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Former city inspector gets year of probation for signing off on work not yet completed

Joseph E. Garcia apologized, and a federal judge called the offense a ‘blunder’ in judgment.

Joseph Garcia 
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A former Chicago city inspector was sentenced Friday to a year of probation for approving construction work on several porches that was to be done by a friend’s company but wasn’t completed yet.

Joseph E. Garcia, 39, submitted bogus documents and falsely claimed to have inspected the home repair projects for low-income Chicago homeowners, giving City Hall the go-ahead to pay the contractor.

The case involved Oakk Construction of Summit, company president Alex Nitchoff and construction superintendent John Bodendorfer, who have not been criminally charged.

Oakk is a longtime city contractor who made millions of dollars under City Hall’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program, repairing porches and roofs for low-income homeowners. Under the program, Oakk was supposed to be paid only after the work had been inspected.

Garcia admitted he signed off in February 2014 on porch replacements at six homes even though he hadn’t done the inspections, prompting the city to pay $99,401 to the contractor. Garcia also lied to the FBI in April 2014 when he denied having a personal relationship with Nitchoff and Bodendorfer.

Garcia resigned from his job in December 2019, several months after he was indicted. He pleaded guilty in March.

On a Friday sentencing hearing, Garcia apologized and said his intentions were not to scheme or steal, but to submit the paperwork before a deadline for a federal grant program administered through the city.

“My intentions were to help those homeowners and it cost me my job and livelihood,” Garcia said.

He said he was scared and intimidated when he lied to the FBI.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Stetler said he was in favor of a low sentence because the work on the porches was ultimately completed and Garcia, when approached by FBI agents a second time, came clean.

Stetler mentioned the “genuine positive impact that this man has had on several people, and that’s something he has been doing over the course of a lifetime and not just something that he started doing after he was caught in an attempt to get mercy from the court.”

Garcia’s attorney, Damon Cheronis, said Garcia, who has no previous criminal history, started a roofing company since he left his job with the city.

“This isn’t a case of someone with a storied criminal history or somebody with financial irresponsibilities,” Cheronis said.

Judge Robert W. Gettleman said he was perplexed by Garcia’s bad choices.

“You shouldn’t be here at all, everything you’ve done in your life both before and after this is so inconsistent with what you did back then, that it’s almost a mystery to me why you did it,” Gettleman said, noting his positive impact on community and family.

“The fact that there was no actual loss is important, and the fact that you received nothing in return for this ... It’s just a shame that you lapsed,” Gettleman said, calling the error in judgment “a blunder, but a very serious blunder.”

Garcia’s case gained widespread attention because of its connection to investigations into Nitchoff and Bodendorfer and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).

Nitchoff and Bodendorfer were named in a grand jury subpoena that sought a wide range of information, including details about Nitchoff and his family’s businesses and details about the purchase by Austin (34th) of a new $236,000 home in the 12200 block of South Laflin Street that she bought with a $231,000 loan guaranteed by the federal government.

Federal investigators raided Austin’s ward office in June 2019. She hasn’t been charged with any crime.