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Stroger aide case goes to jury
Bribery trial ends with dramatic closing arguments

Monday, September 16, 2013
Chicago Tribune
Ellen Jean Hirst

After closing arguments that saw a defense attorney bark like a dog, a federal jury Monday afternoon began deliberating whether a friend and onetime aide to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was guilty of fraud and bribery.

Eugene Mullins is charged in U.S. District Court with four counts of wire fraud and four counts of bribery for steering Cook County contracts to acquaintances and pocketing nearly $35,000 in kickbacks. Jurors deliberated 41/2 hours before breaking for the evening.

They will resume deliberations Tuesday.

Defense attorney Brunell Donald-Kyei started her closing argument with a quote from Hitler, interjected a story about a dog and ended by comparing Mullins to a wounded soldier and jurors to rescuers in a hovering helicopter who could save him.

She said the four contractors Mullins is accused of taking kickbacks from initially claimed that he didn't ask them for any money. After being pressed by federal investigators, Donald-Kyei argued, they changed their stories.

"People's words are the reason Mr. Mullins is sitting over there," Donald-Kyei said.

She illustrated her point with a story of a dog that began meowing instead of barking after being disciplined by its owner.

"Woof! Woof! Woof!" she said in the courtroom.

Donald-Kyei said the contractors were paid ahead of time because they didn't have start-up money to begin work.

She also urged the jury to consider Mullins' reputation as a former Chicago police officer who "sticks up for the little guy."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Sarah Streicker reviewed the evidence — invoices, proposals, justification letters and emails — with a PowerPoint presentation. She said the documents, many created by Mullins, were littered with false statements and fabrications.

The contracts — awarded to Michael Peery, Gary Render, Clifford Borner and Kenneth Demos — were for promoting awareness of the 2010 U.S. census, aiding people affected by flooding in 2008 and boosting energy efficiency. They totaled just under $25,000, the threshold amount that requires Cook County Board approval. But while each of the four contractors was paid before any work was done — not normal practice for the county — little or no work was ever completed, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said the contractors gave Mullins envelopes filled with thousands of dollars in parking lots, an elevator and outside one of their apartments.

"The defendant was involved in these contracts every step of the way," said Streicker. "He did it so he could line his pockets."

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