Friday, April 25, 2014

Chutzpah; even by local standards for government corruption in Cook

Carla Oglesby is a former staffer for Cook County government who received a prison sentence this week for allegedly figuring out how to divert county government contracts to a company she owned.

THOMAS: In charge of a TIF
Her behavior during the few months she was former county board President Todd
Stroger’s deputy chief of staff was so brazen that prosecutors called it the “rape of Cook County.”

YET IN THE ongoing saga that is government corruption in Cook County, she might not even be the most outrageous official this week.

A part of me thinks that honor goes to John Thomas, a real estate developer who now faces charges in U.S. District Court for allegedly using funds from a tax increment finance district connected to the marina in suburban Riverdale – which is just across the Cal-Sag canal from Chicago.

He had a court appearance Wednesday, and used his time following the hearing to complain that he’s the one who is being prosecuted.

Thomas also says he wants nothing more to do with the marina in Riverdale – as though if he can’t use its money to cover his own living expenses (the Chicago Sun-Times reported that he was covering the payments on his downtown condominium), then he no longer wants to be bothered with the facility.

THAT’S SOME ATTITUDE for a real estate developer to take. The real hard-core developers are the ones who think they can make money out of any property, in legitimate ways.

Of course, the degree to which Thomas was trying to skirt the rules of our society seem to extend beyond this one scam. He previously faced criminal charges, but managed to avoid prison that time because of the information he was able to provide about politically-connected developer Antonin Rezko (remember him?).

There’s also the fact that U.S. District Judge James Zagel had put restrictions on Thomas’ being able to use a telephone or the Internet (so as to reduce his contact with the outside world).

OGLESBY: In charge of Cook?
But the judge learned that Thomas is using his wife’s cell phone, and the Internet connection through Google TV to send out e-mail messages.

THIS IS A defendant who is going to have to be watched like a hawk while the criminal charges are pending. This is NOT a routine case, by any means.

Some $370,000 that he is alleged to have gained from the Riverdale Marina TIF was likely just the starting point. And while I’ll be the first to admit that Riverdale Marina has become decrepit, consider its potential if the money had wound up going to fix the place up.

Although the fact that Thomas was crass this week shouldn’t excuse Oglesby – who got the 6 1/2-year prison sentence for allegedly using her government office to divert $325,000 worth of county contracts to the public relations firm she previously operated, and also to some close friends.

What makes her case interesting is that all the activity occurred in a two-month time period.

OGLESBY HAD BEEN a spokeswoman for Stroger’s unsuccessful re-election bid in 2010, but she got the political consolation prize, of sorts, of being put on the county payroll during that time period between the primary election and the time late in the year when Toni Preckwinkle took over the post.

She wasn’t in government for long. But she appears to have not wasted any time in getting a benefit for herself.

Now I realize as much as anyone that the reason people work is for some personal gain. Very few people work for purely altruistic reasons.

But this is taking personal gain to an extreme. Even the idea that corruption is vague and hard to define doesn’t come close to justifying the attitudes expressed this week by either Oglesby or Thomas.


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