CHICAGO -- An Illinois state senator has been indicted on federal charges that he took more than $250,000 in salary and benefits over a three-year period from the Teamsters while doing little or no work, prosecutors announced Friday.
In a news release, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago said Thomas E. Cullerton of Villa Park was indicted by a federal grand jury on 39 counts of embezzlement from a labor union, one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plans and one count of making false statements in a health care matter.
According to the release, the 49-year-old Cullerton, a member of the Teamsters before he took office, was hired as a "purported union organizer" for Teamsters Joint Council 25 in March 2013. Prosecutors said that over the next three years he was paid nearly $190,000 in salary, bonuses, vehicle and cellphone allowances and another $64,000 in health and pension contributions despite the fact that he "did little or no work as a union organizer." According to the release, when the Joint Council did ask him to perform his job duties, "Cullerton routinely ignored them."
Cullerton also was reimbursed for almost $22,000 in medical claims from a union local's Health and Welfare Fund after falsely providing information that he was a "route salesman," according to the indictment, a claim that concealed the fact that he wasn't eligible to participate in the fund.
The indictment of Cullerton, a cousin of Senate President John Cullerton, comes just days after former Teamsters Joint Council 25 president John T. Coli Sr. pleaded guilty to shaking down a Chicago film studio and agreed to cooperate with investigators.
And even before Coli's plea agreement was announced it became clear that federal investigators were investigating the ties between the two men when it was reported earlier this year that they had subpoenaed records related to Cullerton in their probe of the powerful former union leader.
But in a written statement, Cullerton's attorney, John Theis said Cullerton is innocent and suggested he's being framed by Coli.
"The action by the U.S. Department of Justice has nothing to do with Mr. Cullerton's work in the Illinois State Senate but is the result of false claims by disgraced Teamsters boss John Coli in an apparent attempt to avoid penalties for his wrongdoing," he said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says an arraignment in federal court has not yet been scheduled.