Weather Updates

Felon, fired cop land sweet school jobs in Cicero and Berwyn district

James Zundell (left) Robert Gordon

James Zundell (left) and Robert Gordon

storyidforme: 13374724
tmspicid: 4599320
fileheaderid: 2309635

Updated: August 3, 2011 5:08PM

Police Officer Robert Gordon got fired from the Chicago Police Department before he made it out of his probationary period.

But that didn’t stop him from getting hired to oversee the security of children at a Cicero and Berwyn high school district.

James Zundell, a one-time nightclub promoter and City of Chicago electrician, is a felon, pleading guilty to armed violence.

But that didn’t stop him from getting hired to oversee buildings and grounds at the same school district.

Both men share something besides having the same employer and getting big raises at the district.

Both are friends with the school district’s controversial board president — Jeff Pesek.

Hundreds of parents and students have called for Pesek to resign after the Sun-Times reported in April that Pesek, board president of Morton High School District 201, had ties to a major drug dealer and an Outlaw motorcycle gang member.

Pesek has not been accused of wrongdoing, and the Morton school board, citing Pesek’s leadership, voted to re-elect him board president last month.

Pesek said this week he played no role in getting Gordon or Zundell their school jobs.

Pesek has been friends with Gordon for more than five years, and he grew up with Zundell, who has done marketing for the Chicago nightclub Ontourage, where Pesek has worked as a manager. Pesek’s brother Craig is the club’s owner of record.

Jeff Pesek said Zundell and Gordon, who left the district earlier this year and is now a police officer in Berwyn, have done a great job.

Gordon added professionalism to the security staff, while Zundell saved the district millions of dollars in his budget, district officials said.

Gordon, who did not return messages, was fired from the Chicago Police Department in June 2008 after an internal investigation determined he omitted critical information on his job application.

Pesek said the Chicago Police Department erred in firing Gordon, who has received commendations for his police work.

“Who cares if he was fired from Chicago Police Department?” Pesek asked.

Less than three months after Gordon was fired, he was working a security job for the Morton school district, eventually getting promoted to run security and a grant program, making $63,000 a year — a salary increase of more than 60 percent in less than two years.

Later, when Gordon went to work for the Berwyn Police Department, an evaluation firm indicated that Gordon made 16 “serious admissions” on his personal history questionnaire, essentially potential red flags. Those admissions included Gordon indicating he would not be willing to shoot someone or inflict serious injury if necessary for his job, records show.

A veteran suburban police chief, requesting anonymity, when told of Gordon’s admissions, said: “Wow, those are glaring deficiencies in his background that anyone should have caught.”

As for Zundell, he pleaded guilty to a felony — armed violence — in connection with a group of men attacking a man in 1991. He was sentenced to six months of home confinement.

He also has multiple misdemeanor arrests, including a misdemeanor conviction for shooting someone. Zundell says he accidentally shot a friend.

Court records indicate the Berwyn attack was gang-related, but Zundell at the time denied being in a gang.

On Tuesday, Zundell said he is a different person today.

He said he had nothing to do with the Berwyn attack but was the victim of a witness misidentification.

Zundell was hired in September 2008 at the school district as head of buildings and grounds at $65,000 a year, but he continued to work for the city of Chicago throughout most of 2009, pulling a double shift, he said. He now makes $80,070 a year with the school district.

District 201 Superintendent Michael Kuzniewski said both men received the raises they did because they were hired at salaries that were lower than they should have been but quickly proved themselves.

Zundell makes significantly less than his predecessor in the job, the superintendent said.

Zundell said he disclosed his felony conviction to the district before he was hired, and Pesek noted that Zundell had previously — and successfully — worked for the state, county and city of Chicago before coming to the school district.

“These are valued people who have served the district well and served the community well,” Kuzniewski said.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.