Commissioner ‘shocked’ Carla Oglesby collecting jobless benefits
Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer says she’s “flabbergasted” that a one-time county official — awaiting trial for allegedly steering more than $300,000 in sham government contracts to herself and her pals — is now collecting unemployment benefits.
“If someone is actively going through the criminal process — where there’s loads of evidence — if that’s not enough to put the process on hold you know the system’s broken,” Gainer said.
“I’m flabbergasted. I’m shocked,” the North Side Democrat said Thursday, reacting to newspaper reports that Carla Oglesby, a one-time top aide to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is collecting taxpayer-funded unemployment benefits.
Oglesby, Stroger’s former campaign spokeswoman and one-time deputy chief of staff was ousted last year after she was arrested Oct. 4 and charged with steering no-bid, no-work contracts to her private public relations firm and her pals. She’s pleaded not guilty.
Oglesby received at least $3,465 in unemployment benefits during the final months of 2010, according to the most recent county records available. And she continues receiving the unemployment benefits, county officials said.
Jessey Neves a spokeswoman for current Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said before Stroger left office in December, the Stroger administration “approved” Oglesby’s claim.
“This was approved before we were in office,” Neves said.
The 30-day window to fight the awarding of benefits has closed, according to state law.
Details about Oglesby’s ouster have been sketchy. But Oglesby “was not terminated [for] cause,” Neves said.
According to state unemployment law, a person may be eligible for benefits if they’re fired without cause — meaning no fault of their own.
The law also says employees discharged for misconduct in connection with their work or let go for a felony or theft on the job may be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security — the first stop for someone seeking unemployment benefits — works with employers to process claims and determine eligibility, but department spokesman Greg Rivara could shed no light on the Oglesby case because of privacy laws.
Last year, Oglesby’s unemployment application made headlines, and county commissioners passed a toothless resolution asking Stroger, who was still in office, to fight the claim.
But Stroger never answered reporters’ questions about how he handled the matter.
“The old administration didn’t fight it, that’s pretty clear,” said Commissioner Peter N. Silverstri, a Republican representing the Northwest Side of Chicago and nearby suburbs. “I’m not surprised. They didn’t care much on their way out the door.”
On Thursday, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin penned a note to the County Board’s legal counsel — the state’s attorney’s office — asking how to recover the money paid to Oglesby. He told the Sun-Times he wants the county to consider taking legal action, perhaps even suing Stroger, “for letting this happen.”
“I don’t see how she was entitled to unemployment and somebody’s failure to act might be actionable somewhere,” Suffredin, a Democrat representing Chicago’s North Side and nearby suburbs, told the Sun-Times.
“Somebody cost the county money.”
Stroger made his own bid for unemployment compensation, but learned elected officials are exempt under state law from collecting those benefits.