For the second time in his campaign for Chicago mayor, former school chief Paul Vallas is returning a supporter’s money, giving back a contribution from a banker who was convicted in federal court five years ago.
The mayoral challenger’s brother and campaign treasurer, Dean Vallas, said Wednesday he would return the campaign check from banker James Regas of Oak Brook, who gave $1,000 in May.
Dean Vallas said he had not been aware of the federal case involving Regas until WBEZ asked about it.
Regas was the chairman of Western Springs National Bank & Trust before he was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison in 2013.
According to prosecutors, Regas admitted to “making false statements in regulatory documents regarding his undisclosed personal interest in loans that resulted in the bank losing more than $680,000.”
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know he was a convicted felon,” Dean Vallas said. “I knew he had trouble with his bank, as did a lot of people.”
Dean Vallas said he has known Regas for decades and thinks highly of him and his civic activities but the campaign was giving back the money “for optics.”
“I’m going to return the check personally, myself, with an explanation and a hug, because he’s a terrific man,” Dean Vallas said.
Dean Vallas said Regas gave a check to Paul Vallas’ campaign at a fundraiser in Greektown. Like the Vallas family, Regas is of Greek descent.
“You can’t have a Greek event in Greektown with hundreds of people there without inviting Jim Regas, who along with Andy Athens — they built Greektown,” Dean Vallas said. “He’s an archon in the [Greek] Orthodox Church. He’s raised money for Greek candidates across the country and for Greek causes nationally and internationally. That’s the Jim Regas I’ve known since I was a teenager.”
Regas did not return calls seeking comment. The only other contribution he has made since his conviction was a $1,000 check to Bruce Rauner’s Republican campaign for governor in 2014, according to state campaign-finance records.
A spokesman for Rauner’s re-election campaign declined to comment.
Last month, the Vallas campaign returned $500 from controversial former school board member Deborah Quazzo after WBEZ asked about the contribution.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Quazzo to the Chicago Board of Education in 2013, but the wealthy investment banker left the board after media reports detailed her stakes in companies doing business with the schools.
The inspector general for Chicago Public Schools later found that Quazzo had engaged in “horrible” ethical violations, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in May.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter for WBEZ. Follow him at @dmihalopoulos.