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Election board turns up heat on Berrios adviser

Already facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines for violations of campaign-finance law, a longtime adviser to Cook County Assessor and Democratic Party chairman Joseph Berrios now also faces a possible criminal investigation regarding more than $135,000 in political cash he hasn’t accounted for.

A state hearing officer is recommending that the Illinois State Board of Elections send the case of Jesse Ruben Juarez to the Cook County state’s attorney and the Illinois attorney general “for review of possible criminal violations.”

Juarez plans to fight that.

The board is set to consider hearing officer James Tenuto’s recommendation Jan. 20.

Two campaign accounts Juarez controls also owe fines of more than $61,000 to the state.

Juarez says he has hired an elections lawyer and is “trying to rectify everything.”

He won’t comment on specifics of the elections board’s case against him, which stems from complaints filed by two political rivals — Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) and former Cook County Commissioner Edwin Reyes — but says he broke no law.

“It’s just a political witch hunt,” Juarez says.

The state has issued fines totaling more than $60,0000 to two political funds run by Jesse Ruben Juarez.His problems with the elections board date to his tenure as Democratic Party committeeman for the 1st Ward on the city’s Near Northwest Side — a post he lost to Moreno in the 2012 election.

For years, Juarez failed to file required reports on how money was raised and spent by the political funds he controlled, called the First Ward Organization and the 1st Ward Democratic Committeeman Fund. State law requires political committees to submit campaign-finance reports every three months.

The 1st Ward Democratic Committeeman Fund reports having more than $62,000 in cash on hand. According to Tenuto, though, bank statements show its account was closed in 2012 — and all the money had been withdrawn.

The rest of the unaccounted-for money is $18,000 that Juarez told elections officials he took from the 1st Ward Democratic Committeeman Fund, taking the cash and putting it in envelopes he said he gave to his campaign manager to pay precinct workers in his failed 2012 run for re-election as 1st Ward Democratic committeeman.

Juarez didn’t detail who was paid, though. According to Tenuto, Juarez said he didn’t have to because none of the political workers got more than $150 in “street money.” That’s the minimum amount the state requires to be reported as a political expenditure.

Juarez’s response “lacks credibility,” wrote Tenuto, who is the election board’s assistant executive director.

The other Juarez political fund, the First Ward Organization, hasn’t filed any reports since 2009, when it told the state it had a balance of more than $55,000.

The bank where the First Ward Organization had an account was shut down by state regulators in 2010 and taken over by MB Financial, which has told the election board it has no records for the fund.

“Assuming there is not an existing bank account for the First Ward Organization, the $55,054.51 had to be removed,” Tenuto wrote in a Nov. 20 report to the elections board recommending the Juarez case be turned over to prosecutors.

Juarez has been a campaign adviser to Illinois politicians for more than a decade. Since 2004, political committees have reported paying Juarez and his consulting firms a total of nearly $790,000, according to election board records.

Nearly half of that — more than $332,000 — came from Berrios-controlled political committees, including the Cook County Democratic Party, or Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios, the party boss’ daughter who lost her seat in the Illinois House in the Democratic primary in March.

Reyes v Juarez Recommendation