Cook County State’s Attorney Charges Seven Defendants In Ongoing Probe Of Local Public Corruption

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–January 24, 2011. Two Chicago Public School teachers, a parts manager for the Cook County Highway Department and  two seasonal snowplow drivers with the Illinois Department of Transportation have been arrested and charged in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s ongoing crack down on cases of local public corruption, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced today.

A total of seven defendants are facing varying charges including theft of government property and official misconduct as a result of the investigations.  The charges announced today involve the theft of funds from a Chicago high school book buyback program and a PTA fund as well as the theft of automotive parts from the Cook County Highway Department and the theft of street salt by IDOT employees. 

The charges are part of “Operation Cookie Jar,” the State’s Attorney’s ongoing investigative operation targeting public or government employees accused of corruption at the local level.  Since Anita Alvarez took office in December of 2008, her Special Prosecutions Bureau has prosecuted more than 50 defendants for public corruption offenses, including ‘Cookie Jar’ which has focused on public employees, union officials, and government contractors.  To date, three of the ‘Cookie jar’ defendants have pled guilty, two of them receiving six-year prison sentences.

“These cases demonstrate how corruption erodes the quality of government services and how the effect of this crime has a direct impact on the pocketbooks of taxpayers,” Alvarez said.  “Public employees who choose to line their pockets with public money will be held accountable.”

Among those arrested and charged are:

— Mark Gruntzel, 43, of Chicago, is charged with Theft of Government Property, Official Misconduct and Money Laundering.  Gruntzel, a former teacher at Disney Magnate Elementary School, also served as the school’s PTA president and was responsible for collecting payments from parents who enrolled their children in Disney’s after school program.  According to prosecutors, Gruntzel manipulated the enrollment records of students, cashed the checks in the
PTA account and then took the money from the PTA account for his personal use.  In one incident, prosecutors allege that Gruntzel solicited a parent to write a $4,000 check under the guise it was to assist a needy student.  In actuality, Gruntzel had stolen the checks this parent had made for her children the entire year and he withheld it from the school and attempted to use the $4,000 check to cover the discrepancies.

— Edmund Jones, 29, of Aurora, is charged with Theft of Government Property and Official Misconduct. Jones is a former teacher and history department chairman at Chicago’s Marshall High School. According to prosecutors, Jones stole more than $9,000 that had been issued to Marshall High School from a textbook supplier as reimbursement funding for the school’s book buyback program.

— Jerome Latos, 54, of Tinley Park, and John Syarto, 33, of Oak Forest.  Latos and Syarto, former seasonal snow plow and salt truck drivers for the Illinois Department of Transportation, are charged with Theft of Government Property and Official Misconduct.  According to prosecutors, the defendants illegally delivered and dumped six tons of street salt on the property of a private business owner, who is also charged in the scheme.  Robert Jennings, 33, of Burbank is charged with Theft of Government Property for knowingly accepting the delivery of the IDOT road salt at a business that he co-owned in Palos Hills.

— Azalea Plump, 36, of Chicago, is charged with Theft of Government Property.  Plump is a former employee at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she worked in the Department of Women and Family Nursing.  According to prosecutors, Plump worked in an administrative capacity which included preparing payroll.  According to prosecutors, Plump used her position to input fraudulent overtime that she did not work, and steal approximately $72,711.  An arrest warrant has been issued for Plump, who remains at large.

— Jeffrey Flinchum, 25, of Brookfield, is charged with Theft of Government Property and Official Misconduct. Flinchum, a former motor vehicle parts manager for the Cook County Highway Department, is charged with using government funds to purchase parts for his personal vehicle including a battery charger and a sump pump and other miscellaneous vehicle parts.

State’s Attorney Alvarez thanked investigators from the Chicago Public School’s Office of the Inspector General, the Illinois State Police, and the Cook County Inspector General’s Office for their cooperation and work on the cases.

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

Source: statesattorney.org