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SILVER SHOVEL CORRUPTION PROBE WIDENS
EVANS CHARGED IN LATEST ROUNDBy Matt O'Connor and Ray Gibson, Tribune Staff Writers Tribune staff writer John O'Brien contributed to this article
Web-posted Wednesday, July 17, 1996; 6:22 a.m. CDT
In the latest salvo from Operation Silver Shovel, federal prosecutors Tuesday indicted Ald. Jesse Evans (21st), painting a portrait of a City Council member who took money to dispense favors but rarely delivered.
The 16-count indictment accused the veteran South Side alderman of taking $7,300 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent and extorting $10,000 in unreported campaign contributions from a construction company.
Evans, an alderman since 1987, was also charged with extorting $2,200 from a liquor license applicant and misusing more than $9,000 in City Council expense funds.
Through his attorney, Evans denied any wrongdoing and vowed to fight the charges.
Prosecutors also indicted two former city inspectors on extortion and tax charges for allegedly taking bribes to overlook improper dumping by John Christopher, the government mole in Silver Shovel who was an excavation and paving contractor.
As in previous Silver Shovel documents, which have provided vivid details of how bribes were passed to grease deals, the charges against Evans introduced a new set of unnamed people who allegedly helped to arrange the questionable deals.
One of them, according to Evans' indictment, involved the owner of a road construction company who wanted a permit to operate a concrete recycling plant in Evans' ward.
In 1995, when the construction company owner ran into problems, an individual identified only as "Person E" offered to help, according to the indictment. That person later "induced and persuaded" the road construction company owner to give a $10,000 campaign contribution to Evans in return for his support, prosecutors said.
Sources identified Person E as former 10th Ward Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, an attorney and radio talk show host.
Person E allegedly told the construction company owner that he had met with Evans on the matter and that the permit would "get done" if the businessman made the campaign contribution, according to the indictment.
Vrdolyak, questioned as he left WJJD-AM studios after finishing his talk show Tuesday evening, denied advising the construction company owner to make a $10,000 contribution to Evans' campaign.
Questioned further, he declined to comment, saying attorney-client privilege might be involved.
Vrdolyak, who retired from the Chicago City Council in 1987, has not been charged or accused of any wrongdoing in connection with Silver Shovel.
According to the charges against Evans, the construction company owner, referred to as "Person C," wrote two $2,500 checks to Evans' 21st Ward Democratic Organization.
The man also gave $5,000 to a company controlled by the daughter of "Person D," the indictment alleged. And that same day, according to the charges, the company donated $5,000 to Evans' 21st Ward Democratic Organization.
Sources Tuesday identified "Person D" as Victor Hydel, a business partner of Vrdolyak's.
Hydel could not be reached for comment and, like Vrdolyak, has not been charged or accused of wrongdoing in connection with Silver Shovel. Vrdolyak and Hydel, a partner in Paolo Construction Co. in Melrose Park, have had a business relationship going back to the early 1990s.
Once Evans, 60, received the $10,000 in payments from the businessman seeking the rock-crushing permit, he tried to conceal the payments, the government alleged in its charges. Evans allegedly deposited the checks in a different bank account than normally used by his political organization and did not declare the money on campaign-disclosure forms.
The rock-crushing permit was never granted.
Evans' attorney, Chester Slaughter, called the allegations of extortion over the rock-crushing permit "absolute nonsense."
"Jesse opposed those applications," Slaughter said. "Jesse never put the strong-arm on anybody. He's going to be vindicated."
Evans was charged with seven counts of extortion, three counts of mail fraud, two counts of filing false federal income-tax returns and single counts of racketeering, conspiracy to commit extortion, bribery and obstruction of justice.
He is the third alderman to be charged in Silver Shovel but the first to challenge the charges. Former Aldermen Ambrosio Medrano (25th) and Allan Streeter (17th) both pleaded guilty and resigned from office. Medrano was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison earlier this month.
In Streeter's plea agreement, Streeter had told Christopher that he and an undisclosed alderman identified by the initial "B" worked "as a team." Ald. B is believed to be Evans, sources said.
Announcing the charges, U.S. Atty. Jim Burns said Evans' indictment shows "a pervasive pattern of fraud, deceit and corruption in which official duties could be purchased, if the price was right, and city coffers were treated as his own personal piggy bank."
According to the indictment, Evans took four cash payoffs totaling $7,300 from an undercover FBI agent who posed as Christopher's business associate and went by the name of Mark Dahlonega.
Evans allegedly took the money in the spring and fall of 1994 in return for arranging for city street sweepers to regularly clean a construction site operated in the 21st Ward by Christopher.
Evans was also accused of extorting from an undisclosed grocer who wanted a city liquor license.
In the fall of 1992, when the grocer was first soliciting Evans' help, he agreed to have a construction worker install a tile floor in the basement of Evans' home, the indictment charged. The work was worth about $1,200 but Evans didn't have to pay, prosecutors charged.
Two years later, when the grocer applied for the liquor license, Evans "put the arm" on him to buy $1,000 in tickets for his political fundraiser, Burns told reporters. Evans was accused of never reporting the $1,000 on campaign contribution forms.
After learning that some residents were voicing opposition to the liquor license, Evans advised another individual connected with the grocery store to have customers sign petitions supporting the application, the government said. He even supplied blank petitions.
But despite Evans' support, the Mayor's License Commission denied the liquor license. The grocer appealed and sought further assistance from Evans. In a meeting outside the State of Illinois Building, Evans demanded $10,000 in cash for his continued support, Burns said. When the grocer complained, Evans lowered his price to $5,000, according to the charges.
The grocer never paid the money, and Evans testified in opposition to the appeal, which was rejected.
Evans was also accused of misusing his aldermanic expense allowance to pay for repairs on and insurance for his wife's two cars since 1991.
In a separate indictment, David Tellez and Bryan Olivier, former senior environmental inspectors for the city who resigned under pressure in January, were charged with taking bribes to ignore possible illegal dumping by Christopher.
The indictment alleged that between June and December 1994 Tellez accepted one bribe payment of $2,000 and Olivier accepted eight payoffs totaling $3,370. Tellez's lawyer, Michael Monico, said Tellez will plead guilty to the charges.
Also charged Tuesday was James Blassingame, a longtime political operative of Joseph Gardner, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner who died earlier this year. Blassingame was charged with failing to file income-tax returns for three recent years.
In previously filed government documents, Blassingame has been implicated--but not charged--in alleged bribe-taking by high-level Metropolitan Water Reclamation District officials.
Blassingame's lawyer, Rick Halprin, said Tuesday's charges were an attempt by the government to pressure Blassingame into cooperating with authorities.
"I anticipate he'll be indicted on other matters," Halprin said.