The elected leader of the Bloomingdale, Ill., township highway commission has been charged in federal court in Chicago with taking more than $280,000 in kickbacks from an excavation company owner in exchange for approving contracts for road work that, most of the time, was never done.
Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek (R) was reelected twice to the position in Bloomingdale in Chicago's western suburbs after being appointed an acting commissioner in 2012. Federal prosecutors charged him in a 20-count indictment with taking kickbacks from Debra Fazio, owner of Bloomingdale-based Bulldog Earth Movers Inc., over eight years, said the indictment, made public Aug. 27.
Prosecutors charged Czernek, 69, Fazio, 63; and Mario Giannini, 58, another Bulldog Excavating employee, with 14 counts of wire fraud. Fazio also faces six counts of money laundering, the indictment says, for trying to conceal the kickbacks. Czernek's attorney, Michael Monico, said he expects the case to be resolved short of trial and would not say whether his client was cooperating with the government. Attorneys for Fazio and Gianini were not reached for comment and it was not known if they were planning to enter a plea.
The indictment alleges Czernek used his position to approve more than $700,000 in payments for stone delivery, dump leveling, and storm sewer invoices submitted by contractor Bulldog Earth Movers to Bloomingdale Township, even though most of that work was never performed and Czernek was aware that it wasn't.
Czernek concealed the kickback scheme, according to the indictment, by leaving handwritten notes for Giannini hidden on Bloomingdale Township Highway Dept. property. The hidden notes were allegedly left in hallways in the township highway department building and on the ground in a construction yard.
The handwritten notes included a description of the work and number of hours supposedly spent by Bulldog on its projects. Fazio later submitted invoices to the township that exactly repeated Czernek’s notes word for word, according to the charging document.
For contracts of less than $20,000 Czernek's was the sole approval necessary for the township to pay invoices.
Larger contracts would have had to also be okayed by the Township Supervisor, but all of the Bulldog invoices were approved on Czernek's authority alone.
Some of the notes included details on how much Czernek wanted to be paid in kickbacks, according to the document. Storm sewer and dump leveling work on some of the invoices was found to have never been completed by Bulldog. The indictment claims Fazio and Giannini paid the kickbacks by writing checks to a defunct former business of Czernek’s known as Tri-State Express.
The indictment was announced by John Lausch, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Emmerson Buie, Jr., special agent-in-charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI. The FBI, in January, sought various records from the Bloomingdale Township Highway Dept., including its surveillance systems, Czernek’s desk calendar and “any handwritten notes describing construction, excavation and/or road work purportedly performed.”