North Riverside Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave. | File 2021

A former North Riverside mayor asked the village attorney whether he believed a sitting trustee to be “a criminal,” prompting the trustee to call in the U.S. Attorney to investigate and accuse the current village administrator of illegally taking payments for doing her job. This all took place during the public comment portion of a North Riverside Village Board meeting and was the latest meeting to devolve into political squabbling.

Village Attorney Michael Hayes declined to answer the question “is a criminal participant a criminal” posed to him by Kenneth Krochmal, who served as the village’s mayor from 2009-13, at the March 1 village board meeting.

Krochmal prefaced his question by reading portions of an appellate court opinion where a federal judge wrote that sitting trustee and current mayoral candidate Marybelle Mandel – referred to in the court record by her maiden name Marybelle Sanchez – was a knowing participant in her husband David’s mortgage fraud scheme.

David Mandel was convicted in 2000 of making a false statement to a financial institution and sentenced to 12 months in federal prison. Marybelle Mandel was not charged. She was elected to the position of village trustee in 2019 and is presently running for mayor in a three-way race against incumbent Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. and Trustee Joseph Mengoni.

In appealing his sentence, David Mandel argued that his wife was an “unknowing facilitator” in the scheme. According to the court record, “Mandel had [Marybelle] Sanchez prepare a gift letter in which she falsely claimed that she was a relative of the buyers and had given them $12,900 for the down payment. Mandel used $12,900 from his personal account to obtain a cashier’s check, deleted the last digit of the serial number, and made a copy for the lender as verification of the earnest money.”

The appellate court panel of judges affirmed the U.S. District Court’s sentencing, stating “a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that Sanchez was a criminally responsible participant” and “could have been charged with making a false statement to a financial institution.”

Marybelle Mandel responded to Krochmal’s statements by affirming her innocence and asking anyone who has their doubts to call in the feds.

“Why don’t you and everybody else who’s curious contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office, invite them here to the village hall, the FBI, and ask them, ‘Was I ever charged, was I ever accused, was I ever arrested?’ No, I was not.”

Mandel also said she would allow North Riverside Police Chief Carlos Garcia “to do a thorough background check on me. … I will give you any information you need to put this to rest.”

She then switched gears and asked her colleagues on the village board whether they were concerned that Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti had not returned $52,000 in additional salary granted to her last year when she took on the role of village administrator after Guy Belmonte’s retirement.

Scarpiniti, the village’s longtime finance director, retains her old position and was awarded an additional $1,000 a week to serve as administrator. Mayor Hubert Hermanek had laid out the arrangement in a memo to elected officials in early 2020 before it became official.

At the time, no one, including Mandel raised any objection. But, after information about David Mandel’s fraud conviction and its connection to Marybelle Mandel surfaced at a village board meeting via an anonymous public comment in December, a complaint about Scarpiniti’s extra pay surfaced.

Also submitted as a public comment in January, the purported author of the comment claimed the payments to Scarpiniti were “illegal” and cited a provision in the village code that states the finance director “shall not receive compensation for any other office other than director of finance.”

“Now that’s a crime,” Mandel said at the March 1 village board meeting.

Hermanek said the code is referring to other duties the finance director performs pursuant to that position, such as village treasurer and as the village’s representative on various pension boards – duties for which Scarpiniti is not compensated.

Scarpiniti bristled at being drawn into the village board’s intramural political battles.

“On behalf of the village staff, I don’t appreciate the harassment that you have provided to me,” Scarpiniti said. “The village board provided me with additional duties as acting village administrator and I have done nothing wrong and the stipend that I was provided was given to me with the consent of the village board. That is not something I did on my own. … So you, sitting on the village board, were partly responsible for providing me with that stipend, because you didn’t provide any objection to it when it was proposed by the mayor.”

Mandel claimed she was the one being harassed, prompting Hermanek to state that it’s because of Mandel’s harassment of staff that the village’s public works employees and village hall clerical staff had voted to unionize.

The two new bargaining units are presently in separate contract negotiations with the village administration.

Mandel professed to not be aware that she was the reason for the employees’ decision to unionize. Employees have been careful in their public statements about specific people, but two employees – one from each bargaining unit — stated for the record at a village board meeting in late 2020 that the current administration was not to blame for the move to unionize.