Ex-suburban highway commissioner admits taking $281,000 in kickbacks — except for in an election year

Robert Czernek told a judge he has not worked since December 2020 but was previously the highway commissioner of the Bloomingdale Township Road District.

SHARE Ex-suburban highway commissioner admits taking $281,000 in kickbacks — except for in an election year
Dirksen Federal Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn St.

Robert Czernek, the former Bloomingdale Township road commissioner, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of honest services wire fraud and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Sun-Times file

A former elected suburban highway commissioner admitted Thursday that he took more than $281,000 in kickbacks and sought to hide the money from his wife, but temporarily paused his scheme in 2013 because it was an election year.

Robert Czernek’s fraud on Bloomingdale Township then continued, evolving from a plan to pad the invoices of excavation company Bulldog Earth Movers until the company began to blatantly seek payment for work it never did, splitting the proceeds 50/50 with Czernek.

In all, Czernek had $736,237 in fraudulent invoices approved for Bulldog Earth Movers, costing Bloomingdale Township $547,195.

That’s according to a plea agreement that accompanied Czernek’s guilty plea Thursday to one count of honest services wire fraud. Though Czernek would typically face a likely sentence of up to nine years, he also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a potential sentencing break.

Czernek, 70, was charged along with Bulldog Earth Movers owner Debra Fazio and her employee Mario Giannini in a 30-page indictment filed in August 2020. Fazio and Giannini are now set for trial on May 31.

During the remote hearing Thursday before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly, Czernek told the judge he has not worked since December 2020 but was previously the highway commissioner of the Bloomingdale Township Road District.

Czernek admitted during the hearing that he met in 2012 with Giannini and hatched the scheme to add “a few dollars per ton” to the cost of stone delivery by Bulldog Earth Movers. They planned to split the money through a secret kickback payment to Czernek.

Czernek told Giannini to deliver the money through checks written in the name of an old trucking company of Czernek’s, Tri-State Express, to hide the money from Czernek’s wife, according to the plea deal.

The scam was put on hold in 2013 because it was an election year and Czernek “did not want to draw any scrutiny,” the document said. But the kickbacks resumed after the election. And then, in 2016, Bulldog Earth Movers began to inflate its invoices for dump-leveling, splitting the money with Czernek, the document said.

Finally, in 2019, Bulldog Earth Movers began to submit invoices for storm-sewer work. The plea deal says Czernek “well knew” Bulldog Earth Movers never did any of that work, but he and the company split the money from its fraudulent invoices evenly.

The plea agreement also says Czernek left handwritten notes for Giannini on the grounds of the Bloomingdale Township Highway Department, giving Bulldog Earth Movers the information it needed to include in its bogus invoices.

The notes also often proposed a split of the money, the document said.

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