Pritzker signs bill extending state’s film tax credit, calls ex-Teamster boss who shook down local studio ‘bad apple’

The signing comes just two days after John T. Coli admitted in court to shaking down $325,000 from Cinespace between 2014 and 2017.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a bill to extend the state’s film tax credit until 2026, standing alongside “Law and Order” creator and producer Dick Wolf, as well as actors from Wolf’s shows, including “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Fire.”

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday called former Teamsters boss John Coli a “bad apple” for shaking down a Chicago movie studio for $325,000 — after Pritzker signed a measure to extend the state’s film tax credit to 2026.

The signing comes just two days after Coli pleaded guilty in an extortion case involving cash payments he strong-armed from Cinespace between 2014 and 2017.

Coli pleaded guilty to receiving a prohibited payment as a union officer and making a false income tax return. And he’s agreed to “fully and truthfully cooperate in any matter in which he is called upon to cooperate” by the U.S. attorney’s office — sending a shock wave throughout a state already reeling from ongoing investigations into Illinois’ halls of political power.

Pritzker signed the measure in Chicago alongside “Law and Order” creator and producer Dick Wolf, whose shows “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.,” and “Chicago Med” are all filmed at Cinespace. The shows have infused big cash into the city, employed thousands of people and have made Chicago a more competitive city when it comes to film and TV production.

And Wolf’s shows were directly threatened by Coli, according to his plea agreement. Coli angrily told Cinespace President Alex Pissios, “We’ll shut it down tomorrow. We’ll shut it down within an hour . . . I will f---ing have a picket line up here and everything will stop.”

When asked Thursday whether Coli’s case paints the state’s film industry in a bad light, Pritzker said: “I don’t think that we should let one bad apple, somebody who clearly did something wrong, spoil the opportunity for the state and the city to build up this industry.

Former longtime Chicago Teamsters union boss John T. Coli Sr.’s guilty plea last summer to extorting $325,000 from Cinespace meant that Alexander Pissios wouldn’t have to testify as the star prosecution witness at his trial.

Ex-Teamster leader John T. Coli as he leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse this week after pleading guilty to taking part in a scheme to shake down a Chicago film studio.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

“It’s my job to bring jobs and industries to the state of Illinois, to grow the economy of the state, and that’s why this is such an important tax credit,” Pritzker said.

Wolf said he did not know the specifics of the Coli case but said he’s “far away from anything that has to do with, essentially, subcontractors.”

“It’s unfortunate that it cast any kind of pall on the studios because we’re in three of them,” Wolf said “And we are sort of the core tenant, and we’ve always had superb, superb service. And these things happen. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know who did what, who said what. I have assiduously avoided too much information because it doesn’t have anything to do with us.”

Wolf, too, said he met with Pritzker two months ago, saying he’d leave Chicago without the tax credit extension.

“It wasn’t the best way to really kick off a relationship because I said, ‘Look, I have to pay it and if the tax credit goes, we have to go. And I just want you to know that this is not an idle threat,’” Wolf said of his conversation with Pritzker.

Executive Producer Dick Wolf said his shows would have to leave Chicago if the state’s film tax credit hadn’t been extended.

Executive Producer Dick Wolf said his shows would have had to leave Chicago if the state’s film tax credit hadn’t been extended.

File photo | Getty Images

Wolf said he is “vastly relieved” the tax credit has been extended.

The tax credit, which originally passed in 2008, offers a 30% tax credit for production spending and labor expenditures, up to $100,000 per worker within the state. Applicants can get an extra 15% tax credit on salaries paid to those who live in economically disadvantaged areas, the governor’s office said.

Since 2008, the state of Illinois had given more than $561 million in tax breaks to production companies that came to the state to make TV shows, movies and commercials, the governor’s office said.

Illinois film production totaled more than $263 million and supported 15,970 jobs in the fiscal year which ended on July 1, according to the Illinois Film Office’s latest annual report.

Shows filmed in Illinois in 2018 included Fox’s “Empire,” and NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago PD,” and “Chicago Med.” Showtime films “Shameless” and “The Chi,” and Netflix filmed “Easy.”

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