Ex-Bloomingdale Township highway commissioner gets prison for kickback scheme

Robert Czernek got more than three years in prison in bill-padding scam that bilked west suburban township out of more than $500,000.

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The doors at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Former Bloomingdale Township Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in a long-running kickback scheme.

Sun-Times file

Former Bloomingdale Township Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek was sentenced Tuesday to more than three years in prison for his role in a kickback scheme with a corrupt contractor.

The 71-year-old, whose lawyers said he is suffering symptoms of “long-haul COVID” among other maladies, dabbed tears from his eyes and cleared his throat frequently during a sentencing hearing that lasted about 40 minutes.

Czernek spoke softly as he read nervously from a written statement.

“I make no excuses for my conduct,” he said. “My crime was not a mistake, it was something that I did to enrich myself,” he said.

“I violated the public trust, and there is no excuse for that. I hope my cooperation and guilty plea will help restore some of the faith in government that was taken away.”

The 42-month sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly was less than half the nine-year maximum under federal sentencing guidelines and less than the five-year term Kennelly gave Mario Giannini, the contractor whose padded bills and bogus invoices were approved by Czernek.

Kennelly gave Czernek credit for taking a plea deal from prosecutors and serving as the star witness at Giannini’s 2021 trial. The judge, however, noted that the scheme depended on Czernek abusing his position as the west suburban township’s elected highway commissioner.

“There is no question that Mr. Czernek is way more culpable than Mr. Giannini,” Kennelly said. “I’m not sure who initiated it. ... What does matter here is Mr. Czernek is the one who held the public trust and decided to abuse it.”

Starting in 2012, Czernek and Giannini launched a scheme in which Giannini would inflate his bills for hauling gravel for the township, a scam that eventually graduated to Czernek signing off on payouts for sewer work Giannini’s company never performed.

In all, the fraudulent bills added up to more than $700,000, with some $540,000 of the total going into the pockets of Giannini and Czernek, prosecutors said. Debra Fazio, the owner of the Elgin-based company, Bulldog Earth Movers, was charged in the scheme though Kennelly threw out charges against her during her and Giannini’s weeklong trial. Giannini has appealed his guilty verdict.

Czernek and Giannini also will have to pay restitution to the township totaling more than $500,000 in restitution. Czernek already has forfeited more than $20,000 from two bank accounts, a 2014 Lexus, 1981 Corvette and 1966 Buick Wildcat.

Czernek’s lawyers had asked Kennelly to sentence Czernek to home confinement, citing a laundry list of health concerns, including two surgeries scheduled in the coming months. Czernek will not have to report to prison until August.

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