Former Chicago-area freeway boss testifies about kickback scheme

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The former elected highway commissioner for Bloomingdale’s Township testified in federal court on Wednesday that he conspired for years to extract bribes from the owner and an employee of an excavation company for work which, in many cases, has never been carried out.

Robert Czernek, 71, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of honest services wire fraud and agreed to cooperate against contractors, Mario Giannini and Debra Fazio, in exchange for prosecutors recommending a significant pause in his sadness.

Czernek told jurors at Dirksen’s US courthouse that Giannini, who ran with Bloomingdale-based Fazio Bulldog Earth Movers Inc., first proposed the kickback scheme during a visit to the quarry. of the township a few months after Czernek was appointed highway commissioner in 2012.

“He said, ‘We can make money from this,'” Czernek said in U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly’s courtroom.

Czernek told the jury that over the next eight years, he used his official position to approve more than $700,000 in payments for stone delivery, landfill grading and storm sewer bills submitted by Bulldog Earth. movers.

As part of the scheme, bills had been artificially inflated by overcharging for stone and charging for sewer and landfill grading hours that had never been done, according to Czernek.

He covered up the fraud by leaving handwritten notes for Giannini at various secluded locations on the property of the Bloomingdale Township Highways Department, as well as at a barbecue at Giannini’s home.

The notes included a description of the work and the number of hours Bulldog allegedly spent on various projects. Fazio then submitted bills to the commune that repeated Czernek’s notes verbatim, according to his testimony.

A note shown to the jury on Wednesday had been scribbled on a notepad with numbers indicating stone charges. At the top were the words “All you” and the number 3,575. At the bottom was another number, 9,850, with the word “Split”.

“That ‘All you’ meant that (Giannini) would get that $3,575,” Czernek said. He said that for the $9,850 figure, “separating” meant they would each take an equal share.

In order to conceal the extra money from his wife, Czernek told Giannini to have the bribes paid by checks made out to a former trucking company he owned, Tri-State Express, according to his testimony.

Czernek testified that the scheme continued almost unabated throughout his tenure. The only exception was 2013, an election year, when it was agreed to suspend bribes because Czernek “didn’t want to come under scrutiny”, he said.

During cross-examination, lawyers for Fazio and Giannini tried to undermine Czernek’s credibility, making him admit that he had initially tried to deceive investigators about some of his financial dealings. He was also repeatedly asked what breaks he hoped to get in his own case in exchange for his cooperation.

“Are you hoping you’ll avoid jail altogether?” Fazio’s attorney, Heather Winslow, asked at one point.

Czernek replied, “There are no guarantees.”

Defense attorneys also asked Czernek why he kept his job and his six-figure salary for nearly six months after his August 2020 indictment. Czernek said he was “never asked to resign.”

“Were you ever asked to resign? asked attorney Susan Pavlow. “Mr. Czernek, you admitted to defrauding the people of Bloomingdale Township. Surely the decent thing to do would have been to stop taking a paycheck?”

“I was still working,” Czernek said.

In pleading guilty, Czernek agreed to forfeit property seized in the investigation, including approximately $28,000 in cash, a 1981 Corvette, 2014 Lexus RX 350 and a 1966 Buick Wildcat.

Fazio and Giannini are each charged with wire fraud. The trial could end this week.

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