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Convicted of vote fraud, head of Ald. Moreno’s political group sees his record wiped clean by Quinn

Juan Elias (akJohnny Elias) is President 1st Ward First (1WF) an independent Democratic political organizati1st Ward its current Alderman Proco

Juan Elias (aka Johnny Elias) is President of 1st Ward First (1WF), an independent Democratic political organization of the 1st Ward and its current Alderman Proco Joe Moreno.

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Updated: October 5, 2012 6:06AM

D espite a conviction for committing vote fraud when he ran for office, Juan Elias now leads 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno’s new “independent Democratic political organization.”

Since becoming president of the 1st Ward First campaign group last year, Elias has wiped clean a rap sheet that also included being arrested with more than 3 œ pounds of marijuana.

Elias was one of a group of convicted criminals who recently received pardons from Gov. Pat Quinn.

The governor has frequently used his clemency authority — a power that his predecessor, now-convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, refrained from exercising. Quinn has granted 711 pardons since stepping in as governor after Blagojevich was impeached and then booted out of office by the Illinois Legislature in early 2009.

Elias, a longtime city of Chicago health department official, argued to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board that he had changed since his legal problems. Elias told the board he has made himself “an extremely active and positive force in my community, my city and my country.”

State records show that Elias’ application for a pardon — which he filed in 2007, even though it was granted only in December — included letters of support from three high-profile Chicago politicians: Democratic U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez; Manny Flores, who was 1st Ward alderman at the time and now is a Quinn administration official, and Susana Mendoza, the former state representative who was elected Chicago’s city clerk last year.

Gutierrez told the Prison Review Board he’s known Elias and his family for more than 20 years.

“I can attest to his character,” the congressman wrote. “I am firmly convinced that he is sincerely regretful.”

Mendoza said she met Elias through his volunteer work for Flores’ political organization and was “shocked” to learn of his past.

“I could not reconcile that the person that I know today has anything in common with the person who he was back then,” she wrote. “Frankly, I was and continue to be fascinated by Mr. Elias’ story of redemption.”

Elias, 45, says Quinn’s decision to pardon him allowed him to have his criminal record expunged on Aug. 23.

“It’s just wonderful,” says Elias, who talks of growing up in Humboldt Park in a family with deep gang ties. “I used to be attracted to that crap that is causing a lot of the violence in the city these days. I lived in an environment where it was routine to see my uncles come home with bullet holes or stab wounds.”

Elias’ first conviction was for stealing the tires and radio from a car in 1984. The following year, the Chicago Police arrested him with three large bags of marijuana that had a street value of about $4,400, records show. The police said Elias was affiliated with the Latin Lovers gang.

Then a Cook County grand jury indicted him for felony mutilation of election materials during a failed run for 26th Ward Democratic committeeman in 1996.

Elias says he didn’t know it was illegal to take a supporter’s absentee ballot and mail it for her, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and was sentenced to 18 months of probation.

Asked about the pardon, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson says the governor “reviews each petition carefully and makes his decisions based on the merits.”

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office opposed granting Elias a pardon. In 2007, Dick Devine, the county’s top prosecutor at the time, wrote that “granting clemency would deprecate the seriousness of the crimes.” Devine also argued that not enough time had passed to determine whether Elias would “continue to be a law-abiding citizen.”

Elias makes $78,828 a year as a regional communicable disease investigator for the health department.

He says he has a 3.8 grade-point average as a political science student at Northeastern Illinois University.

He has been at the forefront of one of the 1st Ward’s most controversial issues, joining Moreno in pressing the Congress Theater to take greater crowd-control measures after a rape occurred nearby during a show last year.

Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza, who faces the possibility of losing his liquor licese, has accused the alderman’s office of pushing him to hire members of the 1st Ward First group as security guards.

Elias and Moreno say they only suggested that community members would be best qualified to help patrol the area around the concert venue and never demanded that Carranza hire their political allies.

“We suggested nine or 10 people,” the alderman says. “I wouldn’t call them all part of my organization. Even if they were, it doesn’t really matter. Everyone should have a chance to work. They shouldn’t be disqualified just because they also volunteer in their community.”

Elias and the others in the ward organization campaigned for Moreno as he unseated the incumbent Democratic committeeman earlier this year, but Elias says he has no plans to run for office again. He says he hopes the pardon will clear the way for him to work as a public school teacher or coach, so he can set a good example.

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