MCCOOKED?

Feds charge ex-Cook Co. com­mis­sioner and sub­ur­ban mayor Jef­frey Tobol­ski with con­spir­acy to com­mit ex­tor­tion

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - JON SEI­DEL AND ROBERT HERGUTH

Fed­eral prose­cu­tors filed lon­gan­tic­i­pated crim­i­nal charges Fri­day against for­mer Cook County Com­mis­sioner Jef­frey Tobol­ski, ac­cus­ing him of a con­spir­acy to com­mit ex­tor­tion.

The feds also ac­cused Tobol­ski of fil­ing a false in­come tax re­turn for the year 2018. They said he claimed his in­come was $214,270 when he “knew that the to­tal in­come sub­stan­tially ex­ceeded that amount.”

The con­spir­acy charge al­leges that Tobol­ski con­spired with an un­named “McCook Of­fi­cial A” to ex­tort money from an un­named “In­di­vid­ual A.”

The charges against Tobol­ski ap­peared in a doc­u­ment known as an in­for­ma­tion, which typ­i­cally sig­nals a de­fen­dant in­tends to plead guilty. Tobol­ski’s de­fense at­tor­ney, James Van­zant, de­clined to com­ment.

Tobol­ski re­signed in March from his posts on the Cook County Board and in McCook, where he’d been mayor, months af­ter fed­eral agents searched his of­fices at McCook’s Vil­lage Hall. Agents also seized $55,205 in cash from Tobol­ski’s home at that time, in­clud­ing $51,611 taken “from within a safe,” ac­cord­ing to records ob­tained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

In their raid on Tobol­ski’s may­oral of­fice in McCook — part of a broader Septem­ber 2019 sweep of the south­west sub­urbs — agents sought items re­lated to sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses. They also sought items re­lated to a Latino Night at a McCook-owned sports fa­cil­ity known as the Max; Cubs spring train­ing trips; heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing at Tobol­ski’s home; and ben­e­fits pro­vided by an un­named law firm and at­tor­ney.

Ad­di­tion­ally, they sought “items re­lated to any of­fi­cial ac­tion taken in ex­change for a ben­e­fit.”

A source said the fed­eral south­west sub­ur­ban sweep was re­lated to raids that took place days ear­lier on the home and of­fices of then-state Sen. Martin San­doval, in­clud­ing his of­fice at the state Capi­tol in Spring­field. Among the records taken from San­doval’s of­fice were doc­u­ments from Burke Burns & Pinelli, at the time the law firm of state Se­nate Pres­i­dent Don Har­mon.

A sub­poena served on McCook in Septem­ber 2019 also men­tioned Burke Burns & Pinelli, records show.

Har­mon stepped down from his law firm af­ter suc­ceed­ing John Culler­ton as Se­nate pres­i­dent in Jan­uary. One of Har­mon’s part­ners said in Jan­uary the firm had not been con­tacted about the San­doval in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Har­mon has sug­gested San­doval had a habit of keep­ing files on po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

San­doval pleaded guilty in Jan­uary to cor­rup­tion charges and agreed to co­op­er­ate with fed­eral prose­cu­tors. His plea agree­ment said he “en­gaged in cor­rupt ac­tiv­i­ties with other pub­lic of­fi­cials” and took more than $250,000 “in bribes as part of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity that in­volved more than five par­tic­i­pants.”

Back in Fe­bru­ary, fed­eral prose­cu­tors charged Tobol­ski’s one­time county chief of staff, Patrick Do­herty, with three bribery charges in a seven-page in­dict­ment. The in­dict­ment did not re­volve around Do­herty’s work for the county but rather his role as a paid con­sul­tant for the po­lit­i­cally con­nected red-light cam­era com­pany SafeSpeed, LLC.

San­doval has ad­mit­ted to ac­cept­ing bribes to block leg­is­la­tion in the Gen­eral Assem­bly that would have harmed SafeSpeed’s in­come, though the com­pany has de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

Bill Helm, an­other now-for­mer SafeSpeed sales­man tasked with get­ting mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to use the com­pany’s red-light sys­tems in ex­change for po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive com­mis­sions, has been charged in a sep­a­rate scheme. He’s a long­time as­so­ciate of Do­herty and po­lit­i­cal ally of Tobol­ski.

Tobol­ski was known to en­joy so­cial­iz­ing and, for a time, was a reg­u­lar at a Coun­try­side cigar lounge that was fre­quented by po­lit­i­cal play­ers in get-to­geth­ers presided over by Omar Maani, a SafeSpeed part­ner now be­lieved to be co­op­er­at­ing with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. Among oth­ers who’d visit the Casa De Mon­te­cristo: Cicero Town Pres­i­dent Larry Do­minick and Lyons Mayor Chris Getty.

Tobol­ski threw a cam­paign fundraiser for Culler­ton at the cigar shop, which has do­nated more than $50,000 in re­cent years to dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, ac­cord­ing to records and in­ter­views.

Four days af­ter the raid, Tobol­ski and his wife closed on the pur­chase of a two-bed­room condo in Nashville, ac­cord­ing to Ten­nessee prop­erty records that put the sales price at just over $130,000.

Do­herty ac­knowl­edged last fall be­ing ques­tioned by FBI and IRS agents the same day as the McCook raid about a dif­fer­ent busi­ness run by Maani that re­ceived tax­payer money through county gov­ern­ment — with Tobol­ski’s sup­port — to build hous­ing for low-in­come res­i­dents in Sum­mit and Cicero.

“They did come in the door be­cause they had a re­la­tion­ship with the com­mis­sioner,” a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the hous­ing deal said of Maani’s other com­pany, Pre­sidio Cap­i­tal LLC. “Tobol­ski and Do­herty were def­i­nitely big pro­po­nents of the project . . . not in­ap­pro­pri­ate but prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit heavy in their level of in­volve­ment.”

SUN-TIMES FILES

For­mer Cook County Com­mis­sioner Jeff Tobol­ski at­tends a board meet­ing of the Cook County For­est Pre­serves in De­cem­ber.

For­mer state Sen. Martin San­doval

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