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Phony alderman tripped up by pastor who knows the real one

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Updated: August 5, 2012 6:20AM

A parolee with a history of drug convictions has been charged with impersonating a West Side alderman in a scheme to raise money from a church for a bogus political fund-raiser.

Pastor John Harrell of Faith Community Baptist Church called the police after a man claiming to be Ald. Michael Chandler (24th) called Sunday and asked him to buy tickets for a play he said was being held as a political fund-raiser at the Goodman Theatre.

Only problem: The pastor knows the real alderman.

He called the police, and an officer — hiding under a blanket in the back of the church van — rode along with the pastor to meet the man at the golden dome in Garfield Park.

The man showed up there, now saying he was an aide to the alderman, and handed over the fake tickets for $20 in cash, Chandler said Tuesday.

The police charged Leon Swan, 52, with falsely impersonating a public employee. They also charged him with felony drug possession, saying they found heroin in his shoe.

The police said Swan tried to blame a man who accompanied him to the meeting with him, telling officers, “He told me to do it — the man with the white hat.”

The second man wasn’t charged.

On Tuesday, Cook County Judge Donald Panarese Jr. ordered Swan held on $50,000 bail.

Swan has seven prior felony convictions and is on parole for the latest one, for drug possession, from 2010, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

Harrell said another pastor at the church was targeted by an almost identical scam a week earlier. When the con man called Sunday, he told Harrell, “Last week’s event was such a success, we’re gonna do it again,” Harrell said. “But I’ve known the alderman for years, and I knew that wasn’t his voice.”

Chandler praised the police for the arrest, saying he didn’t want voters to “think the alderman’s hustling people.”

The alderman said he’s heard about similar scams in the 27th, 28th and 29th wards. He said his office mailed warnings to businesses three weeks ago after similar scams were perpetrated against him.

In one of the previous cases, a con man got as much as $500 from a business in his ward, according to Chandler, who said such scams hurt “us when we have a legitimate fund-raiser.”

Asked if he’d now be asking owners of the businesses who were scammed for a real campaign contribution, Chandler laughed and said, “I already did!”

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