Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she believes a county SUV used “nearly exclusively” by her security chief and found abandoned in the early morning hours after the 2016 election with campaign materials in the back was stolen, even though officials never reported it to police.
Preckwinkle also said she has not investigated the incident and declined to comment on whether she has asked her security chief whether he placed the political materials in the vehicle, saying she won’t discuss “personnel matters.”
Instead, Preckwinkle reiterated her spokeswoman’s statements from earlier in the week that she does not allow county vehicles to be used for “the dissemination of campaign materials” but doesn’t know who placed the materials in the vehicle.
“My conviction is that it was stolen,” Preckwinkle said of the vehicle. “That’s as far as I intend to comment on it.”
Preckwinkle spoke Wednesday at her traditional post-County Board meeting news conference, two days after Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard released a report detailing the incident when a Chevrolet Tahoe assigned to Preckwinkle’s security team was discovered abandoned in the mud near southwest suburban Lemont.
In the Tahoe’s cargo area, investigators found bags of political literature including materials promoting now-State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Preckwinkle’s former chief of staff, a button with an image of Preckwinkle and a dry cleaning receipt with the phone number of her chief of security, Delwin Gadlen. Blanchard’s report identified Gadlen only by his title.
Blanchard’s report said the SUV never was reported stolen. Asked whether she’s concerned about the alleged theft going unreported, Preckwinkle said she has requested a “review of the security detail’s operations and practices” for recommendations on “any necessary improvements.”
Blanchard’s report also said the security chief suggested the political materials may have been planted by the car thief. Asked whether she believes that may have happened, Preckwinkle said she wouldn’t speculate and has “no idea how they got there.”
“There’s an ongoing investigation by the inspector general,” Preckwinkle said when asked if she wants to know who placed the materials in the vehicle. “We’ll see what comes of it.”
Preckwinkle said she bases her belief that the vehicle was stolen “on the reports of my security detail.”
In November 2016, a sheriff’s police officer found the vehicle stuck in the mud with its engine still warm, and a witness told police the driver had abandoned the Tahoe and walked away, Blanchard said in his report.
All the tires were slashed, as was the driver’s seat, the center console and the dashboard, Blanchard said. Inspector general investigators spoke to sheriff’s and county officials with “significant experience in law enforcement” and executive protection who said the damage in the vehicle “appears inconsistent with damage typically associated with vehicle theft.” All keys to the vehicle are accounted for, and there were no signs of the car being forcibly started, the report said.
Blanchard’s report concluded the SUV was improperly used to transport political materials but did not say who was driving when it was ditched or who placed the political materials in the car. It did conclude the vehicle was driven primarily by Preckwinkle’s chief of security.
According to the report, when asked how the political materials ended up in the vehicle, the chief told Blanchard’s office he had “no idea how the vehicle was stolen.”
“How would I know how the materials got there?” he added.
Asked again, the chief said the vehicle was stolen and “(a) reasonable mind could say that the material could have been planted,” Blanchard said.
When asked whether he was curious to learn who stole the vehicle, the chief said he had no interest and that such occurrences are commonplace, calling it “a joyride.”
Gadlen remains Preckwinkle’s security chief. His salary is more than $126,000.
Several Cook County commissioners said the report raised concerns, particularly about the security chief’s answers to investigators.
Although Blanchard’s report does not find any wrongdoing by Preckwinkle’s office, the incident is likely to receive further scrutiny as Preckwinkle campaigns for Chicago mayor and key questions about the incident remain.
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October 17, 2018 at 04:57PM