Calumet Public Officer Charged in Government Fund Theft and Over-billing Scheme
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced the charges made against a government affairs partner for the Village of Calumet Park, Chicago who is allegedly involved in the theft of government funds, as well as in the fraudulent scheme of over-billing. The investigation is being accomplished in line with the pursuit of Cook County against public corruption.
Mark J. McCombs, 50, was the Special Counsel for Development for the Village of Calumet Park for over nine years and is the shareholder of Greenberg Traurig – an international law firm. The defendant is charged with Theft of Government Funds in Excess of $100,000 (Class X Felony), after defendant engaged in a fraudulent scheme in using the funds of the Calumet Park from the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District and unnecessary billing on work that was never performed.
As the Special Counsel for Development, he served as the administrative hearing officer, counsel for economic development, and a special village investigations attorney, for over 25 years, for Calumet Park. Furthermore, the defendant is known to represent other municipalities in suburban Chicago, specializing in state and local government issues. In this capacity, he was also responsible for drafting and filing all reports from Calumet Park, as required by state law.
Investigation on the defendant’s scheme began when a superintendent of a school district, Superintendent John Byrne of Community High School District 218, raised inquiries and concerns regarding discrepancies in a submission made by the defendant in relation to a shared TIF money and the fiscal health of the shared fund. The defendant had allegedly been evasive when asked regarding the TIF fund and had scheduled a routine public meeting to talk about the TIF fund on December 31, 2009, which raised serious concerns.
“Most people are thinking about who’s babysitting for New Year’s Eve, not attending a TIF meeting,” Superintendent Byrne commented.
In January of 2010, Superintended Byrne officially requested for five years’ worth of files under state law, with the notion that the defendant had never submitted reports on the TIF activity. This alarmed the defendant who responded by offering money to the involved to, hopefully, bring the inquiries to an end; however, he was faced with larger consequences as the Superintended decided to push through with the investigations, as he should. The defendant was reported to have begged the village officials to drop their request for an inquisition on his work. He claimed that the investigation was a threat to his career and his life and even offered $100,000 in compensation for his request to drop the inspection.
The defendant allegedly engaged in fraudulent overbilling schemes, wherein he would completely avoid the process of requesting for approval and submission of proof of purchases and expense report, which is necessary for accountability and checking when it came to the TIF money. Furthermore, it was alleged that the defendant, without properly submitting mandatory papers required by the state law, increased his fees on the services he offers to approximately $600.
Through this conspiracy, the defendant was alleged to have been able to defraud the community out of nearly 2 million dollars – a figure that represents the amount taken from the village alone and does not include those from which he earned from his previous clients in the law firm. The reported 2 million dollars is the amount taken by the defendant from the beginning of 2007, which involved several economic development projects that did not manifest. The defendant was an established attorney, who represented several clients, including municipalities such as Ciero, Justice, and Posen. Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, among other officials, will seek records to establish patterns from his previous clients to his work in Calumet Park.
“In this economic climate, it is outrageous to think that someone would steal resources intended to create jobs and put people back to work. This arrest should serve as a warning to those who would engage in this type of conduct,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
The defendant posed a defense statement claiming that the excess fees were, strictly, not pocketed by him, but rather, paper reports would show that the defendant had wired the cash to Greenburg Traurig to increase billables and collections. As a result, the defendant benefited by an enhanced reputation for being an established moneymaker at the firm.
The current mayor under which the defendant practiced in, Mayor Joseph DuPar, issued a statement regarding the defendant and said that McCombs “exploited our trust in him, and we knew we had to take immediate action.”
Jill Perry, the spokeswoman for Greenberg Traurig, noted that the firm had terminated contracts and connections with the defendant on March 5, 2010, in response to the alleged public corruption. Spokeswoman Perry also mentioned that fees which are not properly billed would be reimbursed adequately to the village.
Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is currently conducting an investigation on the defendant’s case, who was arrested on March 4, 2010. Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Ramon Ocasio III set the bond for Mark J. McCombs on March 5, 2010, at $25,000, and had set to continue the case on March 26, 2010. If proven guilty of charges, the defendant will face six to 30 years in prison.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez commended the Special Prosecutions Bureau for their continuous effort on the case.
With the provided criminal documents containing allegations that are not evidence of guilt, the public is reminded that the defendant shall be presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.