Jeff Tobolski — a former Democratic Cook County commissioner and south suburban mayor — admitted Tuesday he took “multiple extortion and bribe payments” worth a total of more than $250,000.
The court documents also show Tobolski “agrees he will fully and truthfully cooperate in any matter in which he is called upon to cooperate” by the office of John Lausch, the top federal prosecutor for northern Illinois.
That cooperation could mean a more lenient punishment when Tobolski gets sentenced for his crimes. His sentencing was postponed “until after the conclusion of his cooperation,” according to court records.
In his newly unsealed plea agreement, Tobolski acknowledged “abusing his position as the Mayor of McCook and as a Cook County Commissioner in efforts to benefit individuals who paid him money.”
The veteran politician admitted he had been at the center of “criminal activity that involved five participants.”
His guilty plea came nearly a year after investigators targeted him in a raid of the McCook village hall. On the same day, agents searched a variety of sites across the state, including a powerful lawmaker’s office at the Illinois Capitol and municipal offices in other south suburbs.
Tobolski, 55, had been expected to cop a plea since he was charged last month with extortion and lying on his income taxes.
On Tuesday, he admitted conspiring with an unnamed McCook police officer to get cash payments from a restaurant owner in exchange for giving permission to the business to sell liquor. That corruption began in 2016 and continued until 2018, records show.
In February, WBEZ and the Better Government Association reported that a factory owner in Tobolski’s county board district felt pressured to give a campaign contribution to the commission while the businessman’s application for a county property-tax break was pending.
Before the lucrative tax break got approved, Tobolski sent a factory owner multiple email messages requesting a political contribution. In one message, Tobolski said the tool-and-die business should contribute campaign cash annually — and budget for the expense as if it were a “fixed cost” of doing business in his district.
After agents raided the McCook village hall in September 2019, officials initially declined to release documents served by the feds. They relented after WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against McCook.
The search warrant used in the raid sought a long list of documents about Tobolski, his top county board aide and even the heating and air conditioning at Tobolski’s home in the tiny, heavily industrialized suburb.
After the raid, Tobolski skipped county and village board meetings for months. When he finally resurfaced, attending meetings as if nothing were amiss, he told reporters he had no plans to resign unless convicted. At that time, he said the feds had raided McCook another time, in 2012, and nothing came of that investigation.
“If there is something that requires me to step down, I’ll be the first person to do that,” he said earlier this year. “But right now, there’s nothing.”
Tobolski changed tack soon, though, resigning from the county board and the McCook mayor’s job in March.
The previous month, federal prosecutors charged Tobolski’s chief of staff at the county board, Patrick Doherty, with three counts of bribery related to Doherty’s side gig as a “sales agent” for a red-light-camera company.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.