Guilty plea in Waukegan arson, extradition still possible

Gregory Flesher once ran for mayor in Waukegan, owned a contracting company and headed the playground committee at an elementary school. But he was mentally ill on the day he set a fire that destroyed the vacant Salvation Army Building, according to a plea negotiated in Lake County Circuit Court today.

It remained unclear when Flesher, 49, might be returned to Canada to face second-degree murder charges related to an alleged arson there, officials said.

A report prepared by psychologist Dr. Karen Chantry found that Flesher was fit to stand trial, but mentally ill at the time of the Waukegan fire on March 4, 2011. He suffered frombi-polar disease, said Assistant Public Defender Keith Grant. Flesher had been previously diagnosed withbi-polar as well, Grant said.

Today, in a fully negotiated plea in front of Lake County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Shanes, Flesher admitted to setting the fire. He said used bolt cutters to enter the building and used fireworks and gasoline ignite the flames.

No one was injured in the blaze, which took dozens of firefighters to douse, but the building was a total loss and had to be demolished.

“The defendant made admissions to doing the arson,” said Assistant State’s Atty. Reginald Matthews.

In exchange for his plea, Flesher was sentenced to three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, followed by two years of parole. He must also pay approximately $2,000 in court costs.

Flesher told Shanes he was currently taking Depakote to treat his bi-polar disease.

“Are you feeling clear of the mind today?” Shanes asked.

“Yes sir,” Flesher responded.

Flesher’s legal troubles will not end with his prison term. He is still facing charges in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, for second degree murder and arson.

Flesher allegedly fled to Canada following the arson in Waukegan, where authorities said he set a blaze on May 19, at 606 Wellington Street East, Sault Ste. Marie, where 48-year-old Leeanne Elizabeth Hill died.

“There may be charges pending internationally, but we are taking no action on those today,” Grant said. “It appears he will serve his term (in prison) here first.”

If Flesher had been found guilty at trial, he could have been sentenced to as many as seven years in prison and fined up to $25,000. 

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