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Prosecutor: Former aide to Stroger used “sham contracts” to loot Cook County

CarlOglesby 2011 | Sun-Times files

Carla Oglesby, in 2011 | Sun-Times files

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Updated: July 19, 2013 6:40AM

Before Carla Oglesby arrived, vendors could wait more than two weeks for Cook County to cut them a check, a former county employee testified Monday.

Once Oglesby was hired, she said, it could take as little as 24 hours.

That testimony came from the first witness called as prosecutors began to make their case against the onetime top aide to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

Prosecutors say Oglesby, along with Stroger’s childhood friend and onetime chief media spokesman Eugene Mullins, worked with vendors to loot Cook County “with a string of sham contracts” filled with “kickbacks” and “plain self-dealing.”

Specifically, they say Oglesby steered more than $300,000 in fake government contracts to herself and her pals.

“The common denominator in all these schemes is that Carla Oglesby had her signature on many of the documents,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Podlasek in his opening statement, laying the case out to Judge James Linn.

Prosecutors have also said all the questionable contracts related to Oglesby and Mullins were for amounts just under the $25,000 threshold that would have required a county board vote.

Defense attorney Anthony Schumann said prosecutors won’t be able to prove their case.

“There is no evidence that Carla Oglesby knew about, participated in, solicited or had any knowledge of any kickback scheme involving Eugene Mullins,” Schumann told the judge.

Testimony in the bench trial, which didn’t get under way until late Monday afternoon, began with Annette Goldsmith. She’s a former employee of the county board president’s office who was asked by Podlasek to explain the process of paying a vendor — going over the necessary forms and signatures.

Goldsmith said she began working for the county in 2004, and she said the process usually took between two and three weeks. Once Oglesby was hired to work for Stroger after he lost his re-election bid in February 2010, she said, that time was reduced to as little as 24 hours.

She said Oglesby and Mullins spoke to her about it that month.

“They wanted a check immediately,” Goldsmith said. “They wanted a check right away.”

Oglesby was running a small-time public relations firm, CGC Communications, in 2009 when Stroger tapped her to be his spokeswoman in his re-election bid. Stroger then hired her to work as his deputy chief of staff at the county during his final months in office.

Mullins and Stroger are among roughly 70 potential witnesses who could testify at Oglesby’s trial at the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th and California, but prosecutors have not said whether either man will be called to the stand.

The former county board president was not seen in court Monday afternoon.

Mullins was indicted on federal charges last year tied to an alleged kickback scheme stemming from a joint investigation with state authorities that led to Oglesby’s arrest.

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