Former City Hall inspector pleads guilty to wire fraud in case tied to Carrie Austin probe

Joseph E. Garcia was accused in a 2019 indictment of submitting bogus documents and falsely claiming to have inspected home-repair projects done for low-income Chicago homeowners, giving City Hall the go-ahead to pay a contractor.

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Joseph Garcia

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A former City Hall inspector pleaded guilty to wire fraud Tuesday in a case connected to the investigation of Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), admitting he steered nearly $100,000 from the city to a contractor without inspecting its work in a porch replacement program.

Joseph E. Garcia, 38, was accused in a 2019 indictment of submitting bogus documents and falsely claiming to have inspected home-repair projects done for low-income Chicago homeowners, giving City Hall the go-ahead to pay the contractor.

Though the contractor was not named in Garcia’s indictment, the Chicago Sun-Times confirmed the case involves Oakk Construction of Summit, company president Alex Nitchoff and construction superintendent John Bodendorfer, who have not been criminally charged.

Nitchoff and Bodendorfer could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Oakk is a longtime city contractor that 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.

A City Hall spokesperson has said Garcia resigned from his job there in December 2019. Garcia told U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman he has recently been working in construction.

Garcia faces a likely sentence of between one and two years in prison. His sentencing has been set for June 25.

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

Federal investigators raided Austin’s ward office in June 2019, but she has not been criminally charged.

Contributing: Tim Novak

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