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Anita Alvarez
Cook County State's Attorney
Communications Department
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 603-3423
saomedia@cookcountygov.com


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

September 15, 2010

State's Attorney and Inspectors General Announce
Second Wave of Corruption Charges in "Operation Cookie Jar"

In cooperation with Inspectors General at the local, state and federal levels, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has charged six individuals in financial crimes investigations as part of an ongoing crackdown on government and public corruption, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced today.

The six defendants face varying charges of bribery, theft and official misconduct in cases involving current and former employees of the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office; an employee of a contractor doing business with the City of Chicago; a former Cook County employee, and a labor union employee.

The charges come in the State’s Attorney’s second round of “Operation Cookie Jar,” an ongoing investigative operation targeting public or government employees accused of theft or other financial crimes at the local level. Alvarez was joined in making the announcement by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Secretary of State Inspector General James Burns, City of Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard and James Vanderberg, Special Agent-In-Charge of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.

“One of the most important pieces of the puzzle in successfully tackling corruption is enhancing our relationships with our governmental partners and today’s charges should send a strong message that we have unprecedented cooperation between our agencies,” said Alvarez.“There is simply no tolerance for the theft of public money and these crimes will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Among those arrested and charged are (see attached for detailed charging documents):                 

  • Michael Wesby, 47, of Chicago, a security guard for the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office and Kashema Burns, 23, of Bellwood, who worked as an auditor for the Secretary of State.  Wesby and Burns, who both worked at a Secretary of State’s driver’s license facility on Chicago’s West Side, are each charged with Bribery and Official Misconduct.  Also charged in the scheme is Fred Spandiary, 46, of Schaumburg, a former car dealer, who is charged with Bribery. 
  • Fannie Weinshenker, 57, of Chicago Ridge, who worked for a private supply company hired by the City of Chicago. Weinshenker is charged with Theft of Government Property and Theft.
  • Bonnie Heraty, 52, of Franklin Park, who worked for the Cook County Department of Risk Management. Heraty is charged with Theft of Government Property and Official Misconduct.
  • Jaclyn Clair, 26, of Prospect Heights, who worked as a member of the office staff of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 726. Clair is charged with Theft and Forgery.

Secretary of State Jesse White said his office continues to be vigilant in working to investigate and pursue the prosecution of corruption.

“The conduct in these allegations is unacceptable and people are going to pay a price if they choose to engage in this type of behavior,” said White. “These arrests should send a message to our employees and the public that the secretary of state’s office will not tolerate unethical behavior.  I want to commend our inspector general’s office and the Secretary of State police for uncovering and investigating this matter and to State’s Attorney Alvarez for her leadership in these efforts.”

City of Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson stated, “The indictment brought by the State’s Attorney coupled with the prompt debarment action by the City’s Chief Procurement Officer makes clear that abuses of government contracts will be treated as abuses of the public trust and met with the fullest array of legal actions and sanctions available.”

Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard added, “It is an unfortunate reality that, at times, those who are charged with the public trust violate it. This office is committed to identifying all forms of corruption within Cook County government and to bringing it to the forefront for prosecution.”       

Last May the State’s Attorney’s Office launched the first round of “Operation Cookie Jar,” charging four local government employees in separate financial crimes investigations.  Since that time, two of the defendants have pled guilty to Class X felony counts of theft and both are currently serving six-year prison terms. 

Martin Boyd, the former accountant for Harwood Heights, pled guilty last June to one count of felony theft for stealing nearly $135,000 from Harwood Heights when he was employed as an accountant for the northwest suburban village.

Last month, Donald Jacobs, the former treasurer of the Posen Park District, pled guilty to theft for stealing more than $266,000 in his official capacity at the park district.

Alvarez said the guilty pleas and the accompanying stiff prison sentences signal change and should serve as a reminder to those who would steal public money that they will be held accountable.

“If anyone was under the impression that local corruption cases would not be treated seriously in the Cook County legal system, these cases prove that theory wrong and send a strong signal that a new day has arrived when it comes to the prosecution of cases of local corruption.”

The public is reminded that criminal charging documents contain allegations that are not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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