Suspicious Calif. voter registrations led FBI to Back of the Yards home
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
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.
Officer Nathaniel Hollis was shot in the chest last month but was saved by his vest.
Speaker Mike Madigan
Rep. Grant Wehrli