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One-year sentence for Forest Preserve worker who took kickbacks

A former Cook County Forest Preserve worker who told a federal judge Friday that his behavior had been “asinine and stupid” was handed a one-year prison term for taking a bribe.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle agreed with prosecutors that Joseph Mollica’s crime was a serious matter, but he took pity on a man with a host of health problems and an aging mother.

Prosecutors had sought a two-year term for Mollica, who, before his arrest, had worked for the county since 1972 and made $76,000 a year.

“There’s a need to let others know that if one takes a bribe, there is a substantial potential of incarceration,” Norgle said, rejecting Mollica’s attorneys’ plea for probation.

Mollica, of Elmwood Park, pleaded guilty in January to one count of bribery, a charge with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Prosecutors said Mollica, an assistant engineer, accepted kickbacks from “favored contractors to whom he steered particular emergency contracts.” Though he accepted bribes for five to six years, Mollica was finally caught when he took $10,000 in cash bribes from an undercover FBI mole in 2011, prosecutors say. Mollica didn’t have the authority to actually award the contracts, and there’s no evidence those who did knew about Mollica’s kickbacks, prosecutors said.

In a lengthy apology, Mollica told Norgle that what he’d done was out of character for someone who’d otherwise devoted himself to being a good citizen.

“What I did was wrong, absolutely wrong,” Mollica said. “It was asinine and stupid.”

Then Norgle explored, at length, Mollica’s medical history, which includes kidney and bowel problems.

Mollica was ordered to report to prison on Aug. 1. Under federal sentencing rules, Mollica, who has no criminal history, will likely serve about 10 months in prison.