Extortion conspiracy, tax evasion charges filed against former Cook County commissioner

Extortion conspiracy, tax evasion charges filed against former Cook County commissioner

Jeffrey Tobolski is the latest Illinois politician charged in a wide-ranging federal corruption probe into bribes, insider deals, cronyism and red-light cameras.

Jeffrey Tobolski, who was formerly a Cook County commissioner and McCook’s mayor, was charged in federal court Aug. 21 on two counts: conspiracy to commit extortion and filing a false tax return.

Federal prosecutors allege that Tobolski conspired with another unnamed McCook official to extort money from an unnamed individual. Tobolski is also alleged to have filed a false tax return for the year 2018, with reported income of $214,000 but his “total income substantially exceeded that amount,” according to NBC Chicago.

Attention first focused on Tobolski when the FBI raided his McCook village hall office in September 2019.

The Chicago Tribune reported in October 2019 that the FBI was looking for evidence including information about a powerful suburban contractor, a local strip club, the town’s police chief, and heating and air conditioning work done on Tobolski’s home.

Tobolski resigned in March from both the county board and his post as McCook village president.

In February, Tobolski’s Cook County chief of staff, Patrick Doherty, was charged in a federal indictment on three counts of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery involving red-light traffic ticket cameras. He has pleaded not guilty.

The indictment alleged Doherty attempted to pay $4,000 in bribes to a relative of a village trustee in Oak Lawn in exchange for help getting additional red-light cameras installed in the suburb. The charges show Doherty doubled as a sales agent for red-light camera vendor SafeSpeed LLC, which had maintained a contract with the village since 2014 that was set to expire in 2018.

Tobolski is the latest defendant stemming from a wide-ranging federal public corruption probe.

Federal prosecutors filed charges July 17 against utility company Commonwealth Edison after a “federal criminal investigation into a years-long bribery scheme,” with the company agreeing to pay a $200 million fine as part of a deferred prosecution agreement. The case against ComEd implicated Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, although he has not been charged.

The same day the ComEd agreement was announced, investigators served Madigan with a wide-ranging subpoena for information. Building on their bribery case against ComEd, investigators sought documents about hiring and lobbying communications with the company, as well as the potential for employment by ComEd of specific individuals, including former Chicago aldermen Michael Zalewski and Frank Olivo. Federal agents raided Zalewski’s home in May 2019. Olivo became a ComEd lobbyist after leaving the City Council.

Investigators also wanted information about relationships with former Chicago Ald. Daniel Solis and former state Sen. Martin Sandoval. Solis wore a wire for the FBI, leading to the arrest of Ald. Ed Burke on 14 corruption charges. Sandoval pleaded guilty in January to taking $250,000 in bribes to be SafeSpeed’s protector while he was chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.

Federal authorities filed charges earlier this month against Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, who prosecutors said was involved in a bribery scheme tied to SafeSpeed. State Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, was hit with a tax evasion indictment Aug. 13.

As part of a cooperation deal with federal authorities, Link wore a wire for the FBI to implicate former Illinois House Assistant Majority Leader Luis Arroyo on bribery charges. According to a federal complaint made public in October 2019, Arroyo met with a state senator – who was later revealed to be Link – seeking support for gambling legislation that would benefit one of Arroyo’s lobbying clients. Arroyo has pleaded not guilty.

Corruption related to red-light cameras has been a common thread in the federal investigations, although Tobolski’s charges appear to be linked to other insider dealing. Still, the cameras have taken more than $1 billion from drivers in Illinois while potentially increasing traffic accidents.

A statewide ban on the cameras as well as a host of state lawmaker ethical reforms should be priorities in Springfield.

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