By Bob Uphues
The campaign season in North Riverside kicked into high gear without waiting for the calendar to flip the page, after a public comment entered into the record under protest at the village board's Dec. 14 meeting brought to the surface unflattering information about one of the candidates running for mayor in 2021.
The letter itself was not read during the public comment portion of the meeting nor was specific information revealed relating to the candidate, Marybelle Mandel, who called it "blatantly political" and said it had "no place in our village business."
But Mandel's request to remove the letter from the record, a request supported not only by her political ally on the village board, H. Bob Demopoulos, but one of her opponents in the 2021 election, Trustee Joseph Mengoni, was overruled.
There was even a question as to whether the purported author of the letter, submitted as "Jamie Bishop," was a real person. The letter, along with other documents submitted with it, were placed inside a manila envelope with no return address and the words "Clerk Ranieri," referring to Village Clerk Kathy Ranieri, who handles village board correspondence, and deposited in the Village Commons drop box.
The letter, which was obtained by the Landmark through a Freedom of Information request, references the documents submitted with it, including a 2001 order from the Seventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals affirming a 2000 U.S. District Court's decision to sentence David Mandel, who is Marybelle Mandel's husband, to 12 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to a financial institution.
In 1998, according to the appellate court decision, a grand jury returned a 10-count indictment against David Mandel and three others in a scheme "to defraud lenders and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development" and through which David Mandel "received real estate commissions and profited from the sales of the properties he personally owned."
The scheme involved "obtain[ing] mortgage financing for unqualified buyers by fabricating gift letters in which the 'donor' claimed to give the buyer an amount needed for the down payment," the appellate court decision stated.
David Mandel pleaded guilty to Count 9 of the indictment. According to the appellate court decision, "Mandel's wife, Marybelle Sanchez, at his direction provided the false gift letter in the transaction underlying Mandel's guilty plea."
The appellate court decision stated, "Mandel had 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."
As a result, the buyers obtained the property knowing they didn't make the down payment, and David Mandel made a commission on the sale.
David Mandel argued in his appeal that his wife, Marybelle, was an "unknowing facilitator" in the scheme.
However, the three-judge panel hearing the appeal upheld the trial court's ruling, saying "we cannot even reach the merits of Mandel's argument that she was merely an 'unknowing facilitator' and not a 'participant.'" Moreover, the appellate court ruled, "a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that Sanchez was a criminally responsible participant" and that "Sanchez too could have been charged with making a false statement to a financial institution."
Marybelle Mandel on Dec. 21 filed nominating petitions to run for mayor of North Riverside as part of a slate of candidates calling themselves the People Before Politics Party.
That same day, Marybelle Mandel's attorney, Lawrence G. Zdarsky, sent a response to the Landmark, which had emailed Mandel about the 2001 appellate court decision in which she was named.
The response came in the form of a press release, calling the letter submitted to the village board of Dec. 14 "blatant political mudslinging" that "should never have been allowed as part of village board proceedings, even if only published in the minutes."
Zdarsky in his response on behalf of Mandel said entering the letter into the record appeared to violate the village's own rules and "will most probably be viewed as the misappropriation of village resources for political purposes by the appropriate prosecutorial authorities."
The response also included a statement attributed to the People Before Politics Party ticket:
"I am not inclined to comment on these anonymous misstatements, falsehoods and gossip. I will stand and run on my record of assisting the residents of North Riverside. There is little doubt that my record of service over these past several years far surpasses VIP's record, which is headlined by decades-long mismanagement of village tax dollars. The current administration is so embarrassed by their record that they are running away from it – choosing instead to start a new United Party. My guess is that VIP, like all the rest of us, would like a change."
The statement referred to the dissolution in December of the VIP Party, which had controlled North Riverside politics for three decades. A slate of former VIP Party members, with Mengoni at the top of the ticket, is running under the banner of the North Riverside United Party.
Also running for mayor as an independent is incumbent Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., also a former member of VIP.
Zdarsky's response also stated that "Marybelle Mandel has never been involved with; never accused of; never charged with; and never convicted of any crime."
"The ink is not yet dry on the nominating papers," Zdarsky's response continued, "and the sleaze of the opposition has already started."