CHICAGO (CBS) — A former city worker who admitted to bilking taxpayers out of more than $1 million in the Hired Truck program is entitled to his pension, a Cook County judge ruled, overturning an earlier retirement board decision.
Attorneys for the Laborer’s and Retirement Board Employees’ Annuity Fund of Chicago are appealing the ruling.
Richard Coveliers, a former city sewer worker, and another clouted former city worker, Michael Harjung, secretly owned a trucking company that did work for the city and passed bribes on to former First Deputy Water Commissioner Donald Tomczak to secure business.
Once indicted, Coveliers eventually cooperated with investigators and pleaded guilty to mail fraud. He was sentenced to five months in prison and he remains on the city’s Do Not Hire List.
Coveliers was banned from doing business with the city while employed by a city department, so he put the trucking firm in his sister’s name.
In May 2016, Coveliers filed a lawsuit against the retirement fund, arguing the board wrongly denied his application for a pension because “the acts forming the basis for plaintiff’s felony conviction in no way arose out of or in connection with his city employment.”
Coveliers further argued that the board violated its own rules and allowed into evidence “several court documents that were neither under oath nor certified as required by Illinois Law.”
On Dec. 21, 2016, Judge Sophia Hall ruled in favor of Coveliers, reserving the pension board’s decision denying him benefits.
Attorneys for the retirement fund filed an appeal on Jan. 17, and the next court date has not been set.
Richard Coveliers’ wife, Debra Coveliers, did the trucking firm’s finances, provided bribe money and coached her husband’s sister on how to lie to the feds to hide the company’s ownership, according to her plea agreement.
She was sentenced to six months of home confinement.
Cary Donham Taft, an attorney for the retirement fund, declined to comment.
A spokesman for the city’s Law Department did not respond to a request for comment.
In January 2004, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation revealed the city’s $40 million Hired Truck Program was churning with waste and fraud.
The newspaper found that private trucking companies were getting paid by the city but often doing little or no work. One trucking firm owner admitted that he had to tuck bribes into a Christmas card to a city official to keep getting work in the Hired Truck Program.
Federal investigators, spurred by the Sun-Times series, found such bribery of city officials widespread.
In all, 49 people were charged in the case, 33 of them city employees, including Mayor Richard M. Daley’s patronage director, Robert Sorich. Nick “The Stick” LoCoco, a mob bookie, decided which trucking companies got city work.
Of the 49 people charged in the Hired Truck Scandal, LoCoco was the only one who escaped conviction – dying in December 2004 from head injuries after being thrown from a horse.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2017. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)