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Former top aide to Stroger convicted of theft
Ex-Cook Conty leader's deputy chief of staff engaged in 'classic case of money laundering,' judge says

Thursday, August 29, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Steve Schmadeke

A Cook County judge who said it was "absolutely shocking" how taxpayer money was handled by then-County Board President Todd Stroger's office found a former top Stroger aide guilty Wednesday on theft and money-laundering charges.

Prosecutors said Carla Oglesby joined Stroger as deputy chief of staff in 2010 "to help promote his legacy" but then stole more than $300,000 with a second aide through the use of fraudulent contracts and kickbacks paid in cash-stuffed envelopes.

Oglesby, 44, who remains free on bail, faces at least six years in prison. She was hired after acting as a campaign spokeswoman during Stroger's Democratic primary loss in February 2010 but was arrested just eight months later, weeks before Stroger's term expired. She resigned her $120,000-a-year job a day later.

The other aide, Eugene Mullins, Stroger's boyhood friend, is awaiting trial in federal court on charges he pocketed nearly $35,000 in payoffs in return for steering county contracts to several acquaintances.

Stroger signed paperwork making Oglesby a signatory on about 30 offices overseen by the county president — a highly unusual step, a former purchasing agent testified at trial.

Stroger has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

In issuing his verdict, Judge James Linn noted the push by Stroger's aides, detailed at trial, to get a piece of a $12.6 million federal grant to improve energy efficiency. A former county official testified at trial that he signed two letters seeking emergency no-bid contracts for firms tied to Oglesby because of political pressure even though the spending wasn't allowed.

"It's absolutely shocking to hear about the panic ... to make sure (the federal grant money) gets spent no matter what," said Linn, who oversaw the bench trial off and on since June.

At the heart of the prosecution's case were emergency contracts — always just under the $25,000 mark that would trigger a review by the full County Board — that went to firms whose bank accounts were controlled by Oglesby. That enabled Oglesby to sidestep the competitive bidding process.

Linn also found her guilty Wednesday of "bid-stringing" but acquitted her of official misconduct and operating a financial crimes enterprise. "Carla Oglesby came to the county with the intent to take away as much as she could for herself," Assistant State's Attorney Robert Podlasek told the judge during closing arguments Wednesday. She soon steered a $24,975 contract to her own company, CGC Communications, and was paid even though no work was ever done, prosecutors said. A check was cut to the company the same day it submitted a proposal for work.

Oglesby later directed a $24,995 contract to Arrei Management Inc. — a company prosecutors said she formed but that had no phone number or address beyond a postal box.

The money was moved between various bank accounts, Linn said, calling it a "classic case of money laundering." "This is theft — taking public money for no work and giving it to your friends or to yourself," Assistant State's Attorney Nan Zarkos said.

As Oglesby left the courtroom after the verdict, she declined comment, saying, "I have nothing to say."

Her attorney, Anthony Schumann, said other Cook County leaders signed off on the contracts and that his client never intended to steal anything. He called the state's case "highly, highly circumstantial."

Schumann had said in court that he might call Stroger to testify, but in the end he decided against calling a single witness.

No date has been set for Oglesby's sentencing, but she is scheduled to return to court in mid-October.

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