Ald. Willie Cochran under federal investigation: sources

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Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran (201th) | Sun-Times file photo

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) is under federal investigation in connection with his use of political campaign funds, sources told the Sun-Times.

The Sun-Times reportedOct. 8 that records show Cochran paid himself more than $115,000 from his campaign fund over a three-year span.

Most of those payments were reported by Cochran belatedly — months after he was required to do so by state disclosure laws — in a series of amended campaign disclosure reports.

Illinois law does not prohibit politicians from taking money from their campaign funds for personal use if the payments are “for services actually rendered.”

But they are required to report any such payments as income to the IRS and pay taxes if owed.

Cochran has declined comment to the Sun-Times, but in a series of Facebook posts, he has harshly criticized the newspaper’s report and defended himself.

“This story places me on the front page for following what the law allows,” he wrote in one post. “… My corrected campaign fund and the amendments are all legal.”

In another, he wrote:  “I will continue my work dispite continued attempt’s to slander and entrap me in wrong doing and Calling out my family members. We have things to celebrate so let’s us all get back to work. And a message to the haters, this job doesn’t define me. I was successful before and will be even more successful in the future.” The misspellings are Cochran’s.

Cochran was a Chicago police officer before getting elected to the City Council in 2003. He replaced Arenda Troutman, who was sentenced to four years in federal prison for shaking down developers. Cochran, who also owned a laundromat, was re-elected in 2015 to a third term.

Cochran’s reference to “calling out” his family members would seem be related to the Sun-Times reporting that his daughter, Angela Moore, was listed as his campaign treasurer. Moore, who signed some of his campaign reports attesting to their accuracy, also declined comment.

In addition to his publicly reported campaign fund, Cochran also maintained a 20th Ward Activities Fund that is not registered with the State Board of Elections as a political campaign fund or with the Illinois Attorney General’s office as a charitable fund.

Although no public reporting of that fund is available, donors have told the Sun-Times they made contributions to that fund to be used for “back-to-school activities” sponsored by Cochran.

With his regular fund, Citizens to Elect Willie B. Cochran, Cochran began filing numerous amended reports during 2015, reaching as far back as the fourth quarter of 2012 to disclose payments to himself that he had not reported initially.

The bulk of the tardily reported payments were from 2015, when Cochran was up for re-election. It was also the same year the mortgage on his Woodlawn home went into foreclosure. The suit was quickly dismissed.

Cochran initially reported no payments to himself in the first quarter of 2015, filed that April, and still nothing in amended reports in August and October.

Then on Jan. 15, in his latest effort to clear up that report, Cochran revealed he’d received 34 payments from his campaign fund totaling $48,685 during that period. The payments were variously described as “personal use,” “campaign work,” “compensation,” “candidate pay” and “payroll-self.”

He overlooked another $16,050 in payments to himself during the second quarter.

After that, he’d pretty much run out of money in his campaign fund.

Although Cochran’s amended campaign reports were full of corrections on the expenditure side of the ledger, there were few additions to his list of donors.

One exception was a $2,500 loan from Aero Auto Parts, 6339 S. State, which Cochran was a year late in disclosing even though it was his only donation listed as a loan.

Asked if he remembered making the loan to Cochran, company owner Frank Mistretta said he’d made many contributions to the alderman’s funds through the years, including to the 20th Ward Activities Fund.

Asked if he’d been interviewed by the FBI about his donations to Cochran, Mistretta said: “I can’t say nothing about that, sir.”

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