Feds Indict Top Aide To Cook County Commissioner Tobolski

county building
Bill Healy / WBEZ
county building
Bill Healy / WBEZ

Feds Indict Top Aide To Cook County Commissioner Tobolski

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Updated: 4:55 p.m.

In the latest development in the sprawling federal corruption investigation that’s roiled Illinois politics, prosecutors in Chicago unsealed an indictment Friday against the top aide to Democratic Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski.

Authorities indicted Tobolski’s chief of staff, Patrick Doherty, on three counts of bribery related to his side job as a “sales agent” for a red-light camera company that operates in many Chicago suburbs, according to court records.

The alleged scheme involved cameras that were approved by the Village of Oak Lawn and installed at intersections in the south suburb, prosecutors said.

Doherty and two other unnamed individuals from the camera company allegedly paid $4,000 in 2017 to the relative of an Oak Lawn trustee – who was not identified in the indictment – “in order to influence Trustee 1 to use his official position” to install more of the company’s cameras in that town.

Like in the corruption charges against so many politicians, the feds apparently built their case against Doherty by secretly listening in to his cell phone conversations. According to the indictment, Doherty discussed the alleged bribery on his phone with another sales agent for the camera company, saying he would make payments to the trustee’s relative “if it’s going to get us the job,” and he also was quoted as saying, “I’ll just pay it. Just make sure … we get the f------ thing, the contract.”

The other people involved in the scheme were described as someone who “had an ownership interest” in the camera company and another sales agent for the firm.

The company was not identified in court records, but at the time of the alleged bribery scheme in Oak Lawn, the town used cameras from Safe Speed LLC.

A spokesman for SafeSpeed said Friday that the company had done nothing wrong. In a statement, the company described Doherty as “an independent contractor recruited by former SafeSpeed investor Omar Maani to consult on sales.”

“SafeSpeed never authorized Mr. Doherty or anyone else to engage in the alleged criminal behavior described in the indictment,” the company spokesman said.

Last month, former Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to federal bribery and tax evasion charges tied to his support of the red-light-camera industry.

According to his plea agreement, Sandoval was secretly recorded discussing how he could accept the payments an unspecified Company A, which he revealed to be SafeSpeed during his court hearing.

SafeSpeed has expanded rapidly from its downtown Chicago offices, building a client list of more than 30 Illinois municipalities, according to its website. In 2017, the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 Chicago reported that nine of the 10 suburbs whose cameras reaped the most revenue had contracts with SafeSpeed.

Doherty, 64, lives in Palos Heights and has worked for Tobolski since 2010, according to county records. He makes $110,595, according to the county.

Tobolski – who also is mayor of the tiny southwest suburb of McCook – himself was the target of a federal raid at the McCook Village Hall on Sept. 26.

The search warrant used in the raid showed agents wanted “items related to” Doherty and documents pertaining to a long list of other topics, including the heating and air conditioning at Tobolski’s home in McCook.

McCook officials initially refused to release public documents related to the raid at their village hall. But they relented after WBEZ and the Sun-Times sued them in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging violations of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Tobolski has not been charged and has continued to attend County Board and McCook public meetings, telling WBEZ recently that he has no plans to step down from either of his elected offices unless he’s charged and convicted.

In a statement, Democratic Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called the charges against Doherty “deeply disturbing,” but stopped short of calling for Doherty’s resignation from his taxpayer-funded job.

“Corruption erodes the public’s trust in government and our elected officials and has no place in Cook County,” Preckwinkle said. “Our criminal justice system is built upon the assumption of innocence until proven guilty and I hope the judicial process brings a swift resolution.”

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him @dmihalopoulos. Kristen Schorsch covers Cook County government & politics.