Former alderman hires defense lawyers as feds’ net widens

While it’s not known why Zalewski is under investigation, public records show he has had recent tax troubles with the Internal Revenue Service.

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Campaign disclosure reports show former 23rd Ward Ald. Michael Zalewski has hired a leading defense law firm.

Former Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) has hired one of the city’s leading criminal defense law firms, the first confirmation he is caught up in the sweeping federal investigation of the City Council.

Newly-disclosed campaign finance reports show Zalewski paid $25,000 in May to Breen & Pugh, whose name partners Thomas Breen and Todd Pugh are considered among the city’s go-to lawyers for politicos in trouble.

Some of their recent clients have included former Donald Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation; former Mayor Richard M. Daley nephew R.J. Vanecko, sentenced to 60 days in jail for the death of David Koschman; Chicago police officer Joseph Walsh, acquitted of conspiring to falsify reports in the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald; and Cook County Judge Joseph Claps, acquitted of bringing a gun into the courthouse.

Breen declined comment and Zalewski could not be reached. The former alderman has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Zalewski resigned his aldermanic seat in May 2018, in partial recognition of the overwhelming Hispanic majority in the 23rd Ward that would have made re-election difficult. He was replaced by state Rep. Silvana Tabares, an ally of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Zalewski served 23 years as alderman. At the time he quit, Zalewski was chairman of the Aviation Committee, one of the more influential positions on the City Council because of its involvement with contracts at the airports.

Zalewski drew the money used to pay his lawyers from his two campaign committees, taking $12,500 each from Friends of Mike Zalewski and the 23rd Ward Democratic Organization.

While it’s not known why Zalewski is under investigation, public records show he has had recent tax troubles with the Internal Revenue Service.

Since last fall, the IRS has slapped two liens on Zalewski and his wife.

On Oct. 12, 2018, the Zalewskis were hit with a lien for $85,864 for unpaid income taxes in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

On March 15, 2019, the Zalewskis got a second IRS lien for $99,770 for unpaid income taxes in 2016 and 2017.

While a member of the City Council, Zalewski moonlighted on the side as a lobbyist, listing himself as president of Z Consulting Group.

Z Consulting Group has been registered to lobby state government since at least 2001, often working as a subcontractor to other Springfield lobbying firms.

In 2019 Zalewski was registered to lobby on behalf of the Village of Schiller Park, Wight & Co., Animal Welfare Institute, Comcast Cable Communications Management, Home Run Inn, PACE and the Village of Bridgeview.

Zalewski has also worked for Manning Consulting Group, one of several lobbyists who have been retained by ComEd over the years.

The utility has also been served with a subpoena by a federal grand jury seeking records on the company’s lobbyists. ComEd maintains a large stable of lobbyists, many with close ties to Madigan, including Michael Kasper, an attorney for the Illinois Democratic Party.

ComEd confirmed the subpoenas:

“Exelon and ComEd have received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Illinois requiring production of information concerning its lobbying activities in the State of Illinois.Exelon and ComEd have pledged to cooperate fully and are cooperating fully with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in expeditiously providing the requested information.”

On a related front, indicted Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) disclosed this week that he paid $35,000 in campaign funds to his longtime political operative and co-defendant Peter J. Andrews.

The April 1 payments, labeled simply as “consulting,” came two months before Andrews was named in a federal indictment accusing him of helping Burke shake down two businessmen trying to renovate a Burger King in the 14th Ward.

Records show Burke had never previously paid Andrews more than $10,000 a year from his campaign funds — and only paid him $5,000 a year since 2014.

But Burke also was just coming off one of the toughest re-election campaigns in his 50-year career, and Andrews runs his ward organization.

Just last month, federal investigators raided the ward office of another City Council veteran, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).It was subsequently revealeda federal grand jury was seeking, among other things, information about the construction and financial arrangements involving Austin’s home.

As part of their City Hall probes, federal agents are known to have conducted extensive telephone wiretaps of both Burke and Ald. Danny Solis (25th). Solis later cooperated with authorities and made undercover recordings of Burke.

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