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Federal Sting Nets 7 In Grant Bribery Scheme

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CHICAGO (AP) – A campaign worker for former state Sen. Rickey Hendon and two Cook County Sheriff’s Department officers were among seven Chicago area people arrested Tuesday on federal bribery charges in an alleged kickback scheme involving federal grants.

The defendants believed they were able to get several $25,000 grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in exchange for $5,000 bribes, authorities said. However, the grants were fictitious and were offered by a government cooperating witness who was a former Chicago police officer and an undercover FBI agent. The investigation included recorded conversations.

Dean Nichols, 62, of Oak Park, was charged with three counts of bribery conspiracy, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday. It described Nichols as treasurer of the campaign committee for a former Illinois state senator. Federal authorities declined to name the senator, but state campaign records show Nichols worked for Hendon in the 1990s.

Hendon, a Chicago Democrat who resigned from the state Legislature last year without giving an explanation, first took office in 1993.

According to the indictment, the cooperating witness told Nichols that he had “run into a friend” who was ready to disperse the federal grants for a percentage.

“‘He’s saying they’re passing (them) out like candy,” the witness told Nichols.

Nichols then allegedly offered the kickback opportunity to others who indicated willingness to participate.

Nichols told the witness he did not want to “go to people who are gonna rat on us,” according to the indictment.

Four of the defendants made their initial court appearance Tuesday. None of their attorneys commented after the hearing. Three others were due in court Wednesday.

Elliott Kozel, a 51-year-old corrections officer from Chicago, was charged with four counts of conspiracy bribery. The other five were charged with one count. They were Kozel’s supervisor, Mary Smith, 54, of South Holland; Reggi Hopkins, 43, of Chicago; Anthony Johnson, 59, of Chicago; Regina Hollie, 48, of Chicago; and Bryant Jessup, 51, of Chicago.

Cook County Sheriff’s Department officials said the two corrections officers have been suspended and will be stripped of their powers.

“Every organization — from corporations to small businesses, churches and the government — has individuals that make unfortunate, disappointing and sometimes criminal decisions in their lives, both professionally and outside of work,” said a statement from Cook County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Frank Bilecki. “This is a case of bad decisions made in the personal lives of two correctional officers. Their illegal activity has no connection whatsoever to their duties within the Cook County Department of Corrections.”

Nichols also allegedly help steer state grants to certain organizations he had ties to, according to background information in the indictment. That included one operated by his daughter and another operated by Hopkins with the understanding that part of the proceeds would go to Hendon’s nephew.

Nichols and his attorney, Gary Adair, declined to comment after the court hearing.

Attempts to reach Hendon and his attorney on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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