A North Riverside man who helped coach freshman wrestlers at Riverside-Brookfield High School last year did so while under indictment for a felony drug offense, the Landmark has learned.

School officials say they were unaware that James Duffy, 46, had been indicted for manufacturing/delivery of cannabis in July 2008 or that his case was still winding its way through the Cook County court system.

That process ended Monday at the Cook County criminal courthouse in Chicago, where Duffy was found not guilty by Judge Jorge Luis Alonso during a bench trial.

“They ruled it was a case of mistaken identity,” Duffy said. “I’m embarrassed by the whole situation that occurred and would have liked for it to have never occurred. But I feel exonerated by the verdict. I’m totally against the use of illegal drugs at all.”

A spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney said Monday that Duffy “was found not guilty due to no real proof of residence. He wasn’t present when the search warrant was executed.”

The cannabis was found in a cabinet in the basement of the North Riverside home, according to the spokeswoman, who added that Duffy made no statement in court. There were reportedly two other people living in the home at the time the warrant was executed.

District 208 Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann said that Duffy “wasn’t a formal coach” for the freshman wrestling team, although Duffy was in the wrestling room coaching athletes on an occasional basis. He was not paid to coach by the district.

Assistant Principal Tim Scanlon described Duffy as a “sideline dad jumping in to help,” and said that the district didn’t perform an official background check on Duffy. All coaches, both paid and volunteer, undergo background checks and must be certified by the Illinois High School Association.

Duffy, however, wasn’t viewed as an official coach for the team, Scanlon said. He is not listed as a coach on the school’s Web site.

“In no way did we consider him or did he fulfill the role of a volunteer coach,” said Scanlon.

However, Duffy presented himself as an assistant wrestling coach during a school board meeting in March and had personal contact with wrestlers and coaches from December until the end of the season.

Had he known of the drug charge, Scanlon said, “that would have stopped it right there.”

Scanlon added that he would send out a memo to staff that anyone wishing to be considered as a volunteer in any capacity needs to follow the same procedure for coaches or teachers. That procedure includes background checks.

Athletic Director Otto Zeman said that one of Duffy’s main roles was to be a mentor to a new freshman coach who was learning the ropes. Duffy previously served as a volunteer assistant coach at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago.

Neil Dughetti, varsity wrestling coach for the Bulldogs in 2008-09, expressed surprise last week when he heard about Duffy’s arrest. He said Duffy would offer his expertise to wrestlers, both freshmen and varsity, during practices, especially later in the season.

“Jim is a great guy and father,” Dughetti said. “He loves RB and the community. It’s a shame this has transpired. I don’t know enough of the details.”

Duffy told the Landmark last week that he didn’t tell anyone at RB about the criminal lawsuit pending against him and that his attorney has advised him not to talk about the suit.

Regarding his role at RB, Duffy said, “I did donate my time there. I would show up when I could, maybe one or two days a week.”

Details of Duffy’s arrest last year did not immediately surface, because he was arrested by Chicago police, who executed a search warrant at his North Riverside home on June 19, 2008.

North Riverside Police Chief Tony Garvey confirmed that Chicago police contacted his department about the search warrant last June. Three Chicago officers searched the home and removed items from inside. Duffy was not home when Chicago police served the warrant.

On June 30, 2008 Duffy surrendered to Chicago police in the company of his attorney at the department’s Homan Square station at 3340 W. Fillmore.

According to court records, during the search of Duffy’s home, police recovered four clear plastic zip-top bags containing a total of three pounds (1,360 grams) of cannabis with a street value of over $21,000.

In addition, police reported removing a large electronic scale, three food sealers, numerous plastic storage bags and two bundles of cash, one totaling $550 and the other $870.

Duffy was freed from police custody after posting 10 percent of the $100,000 bond set by a Cook County judge. As conditions of the bond, Duffy was also required to surrender his passport and remain within the court’s jurisdiction.

As a result of Monday’s verdict, Duffy’s bond money and passport have been returned to him.

On July 22, 2008 a Cook County grand jury handed down an indictment, charging Duffy with possession of between 500 and 2,000 grams of cannabis with intent to deliver, a Class 2 felony, according to the indictment.