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People v. Oglesby

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

December 15, 2016

CARLA OGLESBY, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 10 CR 21241, Honorable James B. Linn, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE ELLIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McBride and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Defendant Carla Oglesby was charged with several offenses related to the allegedly improper steering of government contracts between Cook County and various vendors, including two of defendant's own companies, that were formed while defendant was deputy chief of staff for the former president of the Cook County board of commissioners. Following a bench trial, the trial court acquitted her of many charges but found her guilty of two counts of theft, one count of money laundering, and one count of unlawful stringing of bids.

         ¶ 2 Defendant appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence as to each count and the sentence imposed, and further argues that one of her convictions for theft must be vacated under the one-act, one-crime doctrine.

         ¶ 3 We affirm defendant's convictions for theft. The State presented sufficient evidence that defendant intended to permanently deprive the county of the use and benefit of its funds, that she obtained or exerted unauthorized control over the funds, and that she engaged in deception. We agree with both parties, however, that because both theft convictions were carved from the same act, one of the two convictions must be vacated under the one-act, one-crime doctrine. We remand to the trial court to determine which of the counts was less serious and should be vacated.

         ¶ 4 We affirm defendant's conviction for money laundering. The State sufficiently proved that defendant received a kickback from a vendor that was disguised as a legitimate transaction between two companies.

         ¶ 5 Finally, we affirm defendant's conviction for bid stringing. The State presented ample evidence that defendant improperly designated several vendor contracts in such a way to avoid a competitive-bidding process, so that the preferred vendor would receive the contracts without any competition.

         ¶ 6 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 7 Because defendant challenges the sufficiency of evidence as to each of her four convictions, it is necessary to examine the facts in great detail.

         ¶ 8 Cook County's main governing body is a board of commissioners. See generally 55 ILCS 5/div. 2-6 (West 2010) (laying out structure, powers, and duties of Cook County board of commissioners). The voters of Cook County select a president of the board from among the candidates for commissioner. 55 ILCS 5/2-6002 (West 2010).

         ¶ 9 At all times relevant to this case, Todd Stroger was president of the Cook County board of commissioners. Stroger hired defendant as his deputy chief of staff on February 16, 2010. Defendant was arrested in connection with this case on October 4, 2010.

         ¶ 10 The State's charges in this case related to several public contracts between various vendors that were ostensibly hired to perform public relations work for various departments in Cook County. The State charged defendant with organizing (counts I and II) and continuing (counts V and VI) a financial crimes enterprise, theft (count III), theft by deception (count IV), money laundering (count VII), official misconduct (counts VIII through XIV), and unlawful stringing of bids (count XV). After a bench trial, defendant was found guilty of theft, theft by deception, money laundering, and unlawful stringing of bids and acquitted of the other charges.

         ¶ 11 A. The Contracting Process, Generally

         ¶ 12 Generally, when Cook County contracted with outside vendors for services, those contracts were offered up for competitive bidding among various vendors. However, a department seeking the services of a particular vendor could seek a "sole-source contract, " which was a contract to be performed by a specific vendor without competitive bidding. See Cook County Code of Ordinances § 34-139 (amended Mar. 12, 2014) ("Procurements of supplies, equipment, goods or services may be made without use of one of the competitive processes if there is either only one source or there is a need for the unique or specialized skill, experience, or ability possessed by a particular source.").

         ¶ 13 In order to obtain a sole-source contract, the head of the department seeking to use a particular vendor would complete a "justification letter"-a letter explaining why the department needed to use that particular vendor, instead of selecting a bidder through a competitive bidding process. See id. ("The Using Agency must submit a letter to the CPO justifying the sole source Procurement, and provide any other documents or information required by the CPO."). The letters were sent to the office of the purchasing agent.

         ¶ 14 In addition, contracts were usually submitted to the Cook County board of commissioners for approval. But during defendant's tenure, contracts valued at less than $25, 000 did not need to be submitted to the board for approval.

         ¶ 15 Three other entities also had to sign off on a single source contract in order for it to be completed: the office of the purchasing agent, the comptroller, and the chief financial officer (CFO) of the county.

         ¶ 16 B. Contracts at Issue

         ¶ 17 The contracts at issue in this case were all formed between late February 2010 and mid-April 2010. They were ostensibly made to serve three projects: (1) a federal grant to assist individuals affected by a 2008 flood in suburban Cook County, administered through Cook County's department of homeland security; (2) a federal Department of Energy grant administered through Cook County's department of environmental control; and (3) a project to inform the public about the 2010 census to increase turnout.

         ¶ 18 1. Flood Grant Contracts

         ¶ 19 On February 24, 2010, eight days after defendant had been hired as deputy chief of staff, two justification letters were drafted for single source contracts relating to the flood grant. The letters were signed by David Ramos, the executive director of the Cook County department of homeland security, relating to two vendors who would work for the county on the flood grants: CGC Communications, LLC (CGC) and Gary Render. Although Ramos ran the department of homeland security, the justification letters were drafted on letterhead from the office of the president, i.e., Stroger's letterhead.

         ¶ 20 Both justification letters said that CGC and Render would "work in conjunction with the Office of the President, the Board of Commissioners, and the Department of Public Affairs and Communications in the strategic implementation of media tactics designed to inform residents of suburban Cook County of" the flood grant. Both letters said that Ramos had selected these particular vendors because of "the vast experiences [they] possess[ ] in areas related, but not limited to, strategic planning and [their] diverse background[s] in general consumer and multicultural media."

         ¶ 21 On February 26, 2010, the county issued checks to CGC and Render for $24, 975 and $24, 980, respectively. Bank records showed that CGC deposited the check in its account on March 1, 2010. Defendant had set up CGC's bank account, and it was undisputed that she controlled that account.

         ¶ 22 Ramos testified that Stroger appointed him to be the executive director of the department of homeland security in September 2009. Soon after his appointment, he learned that the county was "under the gun to disperse the [flood] grant funds." According to Ramos, if the county did not use the grant funds within a certain amount of time, the money would be returned to the federal government.

         ¶ 23 Ramos testified that it was part of his job to inform the public about the availability of the grant funds. Ramos spoke to Eugene Mullins, the head of Cook County's department of public affairs and communications (DPAC), about a public relations campaign.

         ¶ 24 Ramos testified that Mullins brought him the completed justification letters for CGC and Render. Ramos signed them, and he acknowledged that he did not review them "with a fine tooth [sic] comb." Ramos added, "I entrusted [Mullins] as DPAC Director that he was going to assist my department in getting the word out to the residents of Cook County." He also thought that DPAC would work with the vendors in performing the outreach.

         ¶ 25 Ramos said that he did not know anything about CGC or Render at the time he signed the letters. He did not know that defendant owned CGC. Ramos never spoke to defendant about these justification letters.

         ¶ 26 Prior to being hired as deputy chief of staff, defendant owned and operated CGC. Defendant listed CGC on a dual employment form she gave to the county at the beginning of her tenure. When defendant took on the job at Cook County, she asked Tesa Anewishki, who had been working for CGC as an independent consultant, to take over the responsibility of running CGC's day-to-day operations. Defendant remained in control of CGC's bank accounts, however, and was still its owner.

         ¶ 27 Anewishki testified that she was not employed by CGC; she worked as an independent consultant for the company from late 2008 until 2010.

         ¶ 28 Anewishki met Mullins in summer or early fall 2009. CGC was working on Stroger's reelection campaign at that time. Mullins said that he liked the way CGC worked, so he told Anewishki that he wanted CGC to work on community outreach projects for "all of these grant opportunities that people [in Cook County were] not applying for."

         ¶ 29 In December 2009, CGC was working for DPAC and Mullins on an outreach program informing residents of the county funds available for foreclosure relief. Anewishki testified that CGC provided DPAC with "strategic plans" for the foreclosure project. Anewishki explained what a media strategy was:

"It's when you develop a plan based off of who your target audience is and you craft a plan to reach that audience. So you look at a media's [sic] demographic profile, psychographic profile if they are readers, as well as the service areas that the newspaper reaches."

Anewishki said that the point of this type of planning was to ensure that the target audience received the message, so that Cook County would "get the most bang for [its] buck in terms of media."

         ¶ 30 From February 2010, when defendant started working at Cook County, until summer 2010, Anewishki was in charge of CGC. But she still did not work there full-time; she kept her own clients. Defendant still owned the company, but Anewishki was in charge of billing, banking, and payroll.

         ¶ 31 Anewishki testified that, in early 2010, Mullins said that CGC would start work on an outreach program for the flood grant. Anewishki testified as to the work she did on the flood grant project:

"Well, I continued doing research. So I did the research on the flood areas that were the high risk and the mid risk impact areas regarding the floods, looking at the- continuously doing the communications audit, giving him recommendations, coming up with key messaging, giving him media targets to go after in terms of promoting the programs, you know, fliers. It was really about grasp reach based off of the demographic [sic] and population. You can't do things globally. You have to do things very grass root [sic] oriented. So giving [Mullins] the recommendations of how to reach those audiences."

         ¶ 32 She also said that she performed a "communications audit" for the county, which consisted of her reviewing the type of outreach that the county had done in the past and determining how the county could improve on their public relations techniques. For example, Anewishki testified, she recommended that DPAC stop putting Stroger's face on fliers it distributed because he was very unpopular at the time.

         ¶ 33 Anewishki acknowledged that CGC was paid $24, 975 for its work. She explained what that fee was for: "Strategic planning, public relations, media planning to buy, creative, because when you do a media buy, even though you pay for the cost of the ad, the agency also gets a commission, the reporting, personnel, postage, telephone, mileage, supplies." When asked how the figure of $24, 975 was reached, Anewishki said that Mullins told her that the budget had to be under $25, 000. She testified that, if she had performed the work she did for the county in the private sector, she would have likely charged somewhere around $50, 000. Anewishki acknowledged that her work for the county consisted mostly of internet research.

         ¶ 34 Christine Geovanis, a communications associate in DPAC, testified that, in April 2010, she was assigned to promote workshops and public gatherings that would spread awareness of the federal flood grants. She said that the flood grant promotion "was made an extreme priority in the department." She wrote several press releases as part of that assignment.

         ¶ 35 Geovanis said that, ordinarily, DPAC used county employees to distribute fliers, not outside contractors. She could only remember one instance in which an outside vendor had been used to do promotion for DPAC.

         ¶ 36 Geovanis testified that she never worked with CGC from December 2009 through March 2010, even though a CGC invoice for that period said that it worked with DPAC "to strategize and craft promotion." In fact, she did not work with anyone outside of DPAC in the spring of 2010.

         ¶ 37 Geovanis testified that she learned that CGC had taken credit for her work-her press releases and research-in April 2010. On cross-examination, she acknowledged that she received this information from the county's inspector general (IG) and not from her personal knowledge.

         ¶ 38 The parties stipulated to Render's testimony. Render knew Mullins through professional contacts. In January 2010, Mullins approached Render and told him that the county had opportunities for people with backgrounds in communications, including an opportunity to provide "marketing outreach services to inform suburban residents of a federal flood relief grant." At the time that Mullins told Render about this opportunity, Render was unemployed.

         ¶ 39 Render prepared a proposal that he submitted to Mullins. The initial proposal listed the budget at $27, 000, but Mullins lowered that number to $24, 980. Mullins also made other changes to the draft. Render wound up submitting several drafts of the proposal to Mullins before he accepted it.

         ¶ 40 Render received a check from the county on February 25, 2010 for $24, 980. At that time, he had performed no work on the contract. Render testified that he intended to perform the work pursuant to the contract but did not have the opportunity to do so.

         ¶ 41 On March 1, 2010, Render withdrew $11, 360 in cash. He gave Mullins $9000 outside his apartment. Render said that Mullins had asked for the cash in order to pay other vendors. Render said that he never met defendant or President Stroger.

         ¶ 42 Render had agreed to testify after entering into a deferred prosecution agreement with the federal government.

         ¶ 43 2. Department of Energy Grant Contracts

         ¶ 44 The next group of contracts dealt with a federal Department of Energy grant.

         ¶ 45 On February 24, 2010, the same day that Ramos signed the justification letters for CGC and Render, a justification letter was also drafted for Arrei Management (Arrei). The letter said that Arrei would work with DPAC "to build awareness of the composting and electronic collection programs to help resident [sic], business [sic], and other local governments become more energy efficient and conscious of conservation initiatives" and with the department of environmental control to "effectively communicate the *** Composting and Electronic Collection grant program to the 2.5 million resident's [sic] of Cook County." The letter said that the department of environmental control had selected Arrei because of its "vast experience *** in areas related, but not limited to, strategic planning and its diverse background in general consumer and multicultural media." The letter was signed by Kevin Givens, the director of the department of environmental control.

         ¶ 46 On March 18, 2010, Givens signed a justification letter for Michael L. Peery. This letter said that Peery would provide the same services as Arrei, using exactly the same language as the Arrei justification letter. The letter said that Peery was selected as a sole-source vendor because of his "vast experience in areas related, but not limited to, strategic planning and his position as a radio and television producer."

         ¶ 47 On March 26, 2010, the county wrote checks to Arrei and Peery for $24, 995 and $24, 980, respectively. Defendant had established a bank account for Arrei in 2006. As of December 31, 2009, Arrei had $16.76 in its account. From that date until March 29, 2010, there were only two transactions relating to that account: a withdrawal of $10 and a service fee of $6.76. The Cook County check was deposited in Arrei's account on March 29, 2010.

         ¶ 48 On March 31, 2010, two transfers of $7000 and $4500 were made from Arrei's account to CGC's accounts. On April 2 and April 9, 2010, three additional transfers resulted in $1500 being transferred from Arrei to CGC. After a subsequent transfer of $10, 000 to a checking account held by an individual named Shawn Thompson, Arrei's bank account had a balance of $173.

         ¶ 49 Givens testified that he was the director of the department of environmental control at the time the Arrei and Peery contracts were formed. Givens said that, in 2009, the department was selected to receive a $12, 695, 000 federal block grant "for energy"; in 2010, Givens was selected to manage the overall program. The grant money could only be used for specified purposes. Givens said that the grant could not be used for public relations or outreach.

         ¶ 50 In March 2010, Givens had a meeting with defendant and Mullins, where defendant asked Givens how the grant money could be used. Givens testified that defendant and Mullins brought up the idea of using the grant money for an outreach program, and Givens told them the grant money could not be used for that purpose. At trial, Givens testified that he double-checked that the grant money could not be used for public relations by calling the Department of Energy; he previously told investigators that he had not called the Department of Energy to double-check.

         ¶ 51 Givens said that, after his initial meeting with defendant and Mullins, Mullins had presented him with the justification letters for Arrei and Peery. Givens acknowledged signing both letters but expressed reservations about doing so. He said that he had drafted justification letters in the past and that the justification letters for Arrei and Peery were "not sufficient in terms of what [he] consider[ed] a justification letter to be" because they lacked sufficient detail about what Arrei and Peery would do. And the proposals that Arrei and Peery had submitted lacked the "very detailed information" that such proposals usually had about the cost of a contract. Givens said that both the Arrei and Peery proposals were simply "PowerPoint presentation[s]."

         ¶ 52 Givens asked Mullins why both Arrei and Peery would be needed to perform the same work for the department, and according to Givens, Mullins replied "that these contracts and this activity would help support the legacy of the department in terms of the work that the department had begun." Givens expressed his reservations about the letters to Mullins, and they had "a pretty heated back and forth." Givens testified that "most of the pressure [to sign the letters] came from Mr. Mullins."

         ¶ 53 Eventually, Givens signed the letters because of the "political pressure" he felt. He said that he felt nervous about losing his job if he did not sign the letters because he thought that the justification letters had Stroger's support and approval. He also thought that the public relations activities would be funded by the budget of the office of the president, not by the federal energy grant.

         ¶ 54 Anewishki testified that defendant, along with owning CGC, also owned Arrei "at one point." When defendant went to work for Cook County, Mark Carter became the owner. Arrei's bank records indicated that defendant remained listed on the company's bank accounts.

         ¶ 55 Anewishki testified that she developed Arrei's proposal for an outreach campaign, which was a PowerPoint presentation with less than 10 slides. Anewishki acknowledged that the proposal prepared for Arrei was essentially the same as the proposal prepared for CGC. When asked if Arrei did any work pursuant to the contract, Anewishki said, "I do not know. My purpose was only to do the initial research as well as the proposal."

         ¶ 56 The parties stipulated to Peery's testimony. Peery met Mullins in 2009 and the two became friends. In January or February of 2010, Peery asked Mullins if Cook County had any "media projects" that he could work on. Mullins told Peery that there "were contracts coming up for a bid related to media outreach for an energy grant and that Peery should submit a proposal."

         ¶ 57 Peery drafted his proposal "based upon a template provided by Mullins." The amount listed in the proposal, $24, 985, was an amount that Mullins suggested. Mullins told Peery that there "would be less red tape if the contract was for less than $25, 000."

         ¶ 58 Peery said that, using the $24, 985 he received from the county, he intended to purchase radio air time, newspaper advertisements, and use social media. But he did not complete an invoice bearing his name that was submitted to the county; the first time he saw it was when investigators showed it to him. Peery testified that the only work he did was attending two or three meetings at the Cook County building.

         ¶ 59 Peery testified that, on March 26, 2010, Mullins hand-delivered him a check for the full amount of the contract. When Mullins gave Peery the check, he told Peery that another, unnamed company would be hiring people to pass out fliers for the project and asked Peery for cash to pay this other company. Peery agreed to give Mullins the cash "because he was afraid to risk his relationship with Cook County in future contracts." Peery gave Mullins two $6000 cash payments on two separate occasions: once in the parking lot of an office supply store and again at a coffee shop a week later. Mullins told Peery not to tell anyone about the cash.

         ¶ 60 Peery had no interactions with defendant and did not know her. He agreed to testify pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement with the federal government.

         ¶ 61 The final contracts relating to the federal Department of Energy grant were made with two companies called Alliance Media and Marketing (Alliance) and Urban Rapport, Inc. (Urban Rapport). Defendant signed the justification letters for both companies, which were dated April 1, 2010.

         ¶ 62 The justifications letters said that Alliance would work with DPAC "to build awareness of the [department of environmental control's] energy and conservation programs throughout the northern and western suburbs of Cook County" in order to "help Cook County residents, business [sic], and other local governments become more energy efficient, and cognizant of conservation initiatives." Urban Rapport would work with DPAC "to build awareness of the [department of environmental control's] energy and conservation programs throughout suburban Cook County."

         ¶ 63 According to the letters, Alliance would target " 'hard to reach' and lower income residents" and "develop and disseminate promotional and informational materials throughout key locations in Cook County." Urban Rapport would create a marketing plan to "effectively communicat[e] the Department of Environmental Control's Composting and Electronic Collection grant program to the 2.5 million resident's [sic] of Cook County" and "develop and disseminate promotional and informational materials throughout key locations in Cook County."

         ¶ 64 The letters indicated that Alliance was selected "based upon his [sic] vast experience in areas related, but not limited to communications and marketing." Urban Rapport was selected "based upon its vast experience in areas related, but not limited to, strategic planning and communications marketing."

         ¶ 65 The justification letters requested $24, 950 for the Alliance contract and $24, 975 for Urban Rapport, which would be funded out of the budget for the office of the president. On April 2, 2010, the county wrote checks to Alliance and Urban Rapport for the full amounts of their respective contracts.

         ¶ 66 Defendant signed the Alliance justification letter on behalf of the office of the president. Only individuals with "signature authority" from their department in the county could sign documents on behalf of the departments. On February 25, 2010, Stroger had given defendant authority to sign purchase requisitions on behalf of "all offices under the president." On March 3, 2010, Stroger authorized defendant to sign invoices for the comptroller's office for "all offices under the president."

         ¶ 67 Both Alliance and Urban Rapport were companies related to an individual named Terrell Harris, who was also known as Shorty Capone. We discuss Harris's involvement with the contracts further in a later subsection.

         ¶ 68 3. Census Contracts

         ¶ 69 The final group of contracts concerned a Cook County program designed to improve its residents' responses to the 2010 census. Defendant signed each justification letter for these contracts on behalf of the office of the president.

         ¶ 70 The first two justification letters were dated April 15, 2010 and related to two individuals named Clifford Borner and Kenneth Demos. The letters said that Borner and Demos would "immediately begin" an educational campaign regarding the census "by organizing 'door-to-door' participants throughout south suburban Cook County, and by participating in training and informational session [sic]." They both said that Borner and Demos would use "multi-media education and public service announcements" to "stress the severe loss of federal funds given to other states and municipalities with the loss of programs in Cook County that are of an everyday necessity within the southern suburbs." Both letters said that the president's office had selected Borner and Demos "based upon [their] keen business acumen and *** extensive involvement in community affairs." The letters requested $24, 995 and $24, 997 for Borner and Demos, respectively. The county wrote checks for those amounts to Borner and Demos on April 22, 2010.

         ¶ 71 The parties stipulated to both Borner's and Demos's testimony. Borner testified that he owned a lawn care company that "also distribute[d] fliers and other materials." Mullins contacted Borner in March 2010 and asked him if he was available to distribute census materials for the county. Mullins indicated that Borner would be working with another company but did not specify the name of the other company.

         ¶ 72 Borner said that he did not draft a proposal for his contract with the county; Mullins drafted it while he was on the phone with Borner. Borner's wife signed the proposal for him after Mullins faxed it to them.

         ¶ 73 Borner received a check for $24, 995 from the county on April 22, 2010, even though he had not performed any work pursuant to the contract. Borner deposited the check in his bank account and purchased a cashier's check for $12, 497.50 payable to his wife. His wife deposited that cashier's check and withdrew $5000 in cash that she gave to Borner. Borner then gave Mullins the $5000 in cash, which Mullins said he needed to pay the other company working on the census project.

         ¶ 74 Borner said that, eventually, he did some work pursuant to the contract, "including distributing promotional material on approximately ten occasions with others." He also attended meetings at a county office building. Mullins ran those meetings and handed out prepared fliers. Borner never met defendant or talked to defendant about his proposal.

         ¶ 75 Demos had run a title insurance company from the mid-1980s until 2009, when it closed. He was looking for work in early 2010 and asked Mullins, whom he had known since 1983, for a job with Cook County.

         ¶ 76 Mullins did not offer Demos a job but told him that there was "an opportunity for a Cook County contract performing outreach services to increase the number of people responding to the national census." Mullins told Demos that the contract "had to be priced at less than $25, 000." Demos said he wrote the first two pages of his three-page proposal for the contract but that someone else made changes to his draft, added a section labeled, "Objective, " and added the third page that listed the $24, 997 contract price.

         ¶ 77 Demos testified that he never met defendant and never did any of the things listed in the justification letter signed by defendant. The only work he did pursuant to the contract "was to canvas parts of Cicero on three or four occasions for a total of ten hours." Demos said that, at the time he entered into the contract, he intended to perform his part of the bargain.

         ¶ 78 Around April 22, 2010, Mullins handed Demos a check for $24, 997 at the Hard Rock Café where Demos was employed. Mullins told Demos that a subcontractor would be doing some of the work under the contract, so he asked for half of the check amount in order to pay the subcontractor. Demos refused to give Mullins half of the check because he would have to pay taxes on the full $24, 997; he gave Mullins $8478 in cash instead.

         ¶ 79 Defendant also signed a justification letter on April 15, 2010 for a company called Griffin Media Group (Griffin Media). The letter indicated that the office of the president intended to "set up informational sessions for residents throughout Cook County to discuss why participating in the census is important to help Cook County increase response." It noted that Cook County's response rate was lower than the national and state averages and cited figures showing that federal programs distributed funds to local governments based on census data. The letter listed several demographic groups that, historically, had low response rates for the census and indicated that the campaign would be designed to target those groups with "educational training, informational sessions and 'door-to-door' education outreach."

         ¶ 80 But the justification letter for Griffin Media contained no information about Griffin Media itself and did not explain why Griffin Media needed to be exempt from the bidding process. Griffin Media's proposal was a seven-page PowerPoint presentation that discussed much of the same information as the justification letter.

         ¶ 81 Griffin Media submitted an invoice to Cook County dated April 16, 2010, for the full amount of the contract-$24, 995. Cook County wrote Griffin Media a check on April 22, 2010.

         ¶ 82 Defendant also signed a justification letter for the Illinois Human Development Council (IHDC) on April 16, 2010. This letter largely used the same language as the letters for Borner and Demos. Specifically, the letter requested a $24, 995 contract for IHDC to help with the census project by "by organizing 'door-to-door' participants throughout South Suburban Cook County, and by participating in training and informational session [sic]." The letter said that IHDC would use "multi-media education and public service announcements" to "stress the severe loss of federal funds given to other states and municipalities with the loss of programs in Cook County that are of an everyday necessity within the southern suburbs." And the letter said that IHDC was qualified for the contract due to its "extensive involvement in local community affairs."

         ¶ 83 The parties stipulated to the testimony of Leonard Searcy, who ran IHDC. Searcy said he established IHDC in 2009 as a nonprofit corporation designed to perform social service work such as employment programs and antiviolence campaigns. In 2010, Searcy was focused on soliciting funding for the programs that he wanted IHDC to implement.

         ¶ 84 Searcy wrote a letter to Mullins about IHDC working for Cook County. He met with Mullins shortly thereafter, and Mullins said that he wanted IHDC to do census work. Searcy said that he did not prepare the proposal or any other documents for the county on IHDC's behalf; Mullins presented the documents to Searcy after they had already been prepared. Mullins, not Searcy, suggested the contract price of $24, 995.

         ¶ 85 Searcy testified that Mullins told him that, if he did not want IHDC to do the work, Mullins could hire a subcontractor to do it for $5000. Searcy said that he "understood Mullins to be suggesting that if IHDC did not want to perform any actual census outreach work but still wanted to receive the contract, IHDC could pay a subcontractor $5, 000 from the $24, 995 payment from the County, and keep the remaining $19, 995 even though IHDC would not have done any work."

         ¶ 86 Searcy said he began to grow concerned about the contract with the county, so he contacted a member of Mullins's staff named Sean Howard. Searcy asked Howard if the subcontractor arrangement proposed by Mullins was typical, and Howard replied that "it was unusual and did not seem right." Searcy asked Howard to tell Mullins that IHDC was no longer interested in being involved with the census project.

         ¶ 87 Searcy said that, a few days later, he received a call from his accountant informing him that IHDC had received a check from Cook County for $24, 995. Searcy called Mullins's office again and reiterated that he did not want to be involved. Searcy returned the check to the county.

         ¶ 88 Searcy said that he never issued any invoices, including an invoice that had been submitted to the county on IHDC's behalf, and never performed any work pursuant to the contract. He had never seen the justification letter signed by defendant until investigators showed it to him.

         ¶ 89 Searcy had met defendant during Stroger's last campaign and shortly after she had been appointed as his deputy chief of staff. Searcy said that he and defendant only spoke "in general" about contracting opportunities and IHDC's services. Searcy did not discuss the census project with defendant.

         ¶ 90 The final three contracts relating to the census outreach project were awarded to three companies: PR Everything A2Z, Citymerge, Inc. (Citymerge), and Mediarazzi International (Mediarazzi). The letters used the same language to describe the duties these companies would perform as the justification letters for Borner, Demos, and IHDC. And they said that these three companies were either qualified for the sole-source contract based on their "keen business acumen" or "extensive involvement in local community affairs."

         ¶ 91 The justification letters that defendant signed for these four companies were dated April 15, 2010, and April 16, 2010. Each of the proposals submitted by the companies were five-to-six-page PowerPoint presentations that recited similar statistics regarding response rates to the census. ...

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