Former Cook County Official Convicted Of Steering Four Contracts Under $25,000 In Return For Nearly $35,000 In Kickbacks
CHICAGO ― A federal jury today convicted a former Cook County official of steering four county contracts, each just under $25,000, to four acquaintances and then taking a portion of the contract payments as kickbacks from each of them, totaling $34,700. The defendant, EUGENE MULLINS, who was director of the Cook County Department of Public Affairs and Communications between March 2008 and November 2010, was found guilty by jurors who began deliberating Monday afternoon after a week-long trial in U.S. District Court.
Mullins, 49, of Chicago, a former Chicago police officer, was convicted of three counts of wire fraud and four counts of accepting kickbacks. He was acquitted of one count of wire fraud. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of wire fraud and 10 years in prison on each count of accepting a kickback, and a maximum $250,000 fine on each count. U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve scheduled sentencing for Dec. 19. The judge must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The four individuals who received county contracts and returned a portion of the payments to Mullins were each charged with misprision of a felony for concealing Mullins’ fraud and kickback scheme. Each of them entered into pretrial diversion agreements and were placed on probation, were ordered to pay full restitution to the county, and testified as government witnesses at Mullins’ trial. They are: Gary Render, Michael L. Peery, and Clifford Borner, all of Chicago, and Kenneth Gregory Demos, of Oak Park.
The verdict was announced by Gary S. Shapiro, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Anita Alvarez, Cook County State’s Attorney; Robert J. Shields, Jr., Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Patrick Blanchard, Cook County Inspector General. The case stemmed from a state and federal corruption investigation that resulted recently in the state court conviction of Carla Oglesby, a former Cook County official, who also illegally steered county contracts under $25,000.
Evidence at Mullins’ trial showed that between January 2010 and January 2011, he used his county position to submit and cause others to submit false documents to the county to assist the four vendors in obtaining professional and managerial service contracts and payment from the county. Mullins then solicited the individuals who obtained contracts for payments from the proceeds for his own benefit.
Cook County contracts for professional and managerial services under $25,000 required approval only by the county purchasing agent and did not require approval by the county Board of Commissioners. In 2010, Mullins’ public affairs and communications department, as well as other county departments, had access to federal funds and county money to promote awareness and increase response rates by county residents for the 2010 U.S. Census, to promote awareness and assist residents impacted by floods in 2008, and to promote and increase energy efficiency and conservation.
During 2010, Mullins schemed to fraudulently steer the following contracts: a $24,980 disaster grant contract to Render, who kick-backed $9,000 to Mullins; a $24,985 energy grant contract to Peery, who kick-backed $12,000; a $24,995 census contract to Borner, who kickbacked $5,000; and a $24,997 census contract to Demos, who kick-backed $8,700.
Evidence also showed that Mullins steered an additional census contract for $24,390 to another individual, and then solicited a portion of the proceeds. However, this individual instead returned the uncashed vendor check to the county. In each instance, Mullins told the individuals who received the contracts that he could arrange for a subcontractor to perform some of the work in exchange for a portion of the county payments they received. In fact, the money that Mullins received from the individuals was not used for any subcontracts. Instead, Mullins used it for his own benefit, while Render, Peery, Borner, and Demos performed little or no work for the county.
To conceal the scheme, Mullins advised the contract recipients to falsely deny the circumstances surrounding the contracts if questioned by investigators. For example, he advised Peery not to say anything about paying him a portion of the contract in cash, and advised Borner to claim ownership of the invoice submitted in support of his census contract.
The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lindsay Jenkins and Sarah E. Streicker.