CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois State Sen. Thomas Cullerton (D-Villa Park) has been indicted on charges he embezzled more than $250,000 in salary and benefits from a local Teamsters office, even though he did little or no work for the labor union.
As CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reported Friday, Cullerton, 49, was indicted on one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union, 39 counts of embezzlement from a labor union, and one count of making false statements.
Federal prosecutors said Cullerton was a member of Teamsters Local Union 734 before he was elected a state senator in 2012, and after taking office was no longer eligible to participate in the union’s health and pension funds.
Two months after taking office in 2013, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, based in Park Ridge, hired Cullerton as a union organizer, with a full-time salary, as well as health and pension benefits from Local 734, according to the feds.
Federal prosecutors said, for the next three years, Cullerton did little or no work as a union organizer, and routinely ignored requests from Teamsters supervisor to do his job. During that time, he was paid approximately $188,000 in salary, bonuses, and cell phone and vehicle allowances, and received about $64,000 in health and pension contributions.
According to the indictment, Cullerton continued to take a salary from the Teamsters union even when he was attending Illinois Senate session days in Springfield
Cullerton allegedly used the money for personal expenses, including his mortgage, utility bills, and groceries.
The indictment also alleges Cullerton fraudulently received $21,678 in medical reimbursement claims from Local 734’s health fund by submitting paperwork that concealed the fact he wasn’t eligible to participate in the fund, because he was not regularly scheduled to work at least 30 hours per week for the union.
An attorney for Cullerton denied the allegations in a prepared statement, and said they are the result of false allegations by former Teamsters boss John Coli, who earlier this week pleaded guilty to federal extortion charges involving payments he received from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios.
“As an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Army and highly respected public servant, Tom Cullerton is a person who is dedicated to his family, constituents, and all Illinoisans. The action by the U.S. Department of Justice has nothing to do with Mr. Cullerton’s work in the Illinois State Senate but is the result of false claims by disgraced Teamsters boss John Coli in an apparent attempt to avoid penalties for his wrongdoing,” Cullerton’s attorney Jon Theis stated in an email.
Arraignment for Cullerton has not yet been scheduled, according to federal prosecutors.
Just last year, the Villa Park senator sponsored a law that eliminated severance packages for public employees fired for misconduct. It also limited some government severance packages.
“This will start addressing the problem that has been going on throughout this state with executives getting massive payouts as they leave office,” Cullerton said last year.
The senator is a distant cousin of Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who is not accused of any involvement in the case.