Ex-spokesman for Todd Stroger indicted in kickback scheme
BY STEVE WARMBIR, LISA DONOVAN AND MARK KONKOL Staff Reporters August 2, 2012 2:17PM
Eugene Mullins exits the Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn St., after being arrested earlier in the day Wednesday, August 2, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: September 4, 2012 6:17AM
Todd Stroger’s best friend since childhood and onetime chief media spokesman was indicted Thursday on public corruption charges as federal investigators appeared to bring increasing focus on the former Cook County Board president.
When Eugene Mullins was arrested at his work Thursday morning, FBI agents quickly asked him if he shared any alleged kickback money with his long-time pal Stroger, according to Mullins’ attorney, Brunell Donald-Kyei.
Mullins, a former Chicago cop, denies taking any money for steering four county contracts to several men, Donald-Kyei said.
Donald-Kyei speculated that federal authorities were more interested in Stoger than her client.
“You have [Mullins] here because you think that he has something on Todd,” Donald-Kyei said.
When the Sun-Times informed Stroger that his best friend and long-time confidant had been indicted, the first thing he said was: “That’s too bad because he’ll have to spend money on lawyers.”
Stroger said he knew nothing about the case and denied wrongdoing.
“If you’re asking me whether I’ve done anything wrong, my answer is no,” Stroger said. “Why would the walls be closing in on me? We did a good job.”
He said he found the allegations against Mullins difficult to believe.
“I’ve known Gene my whole life, and I can’t imagine Gene would do anything that would be ...” Stroger said, trailing off. “Gene knows the law and I can’t imagine him breaking the law,” he said. “I just know Gene Mullins’ character and he’s always been above reproach.”
Stroger said he talks to his friend about every two weeks but wouldn’t discuss whether Mullins’ legal troubles came up in a phone conversation the two had last week.
“Even if Gene did discuss it with me, I wouldn’t discuss it. We generally don’t talk about the county anymore.”
Mullins, 48, pleaded not guilty at a hearing in federal court Thursday to four counts of wire fraud and four counts of soliciting kickbacks, charges that were brought by a federal grand jury Wednesday.
He’s accused of accepting $34,700 in exchange for improperly steering four county contracts for disaster relief, energy grants and census work.
While authorities allege little to no work was done on in exchange for the money, Mullins’ attorney said after the hearing that all work on the county contracts was completed properly, and she denied her client received any kickbacks.
“He didn’t get a dime,” Donald-Kyei said.
Four co-defendants will be arraigned later, federal prosecutors said. They were identified as Gary Render, 43; Michael L. Peery, 51; and Clifford Borner, 45, all of Chicago; and Kenneth Gregory Demos, 50, of Oak Park. Each was charged with one count of misprision of a felony for allegedly concealing Mullins’ actions.
Peery is executive producer of three WVON-FM radio programs: the “Cliff Kelley Show,” the “Other Side with Charles Butler” and “Dollars and Cents.”
Kelley said Peery was at work Thursday, and they didn’t have time to discuss the allegations. In fact, Kelley said he didn’t know Peery had been indicted until the Sun-Tiumes informed him.
“You folks are telling me something I didn’t know,” Kelley said by phone. He said until he knows more he couldn’t comment.
Gary Render, 43, is in a training program at Chicago Career Tech. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
Attorneys for the four other men charged in the indictment either could not be reached or had no comment. The four men are believed to be cooperating with federal investigators.
Mullins, a former Chicago police officer of more than 20 years, is now a part-time employee at the Richton Park police department. A spokeswoman for the office said “all your questions should go to the FBI. They’re the ones investigating.”
Mullins is a childhood friend of Stroger, who became president of the County Board from 2006 to 2010 after his father, John, suffered a major stroke while in office.
Mullins served as director of the Cook County Department of Public Affairs and Communications between March 2008 and November 2010.
In announcing the charges, officials said in a written statement that between January 2010 and January 2011, “Mullins allegedly used his county position to submit and cause others to submit false documents to the county to assist the four co-defendants in obtaining professional and managerial service contracts and payment from the county.”
That included hatching a plan to keep each of the contracts under the $25,000 threshold requiring approval by Cook County commissioners.
The indictment states that Mullins “schemed to fraudulently steer” multiple grants to the other men indicted, who then gave him thousands of dollars in kickbacks. Prosecutors said the grants included: a $24,980 disaster grant to Render, who gave $9,000 back to Mullins; a $24,985 energy grant contract to Peery, who returned $12,000; a $24,995 census contract to Borner, who gave $5,000 back; and a $24,997 census deal to Demos, who sent back $8,700.
The men “performed little or no work for the county,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The indictment says that Mullins also steered nearly $50,000 in census grants to two people, but when Mullins asked for “a portion of the proceeds ... in both instances those individuals returned their uncashed checks to the county.” Those two were not charged, officials said.
Officials said even after he left the county, Mullins tried to conceal his alleged wrongdoing by telling the other men involved not to talk to authorities.
The feds said the charges stem from a joint investigation with state officials that previously led to the indictment of Stroger’s one-time deputy chief of staff, Carla Oglesby, who was charged in 2010 with steering no-bid, no-work contracts to her own firm and that of her pals. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office charged Oglesby — who has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is currently awaiting a trial date — with illegally steering $300,000 in contracts during her seven months on the county payroll.
While Mullins wasn’t charged with wrongdoing in the state case, the 10-page criminal complaint listed him as “Public Official C,” law enforcement sources said. Mullins had urged that Oglesby’s PR firm, CGC Communications, receive a $24,975 contract to get the word out about the availability of flood-relief funds after storms in 2008. Mullins allegedly pressured the county’s environmental control director to sign off on a $24,995 contract for Arrei Management LLC, another firm controlled by Oglesby.
According to court papers: “At a meeting with Oglesby, Mullins and others, held on March 26, 2010, Givens expressed his concern that he did not have any of the requisite documentation regarding Arrei. ... Despite his concerns, he signed the justification letters because ‘Public Official C’ pressured him to do so.”