criminal aliens, meaning those who are here unlawfully and who have committed additional crimes,” Weinhoeft said.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Michael Reagan said Weinhoeft received unanimous support from the United States District judges and said the prosecutor’s track record shows he is firm, fair and consistent.

“He knows the difference between a bad person and a good person who made a bad decision,” the judge said. “He knows the difference between a drug dealer and a drug addict. He recognizes that a felony conviction is a disability that adversely affects the defendant forever and that not all defendants need need to be imprisoned, at a cost to the taxpayer, approaching $40,000 per year in order to punish and deter.”

Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503, @carolynhendri18