Sus­pi­cious Calif. voter reg­is­tra­tions led FBI to Back of the Yards home

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY JON SEIDEL, FED­ERAL COURTS RE­PORTER jsei­del@sun­times.com | @Sei­delCon­tent

An FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial fraud and iden­tity theft within Cal­i­for­nia’s on­line voter reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem led two years ago to a home in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neigh­bor­hood, re­cently un­sealed court records show.

There, au­thor­i­ties say they col­lected “elec­tion mail,” county recorder doc­u­ments and “Cal­i­for­nia voter reg­is­tra­tions” dur­ing a search in May 2018 in the 5200 block of South Paulina Street.

But the in­ves­ti­ga­tion does not ap­pear to have led to any crim­i­nal charges yet. The FBI and U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Chicago de­clined to com­ment, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Cal­i­for­nia sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice did not an­swer ques­tions about the case.

An in­di­vid­ual iden­ti­fied in the search war­rant ap­pli­ca­tion un­sealed last week de­tail­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion could not be reached by the Chicago Sun-Times. He is not be­ing iden­ti­fied be­cause records do not show that he has been charged with a crime.

Though the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­volves around the sus­pi­cious reg­is­tra­tion of Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers ahead of a June 2018 pri­mary vote, the un­sealed doc­u­ment does not al­lege that those reg­is­tra­tions led to cast bal­lots.

The FBI be­gan its in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Septem­ber 2017, ac­cord­ing to an at­tached af­fi­davit from a spe­cial agent. The Cal­i­for­nia sec­re­tary of state had flagged 52 voter reg­is­tra­tions sub­mit­ted be­tween May and Novem­ber of that year, it said. Though the reg­is­tra­tions in­cluded the name and home ad­dress for “a cur­rent or for­mer le­git­i­mate res­i­dent of Cal­i­for­nia,” all 52 also listed the same Chicago mail­ing ad­dress in the Back of the Yards.

Fifty of those voter reg­is­tra­tions also listed the same phone num­ber, which the agent said was sub­scribed to by some­one re­ceiv­ing mail at the Back of the Yards ad­dress.

Each reg­is­tra­tion re­quired a sig­na­ture through the mail for the voter to be con­sid­ered ac­tive, ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit. It said 14 such sig­na­tures had been re­ceived by March 19, 2018, and those reg­is­tra­tions had been changed to ac­tive sta­tus. In four of those cases, the agent wrote, “the le­git­i­mate Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dent re­sub­mit­ted the voter ap­pli­ca­tion, over­rid­ing the in­for­ma­tion sup­plied by the Chicago res­i­dent.”

The FBI agent also wrote that Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials gave him a copy of the front of an en­ve­lope ad­dressed to the Napa County Clerk, Reg­is­trar of Vot­ers. Though the hand­writ­ten re­turn ad­dress gave a Cal­i­for­nia ad­dress, the en­ve­lope ap­peared to be pro­cessed at a post of­fice in Bed­ford Park.

A Cal­i­for­nia sec­re­tary of state in­ves­ti­ga­tor told the FBI she made con­tact with 21 of the 52 vot­ers who had been reg­is­tered. Nine­teen of them said they had not filled out the voter reg­is­tra­tion, and 18 of those said they had not given per­mis­sion to any­one else to do it.

More than 2,200 Chicago cops re­ceived new pro­tec­tive vests in the last two weeks, in­clud­ing one of­fi­cer whose vest saved his life last month.

The Chicago Po­lice Memo­rial Foun­da­tion, a non­profit that aids Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers, handed out the vests over the last two weeks. A fundrais­ing drive cov­ered the $1.1 mil­lion price tag.

Chicago cops are is­sued a pro­tec­tive vest when they grad­u­ate the po­lice academy, but it’s the re­spon­si­bil­ity of each of­fi­cer to re­place them. Vests cost about $500 and have a five-year shelf life, af­ter which their ef­fec­tive­ness be­gins to di­min­ish, ac­cord­ing to a Po­lice Memo­rial Foun­da­tion spokes­woman.

“Cops have other things go­ing on — braces for the kids, brakes for the car — so they put that off, and then be­fore you know it, they’ve got a 10-year-old vest they’re wear­ing that’s not as ef­fec­tive as a new vest,” Phil Cline, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the foun­da­tion, said Tues­day at a news con­fer­ence at po­lice head­quar­ters.

Of­fi­cer Nathaniel Hol­lis, whose vest stopped a bul­let last month as he re­sponded to a call of shots fired on the West Side, re­ceived a re­place­ment vest.

“It’s an un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent that hap­pened to me, but I’m glad to be here,” Hol­lis said Tues­day.

Po­lice Supt. David Brown at­tended the event and thanked Hol­lis, who has re­turned to work af­ter a brief hospi­tal stay.

“Be­ing shot in the chest and com­ing back to work, there is no greater love than this — that I would give my life for this city. And I just wanted to pub­licly say thank you,” Brown said.

Cline, a for­mer Chicago po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent, also con­grat­u­lated Brown on how of­fi­cers per­formed Friday dur­ing a protest at a statue of Christophe­r Colum­bus in Grant Park that turned vi­o­lent.

“I just want to congratula­te Supt. Brown and CPD on the way they han­dled the protests the other day. Thank you very much, we’re proud of you,” Cline said.

SPRING­FIELD — In­sist­ing that “si­lence is cor­rup­tion,” a group of Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors on Tues­day called on Democrats to con­vene a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion to deal with ethics re­form just days af­ter ComEd was hit with a crim­i­nal case with ex­plo­sive im­pli­ca­tions for state House Speaker Mike Madi­gan.

“To my col­leagues on the other side of the aisle, you should be de­mand­ing that we get back into Spring­field and ad­dress this,” state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said. “We have a mas­sive con­flict — a breach of trust in gov­ern­ment — and we need to ad­dress it.”

Join­ing Wehrli in the on­line news con­fer­ence were fel­low GOP Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Deanne Maz­zochi of Elmhurst and Dan Ugaste of Geneva.

And while Democrats did not re­main silent about the GOP de­mands, they didn’t ex­actly em­brace the call to hurry back to Spring­field, ei­ther.

State Se­nate Pres­i­dent Don Har­mon said the probe into ComEd will re­quire “a leg­isla­tive re­sponse,” but the Oak Park Demo­crat stopped short of en­dors­ing a spe­cial ses­sion.

“The ad­mis­sion of wrong­do­ing by ComEd is enor­mously trou­bling and will likely re­quire a leg­isla­tive re­sponse,” Har­mon said in a state­ment. “I’m con­tin­u­ing to watch and gather more in­for­ma­tion from this un­fold­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Jor­dan Abu­dayyeh, a spokes­woman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said in a state­ment that a state com­mis­sion tasked with study­ing ethics re­form “needs to fin­ish its work and rec­om­mend a com­pre­hen­sive pack­age of ef­fec­tive re­forms.” But she did not say whether the gov­er­nor is con­sid­er­ing call­ing the Leg­is­la­ture back into ses­sion.

For weeks, Repub­li­cans have been in­sist­ing the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor make good on the prom­ise he made in his State of the State ad­dress to tackle ethics re­form. Those GOP calls got new en­ergy last week af­ter ComEd was charged in fed­eral court with a brazen, years-long Chicago-style bribery scheme that im­pli­cated Madi­gan.

The Southwest Side Demo­crat faces no crim­i­nal charges him­self, but the feds say ComEd sent $1.3 mil­lion to Madi­gan’s as­so­ciates for do­ing lit­tle or no work for the util­ity at a time when ComEd was seek­ing the pow­er­ful Demo­cratic leader’s sup­port for leg­is­la­tion worth more than $150 mil­lion to the util­ity.

Madi­gan has been a fre­quent punch­ing bag for Repub­li­cans for years, but the lat­est rev­e­la­tions also prompted some Democrats, in­clud­ing Pritzker, to say that Madi­gan should re­sign if what fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors laid out in court doc­u­ments are proved true. Madi­gan, through a spokesper­son, has de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

Last week, just days be­fore the ComEd case be­came pub­lic, Repub­li­can House Leader

Jim Durkin called for the Leg­is­la­ture to re­turn to Spring­field to tackle ethics re­form, prompt­ing Madi­gan to re­spond by say­ing “I would sug­gest that the Illi­nois Repub­li­cans who want to pur­sue ethics re­form go out to Washington, fol­low up on Pres­i­dent Trump’s prom­ise to drain the swamp.”

But Repub­li­cans said they aren’t buy­ing the re­buffs or any ex­cuses to de­lay tak­ing leg­isla­tive ac­tion.

They see no ra­tio­nale for wait­ing for the Joint Com­mis­sion on Ethics and Lob­by­ing Re­form to come up with a re­port. The newly cre­ated panel stopped meet­ing in March be­cause of the COVID-19 pan­demic, but Repub­li­cans ar­gue that the Gen­eral As­sem­bly has proven it can meet when it con­vened in late May for a brief ses­sion to pass a bud­get and other mea­sures.

“Why was a toll bridge in Will County or union­iz­ing horse rac­ing more im­por­tant than ethics re­form?” Ugaste asked, re­fer­ring to bills that passed dur­ing the trun­cated ses­sion in May.

“Speaker Madi­gan has spent decades creat­ing his Spring­field ma­chine. Madi­gan must go,” Maz­zochi said. “Si­lence is cor­rup­tion.”

The new ethics panel was cre­ated af­ter a num­ber of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers were charged with fed­eral cor­rup­tion, prompt­ing Pritzker to ar­gue in his Jan­uary State of the State speech “it’s no longer enough to sit idle while un­der-the-ta­ble deals, ex­tor­tion, or bribery per­sist.”

A spokesman for Madi­gan did not re­spond to a re­quest to com­ment, but Madi­gan told re­porters last week in Spring­field that the Leg­is­la­ture will pass an ethics re­form bill when it comes back into ses­sion, deny­ing that re­forms were ig­nored in May.

“It was on the ta­ble. It was un­der dis­cus­sion. It con­tin­ues to be un­der dis­cus­sion,” Madi­gan said last week, days be­fore the fed­eral doc­u­ments were made pub­lic. “It will be un­der dis­cus­sion when we re­con­vene when­ever we’re able to do that.”

“THE AD­MIS­SION OF WRONG­DO­ING BY COMED IS ENOR­MOUSLY TROU­BLING AND WILL LIKELY RE­QUIRE A LEG­ISLA­TIVE RE­SPONSE. I’M CON­TIN­U­ING TO WATCH AND GATHER MORE IN­FOR­MA­TION FROM THIS UN­FOLD­ING FED­ERAL IN­VES­TI­GA­TION.” DON HAR­MON, state Se­nate pres­i­dent

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

For­mer Chicago Po­lice Supt. Phil Cline, who spoke Tues­day, heads the Chicago Po­lice Memo­rial Foun­da­tion, which handed out po­lice vests over the last two weeks.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Of­fi­cer Nathaniel Hol­lis was shot in the chest last month but was saved by his vest.

Speaker Mike Madi­gan

Rep. Grant Wehrli

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