Mhde Askar, the government informant who ensnared Ald. Howard Brookins’ chief of staff in an alleged bribery scheme, is a most precocious con man.
Askar was just 14 when he used a fake birth certificate to get his very first job as a passenger service agent at O’Hare Airport, court records show.
By the age of 17, he’d been indicted by a Cook County grand jury for fraudulent use of a credit card and possession of fraudulent identification cards in the name of David Johnson.
By 18, he was neck deep in a multimillion mortgage fraud scheme involving luxury condos, actually a pair of many-tentacled schemes in which some say he was the mastermind.
Askar was 23 when he was indicted in 2008 by a federal grand jury for those scams, but even before the charges were announced, he was cooperating with FBI agents against his co-defendants.
And ever since, Askar has been helping federal authorities in various other investigations yet to be disclosed, sources say.
Now age 28, Askar has surfaced at the center of charges filed last week against Brookins’ chief of staff, Curtis V. Thompson Jr., who is accused of accepting a $7,500 cash bribe from Askar to secure the alderman’s support for a liquor license.
It was Askar who wore a hidden video recorder into a meeting with the alderman and Askar who allegedly passed a note to Brookins offering a bribe.
You don’t need me to tell you the federal government did not set out in this case to catch Brookins’ chief of staff.
They were trying to use Askar to nab the alderman himself, and it’s unclear from the information provided so far by investigators whether they got enough to make a case against him.
At this point, though, no charges have been filed against Brookins, who is alleged to have been present when Askar offered a bribe but not when the money was accepted.
The question now is whether Thompson also is cooperating with federal authorities. If he is, then Brookins could soon find himself in even bigger trouble than it already appears.
Interestingly, Brookins told conflicting stories to the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune in the immediate aftermath of Thompson being hauled in to court.
He told our reporter, the first to reach him, that he knew nothing about the $7,500.
But by the time the Tribune got a hold of him, he remembered to mention he’d been in a car with Thompson earlier in the day when the aide showed him an envelope that he said contained the $7,500 Askar had paid him more than two months earlier for the liquor license. The Tribune reported that Brookins said he told Thompson they couldn’t take the money and ordered him to return it.
I have to believe Thompson was wearing a wire during that meeting with Brookins, probably after being braced earlier by the FBI, but we’ll soon find out.
What everyone at City Hall should find interesting are hints of a broader investigation in how Askar brought the case to that juncture.
According to the complaint filed in Thompson’s case, the FBI has been using Askar in an ongoing investigation since September 2012. (Askar is identified in the complaint only as CW1, but other information provided about CW1 shows it is Askar.)
As part of that investigation, Askar paid $700 to an unnamed “licensed expediter with the city of Chicago” to assist in “filing a false public document.”
In March 2013, that expediter allegedly claimed in an undercover recording he knew the city’s liquor commissioner and had an inside track on obtaining liquor licenses, but that it would require payments to the aldermen.
Askar originally set out to obtain liquor licenses in the wards of three other aldermen, whose names were not disclosed, but was eventually steered to Brookins by the expediter and an associate because they said they had connections in the ward.
I’m wondering if that expediter is now cooperating as well, which would open other possibilities.
Askar, whose first name is pronounced “Moddy” but also goes by David, is a graduate of Taft High School whose formal education stopped after a few courses at Wright College.
But records show he was an expert in the art of mortgage fraud — falsifying credit scores, employment verifications and bank records to obtain loans using straw purchasers, who received a fee for the use of their name.
Askar pleaded guilty last year in the mortgage fraud cases, but is still awaiting sentencing, which explains why he was willing go undercover on an alderman.
Askar, who lives on the Northwest Side and now works as a property manager, had already been promised a sentence reduction for his previous cooperation, but this could cut it further.
Everybody says the kid is a fast learner.