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Ex-Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski pleads guilty in political corruption case

Tobolski admitted Tuesday in federal court in Chicago to taking more than $250,000 in bribes and extortion payments. He is cooperating with investigators.

Ex-Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Chicago to committing extortion and filing a false tax return.
Ex-Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Chicago to committing extortion and filing a false tax return.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Jeff Tobolski earned a special place Tuesday in the pantheon of Cook County corruption.

That’s because Chicago-area voters once trusted Tobolski with the unusual privilege of holding two elected offices at the same time. He served not only as a Cook County commissioner, but also as mayor of tiny west suburban McCook.

And in one fell swoop Tuesday, he admitted he’d abused both jobs.

Tobolski told U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber he’d engaged in multiple extortion and bribery schemes involving his two offices, accepting more than $250,000 in payments “as part of criminal activity that involved more than five participants.” He did so in an arraignment conducted by video link, pleading guilty to an extortion conspiracy and filing a false tax return.

Because the hearing was conducted by video, Tobolski also skipped the awkward walk-of-shame through the Dirksen Federal Courthouse that has been unavoidable for generations of Chicago-area politicians caught up in corruption schemes.

Tobolski resigned from his offices in March, months after federal agents searched his offices at McCook’s Village Hall.

Tobolski’s plea agreement lays out the details of one extortion scheme but does not name the other participants. It involves a restaurant that used McCook-owned property and a sworn McCook police officer. In their search last fall, the feds seized records related to a restaurant once known as The Pub at The MAX — located inside a McCook-owned indoor sports complex. They also came looking for items related to McCook Police Chief Mario DePasquale and an unidentified “McCook Police Officer A,” records show.

DePasquale could not be reached Tuesday.

Tobolski’s plea agreement anticipates he will cooperate with federal prosecutors, adding him to a growing list of people working with the feds amid a series of ongoing public corruption investigations. Tobolski is not expected to be sentenced until his cooperation is complete. Though Tobolski’s crimes put him in line for a sentence of between 11 and 14 years in prison, he could get a break if he continues to cooperate with the feds.

Leinenweber conducted Tuesday’s hearing from his 19th floor courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. In a video link, Tobolski could be seen sitting at a conference table in his lawyer’s office. The audio of the hearing was garbled at times, and a prosecutor had to clarify some facts of the case after explaining them to the judge.

Still, the details are included in Tobolski’s plea agreement, which lays out an extortion scheme involving a restaurant that signed a five-year deal with McCook in 2013 to use village property. In 2016, the restaurant owner sought permission to host events involving the sale of alcohol at the McCook restaurant. The owner went to the unnamed police officer and Tobolski, who also served as liquor commissioner.

The police officer told Tobolski the restaurant owner would pay for that permission, the plea agreement said.

Tobolski agreed to give that permission in exchange for payments, according to the plea deal. The police officer met with Tobolski periodically to pass along cash that the police officer said was from the restaurant owner, according to the plea.

Tobolski made at least $279,668 in 2018 — more than $10,000 of which came from bribes — but only reported $214,270 on his tax return that year, according to his plea. He also filed false tax returns from 2012 through 2017. From 2012 to 2018, Tobolski’s false returns cost the IRS a total of $56,268 and the Illinois Department of Revenue $9,338.

Contributing: Mark Brown