Stroger pal depicted as sweet 7-year-old as trial opens in kickback scheme
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter September 9, 2013 6:47PM
Eugene Mullins leaves the Federal Building on Monday. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times
Updated: October 11, 2013 6:21AM
He’s a highly-educated 49-year-old man accused of running a classic government kickback scam from his clouted position as former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s lifelong pal.
But to Eugene Mullins’ attorney, he’s still “Little Geno,” the 7-year-old South Side boy who “loved sports” and “defended other kids from bullies.”
And to prove his point, lawyer John Richardson even brought the imaginary boy into court to meet jurors Monday afternoon.
In a bizarre opening statement at the start of what’s expected to be a two-week trial, Richardson mimed as if he was holding the hand of a four-decades younger Mullins.
He looked down to where the imaginary boy was standing beside him and adopted a child-like voice, telling jurors that “Geno sought the attention and approval of his parents,” before taking the imaginary child for a walk in front of the jury box.
It was a strange and dramatic appeal for sympathy at the start of an otherwise straightforward, dry contract fraud trial.
Prosecutors allege Mullins, a one-time Chicago police officer, used his former position as Stroger’s spokesman to get his associates four county contracts, then demanded kickbacks worth nearly $35,000.
Though his pals were bidding for “work they were not qualified to do and never intended to do,” Mullins coached them to each ask for just under $25,000 so that they’d “receive a little less scrutiny,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsay Jenkins said in her opening statement.
County payments typically take weeks to process, but Mullins personally hand-delivered his pals checks within days and demanded his cut, Jenkins said.
Richardson countered that the government’s case will be built on the testimony of three of those associates who will say “what the government wants to hear” so that they can stay out of jail. In another piece of theatrics, he then bounded around Judge Amy St. Eve’s courtroom, mimicking the actions of multiple county bureaucrats who signed off on the contracts, telling jurors that Mullins was simply “doing his job.”
Further drama could come later in the trial when Mullins’ attorneys have vowed they will call Stroger to the stand.