Triton College receives little attention from most people in Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside. Yet the River Grove junior college accounts for roughly 3 percent of tax bills in those villages, taking millions from the three towns in over the years.
Not many people in any of the villages could likely say who actually runs the college, though the name is a familiar one. Mark Stephens, the chairman of Triton’s board of directors the past 14 years, is the son of Donald Stephens, the mayor of Rosemont since its incorporation 50 years ago. The political connections that come from being a member of that family have served Stephens well at Triton.
If cash is the mother’s milk of politics, personal connections are its bread and butter, and Mark Stephens has both. He appears to have adopted more than just his father’s close-to-the vest management style-in the past five years he’s gotten serious about soliciting political contributions, both from both his Rosemont and Triton connections.
Stephens was a 32-year-old member of the Rosemont School District 78 Board of Education in 1991 when he spent nearly $69,000 to get elected to an unpaid seat on the Triton College board. Stephens’ 1991 campaign fund included a $25,000 loan, $39,000 in individual contributions and $5,100 in transfers from other campaigns.
A Triton alumnus who credits the college with helping him “get back on track” after problems at another college, Stephens was immediately elected vice-chairman by fellow board members following his election, and ascended to the chairman’s position the following year, a position he’s held ever since.
Now 47, Stephens is no longer on the Rosemont elementary school board. But he still owns Bomark Cleaning Company, which reportedly received $4.4 million in business from various Rosemont venues last year, including the Allstate Arena and the town’s Convention Center.
The “Bo” in Bomark refers to Mark Stephens’ old friend and business partner-and convicted swindler-Nick Boscarino. The two reportedly met while Stephens was employed at the Rosemont Convention Center in the 1980s. They co-founded Bomark in the early 1980s, and were close enough friends that they co-owned a Colorado condominium. In 1999, Stephens bought out Boscarino’s share of Bomark.
Boscarino, now 53, had other business dealings Rosemont, including helping arrange the village’s insurance. A grateful Boscarino contributed $35,000 to Donald Stephens’ Committeeman Fund between November 1999 and the end 2003-shortly before Boscarino was indicted for helping another man defraud the village of hundreds of thousands of dollars in an insurance swindle. Boscarino was found guilty on 17 of the 25 counts in the federal indictment that included money laundering and tax evasion.
Last year Boscarino was sentenced to three years in prison, fined $55,000 and ordered to pay $288,000 restitution.
After spending nearly $70,000 to win a Triton board seat in 1991, Mark Stephens’ fundraising was relatively low key for the next 10 years, with a total of $114,000 raised.
However, in the five years between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2006, Stephens raised $178,407, almost all in personal contributions. Nearly 70 percent of the total receipts over the last five years-$119,764-has been spent with three vendors for fundraising parties.
Stephens started out the beginning of the first half of 2006 with $32,364.16 in his coffers. However, after spending over $24,000 on a fundraiser at Beyond the Ivy in June, plus three other smaller expenditures, he had just $2,599.72 in the bank.
If recent history is any indication, that bank balance won’t stay low for long.
According to state records, there is a history of generous political contributions to both Mark Stephens’ political fund and to the Rosemont Voter’s League controlled by his father. Stephens’ Bomark janitorial business shares penthouse office space with the Storino, Ramello and Durkin law firm in the building at 9501 W. Devon Ave., which also houses the Rosemont Village Hall. The Village of Brookfield uses Storino, Ramello and Durkin as its law firm.
Mark R. Stephens is listed as “of counsel” to the Storino, Ramello and Durkin firm, but unlike all but two other of the 24 individuals listed on the firm’s Web site, no personal information is available on him.
Storino, Ramello and Durkin, which regularly contributes to Donald Stephens’ Committeeman Fund in $3,000 and $5,000 chunks, has sent Friends of Mark Stephens $5,250 over the past five years.
Another generous supporter has been David Houston, the chairman and treasurer of Mark Stephens’ campaign committee and president and general manager of Rosemont Exposition Services, which has contracts with various Rosemont facilities to handle convention-related work. Over the past five years, Houston has given Stephens $3,300, while Rosemont Exposition Services has donated $5,000.
Several senior Triton administrators have been particularly generous contributors to Stephens’ campaign fund. State election records show that between August 2001 and September 2005, Triton Vice Chairman Donna Leoni-Peluso gave $3,850 to Mark Stephens and contributed $5,885 to the Rosemont Voters League, controlled by Donald Stephens.
According to the spring 2006 issue of Unity, the newsletter of the Triton faculty association, several administrators who have contributed to Stephens and/or the Rosemont Voters League have recently received raises. That newsletter criticizes the $352,979 in salary raises for 26 administrative staffers over the past two semesters. Eleven of those administrators earn over $100,000 annually, and three received raises between 11 percent and 14 percent.
Triton President Patricia Granados has given $1,500 to Stephens since August 2004, and another $250 to the moribund Citizens for Proven Triton Leadership in 2001. Granados’ salary was recently increased 11 percent from $157,000 to $175,000.
Sean Sullivan, the Triton vice president for business, has donated $3,600 to Stephens since August 2001. Sullivan’s salary was recently increased 7 percent from $124,346 to $133,061.
Tom Olson, a Triton employee for 22 years, donated $3,650 to Mark Stephens and $5,000 to the Rosemont Voters League over the past five years. Earlier this year Olson, who had been making $65,200 a year, was promoted to executive director of marketing, which pays $78,000, a nearly 20-percent increase over his previous position. He then received a 4-percent raise to $81,120.
Marge Stabile, Triton’s vice president of institutional advancement, who received a 4-percent raise this spring, from $120,000 to $124,800, had not been an active contributor to Stephens-connected political funds before this year. This spring she gave $500 to the Rosemont Voters League.