APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. MICHAEL
F. ZLATNIK, Judge, presiding.
MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE SULLIVAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
In a bench trial, defendant was convicted of attempt theft and attempt theft by deception and sentenced to two years probation. On appeal, he contends that (1) the complaints did not sufficiently charge the offense of attempt theft; (2) the trial court erred (a) in trying the complaints together, (b) in allowing defendant to continue representing himself when it became apparent that he did not understand the elements of the offense charged and (c) in permitting evidence of similar conduct by defendant against third parties; and (3) the offense as charged in one of the complaints was not proven.
The relevant facts are not in dispute. Defendant is the owner and publisher of the Jednosc and Polish Courier newspapers. His wife, his brother, and several part-time employees assist him in publishing both of those newspapers.
In 1976, Casimir Laskowski and Edward Novak filed separate complaints against defendant for billing them for advertisements in his newspapers that they had not ordered. The Laskowski complaint alleged that:
"Zenon Tuczynski * * * committed the offense of attempt, in that he with intent to commit the offense of theft by deception, submitted a bill to the complainant, Casimir Laskowski, for nonexistent and non-authorized advertising * * *."
The Novak complaint charged that:
"Zenon Tuczynski * * * committed the offense of attempt in that he, with intent to commit the offense of theft, billed the complaining witness, Edward E. Novak, for services not ordered * * *."
Prior to trial, defendant was informed by the court of his right to counsel and to a jury trial. He was strongly urged to retain the services of an attorney and advised that an appointment of an attorney would be made if he could not afford to retain one. Defendant, however, stated that he wished to represent himself and requested that the trial judge decide the case.
During the trial, Laskowski testified that he received a bill for $73 from defendant's Jednosc newspaper for an advertisement of his funeral home. He did not pay the bill because he had neither ordered nor authorized the advertisement. He also received from the newspaper several reminder notices that the bill had not been paid. The State introduced into evidence the December 20, 1975, edition of defendant's Jednosc newspaper containing an ad for Laskowski's funeral home which he stated was an unauthorized reproduction of an ad ordered by him appearing in the December 19, 1975 edition of the Polish Daily Zgoda newspaper.
While he was cross-examining Laskowski, defendant requested an explanation in lay terms of the attempt theft charge. The state's attorney answered, "[Y]ou attempted to acquire money falsely from false billing, knowing those billings to have been false and unauthorized to wit the intent to permanently deprive people of property."
Novak then testified that on March 14, 1976, he received a bill from defendant's Courier newspaper for an unauthorized advertisement for the Polish American Political League, of which he was chairman. He stated that neither he nor any other officer of the organization authorized the advertisement, but that he had placed a political ad for the League in the Zgoda newspaper on March 12 which was the same ad appearing in defendant's Courier.
During his cross-examination of Novak, defendant inquired as to the nature of the Novak charge and the state's attorney informed him that it was attempt theft. Defendant then asked him to explain in lay terms what the difference was between the Laskowski and Novak charges. The state's attorney stated that the difference was that in the Laskowski case "we can prove where you got the ads from, that they were unauthorized and that you published it in the Jednosc newspaper." In the Novak case "the only thing we can prove is that you issued an unauthorized bill. We can't prove that you ever published an ad."
Five other witnesses, Raymond Sarnow, Reverend Edmond Siedlecki, Frank Condel, Donald Binniac, and Arthur Kilinonski testified that they had received bills from defendant's newspapers for advertisements they did not order.
Walter Kuman, an advertising department employee for the Polish Zgoda Printing and Publishing Company, testified that the Laskowski and Siedlecki advertisements appearing in the December 20, 1975, edition of defendant's newspaper were reproductions of advertisements published in the Zgoda newspaper on December 19, 1975, and he stated that ...