By Bob Uphues
Jeffrey Tobolski, the former Cook County commissioner and mayor of McCook, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Chicago on Sept. 1 to charges of extortion and filing a false tax return. Tobolski entered his plea via video to Judge Harry D. Leinenweber.
According to Tobolski's plea agreement, the former mayor and county commissioner accepted bribe and extortion payments totaling more than $250,000 from more than five people, including a local restaurateur who was granted permission to use what the plea agreement describes as "McCook-owned property" to host events where alcohol was served.
The McCook-owned property appears to be a reference to The MAX, a 150,000-square-foot athletic and special events facility on 47th Street owned by the village of McCook.
In 2013, according to the plea agreement, Tobolski signed a five-year deal allowing the businessman, identified as Individual A, to operate an establishment at the village-owned property. Tobolski, who was also McCook's liquor commissioner, signed off on a liquor license for the business.
Three years later, the business owner requested permission to host events involving the sale of alcohol at his establishment. At that time, according to the plea agreement, Tobolski conspired with a McCook police officer to shake down the business owner for cash payments in exchange for that permission.
In all, Individual A shelled out nearly $30,000 in bribes/extortion payments, according to the plea deal. In addition, the plea agreement notes a second extortion victim, referred to as Individual B, who paid $47,000 to Tobolski.
Tobolski also pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return for the year 2018, stating his income was $214,270. According to the plea agreement, Tobolski's actual income that year was at least $279,668, more than $10,000 of which came from bribes.
The plea deal also states Tobolski filed false tax returns for seven consecutive years, beginning with tax year 2012.
Tobolski, who represented North Riverside and Brookfield when he served on the Cook County Board, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for pleading guilty to the extortion charge.
Pleading guilty to the charge of filing a false tax return carries a possible prison sentence of up to three years. Tobolski faces fines of up to $500,000.
Sentencing guidelines referred to in the plea agreement state Tobolski could face a prison term of between 11.25 and 14 years.
However, according to the plea deal, Tobolski has agreed to fully cooperate with prosecutors in their ongoing, wide-ranging probe of political corruption in Chicago and its suburbs.
As a result, his sentence could be reduced by the judge. Sentencing guidelines are not binding. Sentencing will be delayed until Tobolski's cooperation with federal prosecutors either ends or is no longer necessary. He remains free after posting a $10,000 bond Sept. 1.
Tobolski's village offices and home were raided by federal agents in September 2019, part of a series of coordinated raids. That same day, federal agents raided the home as well as village and business offices of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Just days earlier last September, federal agents raided the offices of former state Sen. Martin Sandoval. In January, Sandoval pleaded guilty to taking $70,000 in bribes in exchange for serving as the red-light camera industry's "protector" in the state Senate and taking more than $250,000 in bribes in total.
One of Tobolski's political allies, his former county chief of staff Patrick Doherty, was indicted in February for his alleged role in a bribery scheme to influence an Oak Lawn trustee to support extending a contract with the red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC.
A former SafeSpeed LLC executive, Omar Maani, faces charges – filed Aug. 31 in a federal criminal information document – of conspiring with Doherty to pay money in 2017 to an Oak Lawn trustee's relative to influence the trustee's vote on extending SafeSpeed's contract in that town.
Doherty worked as a "consultant" for the red-light camera company, getting a small cut of ticket revenue the company collected.
Maani was set to be arraigned on Sept. 4. At that hearing, held via teleconference, Maani admitted to conspiring to bribe the Oak Lawn official, but the government agreed to defer prosecution for two years in exchange for Maani's "good conduct." Maani remains free after posting a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.
Tobolski announced he was resigning as McCook mayor and as county commissioner on March 6, the same day a second political ally, William Helm, was indicted.
Prosecutors charged Helm with charged Helm with giving more than $5,000 in bribes to Sandoval to influence approval of a road construction project in East Dundee.