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Assessor Joe Berrios, Secretary of State Jesse White traded clout hires

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios

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Updated: November 23, 2012 6:08AM



A nephew of Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios was hired by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White five weeks after Berrios put the son of longtime White chief of staff Thomas Benigno on his payroll last year, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

The timing of the two hires was nothing more than coincidence, according to a spokeswoman for White.

“There is no deal there,” White aide Beth Kaufman says.

She and a spokeswoman for Berrios say the hires were based on merit.

The Cook County Ethics Board has accused Berrios of violating the county’s nepotism ban by having his son, daughter and sister on his staff. The board wants Berrios, who also heads the Cook County Democratic Party, to boot them off his payroll.

After the board accused Berrios of ethics violations and fined him $10,000, the assessor scoffed at any notion that he’s an “old-school politician.” If he were, Berrios said, he could have just called allies who head other government offices and gotten them to hire his relatives.

It was soon after county ethics officials launched their investigation of Berrios last year that his nephew George Erasmo Berrios Jr. was hired by the secretary of state, a fellow Democrat. White tabbed Berrios’ nephew for a political appointment in August 2011, state records show.

The nephew, who is 23, is the son of the assessor’s younger brother George Berrios.

He started work on Aug. 16, 2011 — five weeks after the assessor’s office hired Anthony T. Benigno, 25, the son of White’s chief of staff.

Berrios makes $39,996 a year as assistant to the director of driver services, a political appointment that’s exempt from state civil service rules, according to state records and White spokeswoman Kaufman.

“He submitted a resume, was interviewed and met the qualifications,” she says. “My understanding is he has been doing an excellent job dealing with customer-service issues.”

Asked whether anyone had recommended hiring Berrios’ nephew, Kaufman says: “I don’t have a recommendation per se

in front of me. The office gets numerous resumes and applications, and he happened to be one of them.”

On Monday, Kaufman added that he met the qualifications for the opening by virtue of his experience in customer service at a Menard’s home-improvement store and at a Grossinger car dealership.

But officials in the secretary of state’s office declined to provide the Chicago Sun-Times with a copy of the job application that Berrios’ nephew submitted.

And they said the opening was not posted, because it is exempt from restrictions on political hiring.

Kaufman also says White and the elder Benigno — who holds the title deputy secretary of state — had nothing to do with Anthony Benigno getting the job on the assessor’s staff.

“Anthony had to apply for the position,” Kaufman says. “He went on the website, found the job opening on his own, got that on his own.”

Benigno has a union-covered job as a residential field inspector for the assessor’s office. Hired on July 11, 2011, at a salary of $38,205.44 a year, he now makes $44,588.96, according to payroll records.

Berrios’ spokeswoman Kelley Quinn says the qualifications for the job included a high school diploma, good basic math skills, an ability to read county parcel maps, proficiency in Microsoft Excel and experience in customer service. Benigno, who previously worked as an installment-loan coordinator for three years, met those requirements, according to Quinn. She says no one recommended him for the job.

“Anthony has been nothing but an intelligent, exceptional employee at this office,” she says.

Quinn referred questions about George Berrios Jr.’s state job to the assessor, who did not return calls.

Joe Berrios, who was elected assessor in 2010, has maintained that the nepotism ban and other county ethics rules don’t apply to county office-holders beside members of the Cook County Board.



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