Despite ban, felon got political job
BY STEVE WARMBIR Staff Reporter June 20, 2011 1:50AM
Then Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno during a County Board meeting in 2008. | Sun-Times files
Updated: September 28, 2011 12:19AM
Felice “Phil” Vanaria is a convicted felon and political operative, ordered to get treatment for a sex addiction after he demanded a young woman perform a sex act for a non-existent county job he promised.
After his conviction, a judge banned him from doing political work.
But that didn’t stop him from getting hired as a fundraiser for Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno before the February primary last year.
Vanaria “does a good job fundraising,” Moreno explained in a recent court deposition obtained by the Sun-Times. Vanaria “is a nice guy who did something stupid,” Moreno said.
Moreno hired Vanaria for the 2010 election campaign, even though Vanaria had been prohibited by a judge from doing political work during his probation.
Moreno said he had not known about the prohibition then but would have hired him anyway to fundraise because it’s not political work.
“Political work I consider [as] working precincts, knocking on doors, getting out the votes,” Moreno said in the deposition. “Fundraising is fundraising.”
Moreno lost the primary race for his county commissioner seat. He gave the deposition in March this year as part of a lawsuit filed by Vanaria’s victim against the county.
Vanaria, 53, pleaded guilty in July 2007 to official misconduct and bribery for demanding his victim, a 21-year-old massage therapist, perform a sex act on him in exchange for a county government job that never existed.
At the time, Vanaria was working for the county as a political hire at Oak Forest Hospital.
Vanaria was sentenced to 30 months of probation, ordered to get treatment for sex addiction and not to do political or governmental work.
Over the decades, Vanaria has had several county jobs, including as an aide to Moreno in his county office — and a trail of allegations against him that he has pressured women for sex in exchange for jobs or favors. Neither he nor Moreno returned phone messages for comment.
After working for the losing Moreno campaign, Vanaria soon went to work on the campaign of Jeff Tobolski, the mayor of suburban McCook, who was elected to the Cook County board in November 2010.
About the same time, Vanaria went on the payroll of McCook, working at the town’s indoor sports facility, known as the Max. Thousands of children and adults visit the Max each year.
Initially, the village of McCook denied, in writing, twice, ever paying Vanaria. Eventually, the village acknowledged paying him nearly $40,000 to be a part-time manager at the sports facility, where he no longer works.
The two attorneys for Vanaria’s victim, Dana Kurtz and Heidi Sleper, want to formally question Tobolski in a deposition, but Tobolski is fighting their efforts.
Tobolski did not return a message for comment.
As for Moreno, he said he did not look at Vanaria’s resume or check his background or even see his application when he initially hired him as an assistant in his government office. Moreno didn’t care if the county did a background check on him because Vanaria was a loyal, honest political worker.
“I wanted the person hired, I really didn’t care,” Moreno said in the deposition, although he later added he wouldn’t have hired Vanaria in his government office if he had known about the history of allegations against him. Moreno, though, did later hire him for fundraising work.