Fioretti says Preckwinkle covered up incident involving county-issued SUV

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The county-issued SUV that was found in Lemont Township. It’s often used by the security team for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. | Provided photo

Bob Fioretti lambasted Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday, alleging Preckwinkle tried to cover up an incident involving a county-issued SUV that ended up abandoned in a ditch in south suburban Lemont Township.

That SUV, which belongs to Preckwinkle’s security team, had campaign materials inside when it was found in November 2016.

Cook County Independent Inspector General Patrick Blanchard confirmed he was investigating the matter.

However, he declined to discuss any aspect of the investigation, including why it’s taken more than the standard 180 days to resolve the matter.

County vehicles are used to transport staff engaged in county business, Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said, but having campaign materials in the car may violate laws separating county business from campaign business.

Records obtained by the Sun-Times show the SUV contained campaign materials, including a button with Preckwinkle’s face and sample ballots, as well as a dry cleaning receipt for Delwin Gadlen, a member of Preckwinkle’s security detail.

Some of the contents of a county-issued SUV that was found in a ditch in November 2016. That vehicle is part of Preckwinkle’s security detail. | Provided photo

Some of the contents of a county-issued SUV that was found in a ditch in November 2016. That vehicle is part of Preckwinkle’s security detail. | Provided photo

It is not known who was behind the wheel before the vehicle was found, and it was not reported stolen.

Gadlen is still working for Preckwinkle. He did not respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, Preckwinkle wouldn’t answer specific questions about the incident, but said she will cooperate with the investigation.

Fioretti, who is challenging Preckwinkle in next week’s primary, said that he is sending a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking his office to investigate the matter.

“I believe the refusal by the inspector general of Cook County has been, and is, a political cover-up of what’s going on in Cook County,” the former alderman said. “Preckwinkle has worn the cloak and mantle of being a reformer, but the truth of the matter is she is not.”

Blanchard denied that politics played a part as to why the investigation hasn’t wrapped up.

“This office has prided itself on being independent and this would be the first time I’ve heard such an allegation,” he said.

The 2016 Chevrolet SUV — with two flat tires — was found by Cook County Sheriff’s police officers, who were responding to a call from a witness, records show.

Given the contents, and the car having municipal plates and containing political materials, the items were inventoried, and the investigation was turned over to Blanchard.

Records show that a letter from the Sheriff’s Office was sent to the inspector general 12 days after the incident was reported. Then, records show, Blanchard and sheriff’s police met on Nov. 25.

But that was more than 16 months ago.

Cara Smith, chief policy officer for Sheriff Tom Dart, said the officers called to the scene exercised due diligence.

“Our piece of the investigation was straightforward,” Smith said. “We had it towed, we had it inventoried because of the contents of the vehicle and, after that, we immediately referred the matter to the inspector general.”

Gadlen’s time with Preckwinkle goes back to her days as a candidate for the county’s highest office.

Gadlen volunteered for Preckwinkle’s campaign before being brought on as part of Preckwinkle’s security detail, the Better Government Association previously reported.

In 2011, months into Preckwinkle’s first term as board president, he saw his salary jump from $90,290 to $100,260.

Preckwinkle on Wednesday wouldn’t say whether or not she has already appeared before the inspector general or if Gadlen had been disciplined by her office for the 2016 incident.

“It’s a week before the election and this alleged incident is coming to light now,” Shuftan said. “It’s up to the inspector general to pursue this and make a report on it.”

A previous version of this story said the investigation “stalled.” That sentence has been amended to say it has been “more than 16 months” since Inspector General Patrick Blanchard met with members of the Sheriff’s Office and the investigation is ongoing.

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