Feds ask judge to send former state Sen. Thomas Cullerton to prison for up to 18 months in embezzlement case

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Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to sentence former state Sen. Thomas Cullerton to up to 18 months in prison in his $248,000 embezzlement case involving the Teamsters labor union, which cost him his seat in Springfield.

In doing so, the feds revealed that former Chicago Teamsters boss John T. Coli claimed Cullerton had been hired for what turned out to be a do-nothing Teamsters job as a favor to an unnamed senator, identified in a court memo only as “Senator A.”

“[Cullerton,] who was a state senator at the time of his illegal conduct, clearly realized that he would be able to get away with pocketing this money without doing any work simply because he was an elected official,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu wrote.

One union employee said that “the general sense people on the staff had was that Thomas Cullerton had a no-show job simply because he was an Illinois state senator,” according to Bhachu.

Cullerton defense attorney Daniel Collins also filed his own memo Tuesday, asking U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman to give Cullerton probation and community service. He wrote that Cullerton now does shift work at a warehouse — where his wife also began working in February 2021 — as he tries to make ends meet and pay the Teamsters back.

“Tom understands that he deserves much of the public scorn that he has received, but is nonetheless committed to making things right with the Teamsters and working hard for his family and community,” Collins wrote.

Cullerton pleaded guilty to embezzlement back in March, admitting he improperly took more than $248,000 from the Teamsters. His sentencing is set for June 21.

Even though he had faced indictment since August 2019, the Villa Park Democrat held onto his seat until last February, resigning just before his attorney revealed his plans to plead guilty.

Cullerton is a member of a family whose political fortunes date back to just before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. On Monday, federal prosecutors recommended a two-year prison sentence for a member of another local political dynasty, former Chicago Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson. He is a grandson and nephew of Chicago’s two longest-serving mayors.

Thompson was convicted in February of cheating on his taxes and lying to regulators in an unrelated case.

The charges against Cullerton came just days after Coli pleaded guilty in an extortion case revolving around $325,000 in cash payments he received from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios between 2014 and 2017. Coli also agreed at the time to cooperate with federal prosecutors, despite having bragged years earlier that, “you can cut my fingers off, I wouldn’t talk.” 

Coli has not been sentenced.

Cullerton’s indictment revolved around his role as an organizer for Teamsters Joint Council 25. He landed that job after his former employer, Hostess Brands, shut down in 2012. Coli told prosecutors he arranged for Cullerton’s hiring as an organizer “but did not believe the employment was legitimate,” according to court filings.

Cullerton was accused of collecting $188,320 in salary, bonuses and cell phone and vehicle allowances from the Teamsters between March 2013 and February 2016, as well as $64,068 in health and pension contributions, while doing little or no work for the labor union. He was also accused of collecting $21,678 in reimbursed medical claims.

But Cullerton was fired from that job early in 2016, Collins has said. In his memo Tuesday, Collins acknowledged that Cullerton did not meet the expectations of the Teamsters job and “did not perform any work for the Teamsters” in 2015.

Collins also wrote that Cullerton “did not treat his Teamsters’ supervisors with the respect they deserved.”

“He is truly embarrassed by how he treated his supervisors at the Teamsters, and understands that he owes them more than an apology,” Collins wrote. “Tom is anxious to repay the Teamsters the salary and benefits that he received without earning it.”

But Bhachu wrote Tuesday that Cullerton went on to land “another do-nothing job” as a salesman for a video gaming company in 2017. There, Bhachu said Cullerton’s salary doubled from $1,000 a week to $2,000 a week, in what the company owner called a mistake.

The owner said it was supposed to be a one-time “birthday bonus” that was a “nice thing to do” even though Cullerton had not produced any clients.

“This silly and unbelievable explanation for the payments made to [Cullerton] — and his continued willingness to pocket money under such circumstances — speaks volumes about his character,” Bhachu wrote.

via Chicago Sun-Times

June 7, 2022 at 11:01PM

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