Winnebago County Board & GTL sued over inmate tablets contract

WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Ill. (WIFR) -- A new lawsuit accuses the Winnebago County Board and Global Tel Link, a telecommunications service provider, of violating Illinois Law and County Code by entering into an agreement to provide tablets to inmates.

The board voted ‘yes’ to the inmate tablets in August with a 16-2 vote. The say the current system the jail uses wasn't working. They say these tablets would give inmates the chance to earn a GED or learn skills while in custody, rather than getting in fights.

Taxpayer advocate John Nelson and Securus Technologies filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in the 17th District Circuit Court. The plaintiffs say other bidders were not given the same opportunity to give demonstrations like GTL. They claim they have emails showing County Leaders had back-door discussions with GTL asking for pricing changes. County Board Members Fred Westcott, one of two who voted against the proposal, and Jim Webster, who voted for the tablets, say they weren't presented with other providers for this contract and say no back-door discussions were going on.

"People are suing each other for everything imaginable and so perhaps someone saw an advantage to suing the county for this, I don't know," says 2nd District Winnebago County Board Member, Jim Webster.

"The people that won, won in a fair manner. Unfortunately this is the world we live in as you see frivolous lawsuits. It's unfortunate, but I would say this, I thought it was a really good process. It was scrubbed, it was fair, and at the end of the day everybody involved wanted to see the best outcome for our community and for the county," says Winnebago County Board Chairman, Frank Haney.

Chairman Haney says it was a very honest and thoughtful process. He says at the end of the day when it's a competitive bid process, the taxpayers win.

The County had planned to start handing out tablets to inmates next month. Now the plaintiffs are asking the Board to rebid the proposal and give a fair and equal chance to other companies.

The lawsuit filed by John Nelson and Securus Technologies says Global Tel Link didn't disclose its involvement in a civil racketeering lawsuit. It also alleges it has emails that show the County had back-door discussions with GTL. Finally, the lawsuit accuses board members of violating Illinois Law and Winnebago County Code by giving only GTL the opportunity to demonstrate the tablets.