CHICAGO (CBS) – Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica was arrested Saturday night on misdemeanor vandalism charges in west suburban McCook.
Just two days before the election, Peraica is posing for a mugshot, and his opponent is accusing him of dirty politicking.
Peraica was arrested and charged with criminal damage to property after police said he went on a vandalism spree in two western towns, using a hook device to tear down campaign signs of his opponent, Jeffrey Tobolski, the mayor of McCook. Tobolski is Peraica’s Democratic opponent in the race for Cook County Board, 16th District.
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Peraica is adamantly denying it all.
“This was strictly an abuse of police authority by a mayor, by a police chief, by the members of that department,” said Peraica.
“I think that there is definitely something wrong with Mr. Peraica,” said Tobolski.
Around 11 p.m., McCook Police received information that a white Chevy van had been stopped near the border of Stickney and Berwyn for destroying political signs. Two people were inside the van and were given a warning to stop.
About 30 minutes later, a white Chevy van was seen pulling out of a driveway in the 8400 block of Joliet Road.
A McCook police officer made a traffic stop about a block away for failing to use a turn signal and asked the two people inside what they were doing. One of those two people was Tony Peraica. The two people claimed they were putting up Peraica campaign signs, but the police officer did not see any Peraica signs in the van.
The officer asked if the two people had been destroying Tobolski signs, they said they hadn’t. The officer had noticed a Tobolski campaign sign had been destroyed at the home on Joliet Road.
While the officer was talking to Peraica, the owner of a Bohemian restaurant nearby approached and said a tenant had seen someone in the white van get out and destroy signs on the building owner’s property.
At the police station, the tenant identified a black-clad Peraica in a lineup.
Based on that information and evidence of three destroyed signs, Peraica was charged with criminal damage to property.
“The big issue here is going on private property to destroy someone’s property. That cannot be condoned,” said McCook Police Chief Frank Wolfe.
Wolfe says Stickney Police gave them the tip that the people in the white van had been seen destroying campaign signs.
Peraica denies it all and calls it a set-up.
“He controls the police chief, he controls the police department. And they abuse their police authority to trail somebody, follow us,” said Peraica.
“It just looks like a desperate man, a last-minute desperate act to try and steal or harass an election into his pocket,” said Tobolski.
Peraica said he and a campaign volunteer were posting their own signs and never touched those of Tobolski.
“We were working on the campaign the entire day,” said Peraica.
In response to allegations of a set-up, Tobolski said, “I did not put him in the van with whoever the gentleman that he was with, I did not put him in Stickney. I did not ask the Stickney police to pull him over.”
When asked if he is worried about the impact the incident may have on election day, Peraica said, “I am concerned because I think that the voters of Cook County need to be worried.”
“How can a sitting commissioner, a two-term commissioner, dressed in black, very Rambo-esque…what is he doing at 11:00 at night, running around the suburbs, pulling signs down?” he said.
Authorities in McCook say Peraica created no fuss when he was arrested. He was at the station for about four hours. He’s due in court Nov. 22 at 9 a.m.
CBS 2′s Vince Gerasole and Newsradio 780′s Steve Miller contributed to this report.