Chicago Ald. Jason Ervin is “trying to cooperate” with the FBI as it investigates a nearly $5,000 check he received from a woman now charged with bilking an Illinois youth program to pay for shoes, a rental car and food at Portillo’s Hot Dogs, according to his lawyer.
A criminal complaint filed by the feds in April charges Franshuan Myles with misusing money from Divine Praise Incorporated — money that was supposed to be spent on participants of the Illinois Youth Recreation Corps program. It also alleges someone described only as “Individual A” received a $4,932 check signed by Myles on Aug. 26, 2011.
Ervin spokesman Tom Bowen released an emailed statement Thursday acknowledging that Ervin is the “Individual A” identified in the criminal complaint. Ervin (28th) could not be reached for comment.
“Yesterday Ald. Ervin was made aware of allegations regarding an improper use of state grant money by Divine Praise Inc. and will cooperate fully with authorities to ensure that taxpayer resources were not improperly diverted for anything else than their specific purpose,” Bowen wrote in the statement.
Criminal defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. also acknowledged that the $4,932 check was among the funds Myles is accused of misspending. But Adam categorically denied that the alderman did anything wrong.
“There is absolutely no indication of any wrongdoing on his part at all . . . I’m absolutely certain this was not illegal funds . . . There’s no indication that this wasn’t a proper check,” Adam said.
“The allegation at least is that there were some misfiling about where checks went by Ms. Myles. But there is no indication that this alleged check was improperly given. They had some reporting requirements that she messed up on for this check and others. The FBI has not indicated to anybody that it wasn’t legitimate. I believe it was for a grant program in the district. I believe this is something that’s part of that but not in a criminal sense on our part.”
Adam said Ervin is “trying to cooperate” with the FBI investigation of Myles but has not yet been interviewed.
“We’re trying to put that together . . . I’m going back and forth with the government trying to set this up. One agent is on vacation. I’m on [a Medicaid fraud] trial in Springfield,” he said.
Pressed to describe the relationship between Ervin and Myles, Adam said, “My understanding is she runs either a business or a non-profit in the community on the West Side. She’s known out there. I haven’t gotten into specifics of their personal relationship. I don’t know if there is one. He’s an alderman. You meet thousands of people a day.”
Ervin, 42, is a former Maywood village manager appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in January 2011 to replace Ald. Ed Smith (28th), Ervin’s political mentor.
The mayoral appointment that gave Ervin a leg up on his opponents raised eyebrows because it came just weeks before the aldermanic election.
In the City Council, Ervin has been a political wild card and a constant thorn in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s side.
Last fall, Ervin was one of only two African-American aldermen to vote against Emanuel’s tax-laden, 2016 budget, which included a $588 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions and school construction, and a first-ever garbage collection fee of $9.50 a month.
The vote infuriated Emanuel because of Ervin’s role as vice chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee. Ervin had presided over budget hearings whenever Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) was absent while recuperating from a health crisis that nearly killed her.
Ervin also led a failed campaign against Emanuel’s plan to raise Chicago’s smoking age from 18 to 21, slap a $6 million tax on cigars, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco and ban coupons and discounts.
In the ongoing furor over the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, Ervin also introduced an ordinance that would create an auditor of police oversight within the inspector general’s office weeks before the mayor embraced that change as part of a plan to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority.
Three years ago, Ervin used City Council budget hearings as a stage to engage in a heated exchange with then-Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
Ervin complained then that the number of blacks in the Chicago Police Department’s exempt ranks had declined during McCarthy’s tenure. An angry McCarthy defended his record, saying promotions under his control had involved a larger percentage of African-Americans than the department as a whole.
“I just told you the numbers of who I’m promoting, and they’re disproportionately African-American based on the demographics of this department,” McCarthy said at the time. “So I’m not going to sit here and take that, alderman. You’re wrong.”
Ervin countered: “You can leave if you don’t like what’s being said.”
Ervin, whose father was commander of the Harrison District in the 1990s, groused that McCarthy had installed a white commander in the predominately black district. Ervin subsequently demanded that McCarthy install a black commander in the Harrison District after James O’Grady retired.
When McCarthy filled the job with Glenn Evans, an African-American who was one of the superintendent’s rising stars, Ervin went to the station to invite the new commander to lunch and ended up in a heated exchange with Evans in the parking lot. The alderman was ordered to leave the station.
Ervin also has made headlines when he apologized to his constituents for a racy video posted on YouTube of a 2012 bachelor party featuring strippers that was held on another floor of a building that includes his aldermanic office.
The alderman accused someone he once “regarded as a friend” of making the embarrassing party tape public to “extort” him for “personal gain.” He refused to name the friend or define the extortion but insisted he didn’t use city or campaign funds to pay for the party.
In July 2014, Ervin criticized Emanuel for failing to attend the funeral of 11-year-old Shamiya Adams. The girl from West Garfield Park was gunned down when a bullet fired by an alleged gang member entered the open window of a home where she was having a sleepover with friends.
“He should have been there. The message needs to be sent that this is one city. There are no unimportant parts of Chicago,” Ervin said then.
Ervin also raised eyebrows by setting up a political action committee that accepted contributions from city contractors in excess of the $1,500 limit imposed by Chicago’s ethics ordinance and funneling that money to West Side allies who had been forced into runoffs.
Contributing: Jon Seidel