Video shows alleged Sec. of State's office bribery

September 15, 2010

The Cook County State's Attorney's office says the release of the video part of a crackdown on public corruption.

Several people face charges Wednesday night.

The crackdown is called Operation Cookie Jar, and it targets public corruption in Cook County.

Other charges in the crackdown include alleged overbilling and worker's compensation fraud.

An alleged scam to "wash" automobile titles is one of several prosecutions announced Wednesday by the Cook County State's Attorney's office.

The new alleged corruption comes more than a decade after the so-called "Licenses for Bribes" scandal, which also centered on the Secretary of State's office.

A surveillance camera captured the transaction on videotape as it happened last year in the cafeteria of a state driver's and vehicle licensing office on Chicago's West Side.

A man wearing a red shirt in the video, the manager of a suburban used car dealership, is allegedly seen paying a bribe to a Secretary of State's office security guard, who investigators say worked with another employee to clean up the titles of six cars owned by the dealership.

"Obviously, this kind of conduct is intolerable," said Secretary of State's Inspector General Jim Burns. "It is particularly intolerable because two of our employees were compromised in order to make this work."

Burns and his boss, Secretary of State Jesse White, joined State's Attorney Anita Alvarez in announcing the latest chapter of Operation Cookie Jar, which targets public corruption in Cook County. Other cases involved a suburban company overbilling the City of Chicago and fraudulent workers' compensation claims against Cook County.

"It is a priority for me," said Alvarez. "We're going to see more cases as we move along."

Alvarez was careful not to criticize her former boss and predecessor Dick Devine, who as state's attorney rarely held news conferences to announce public corruption arrests. Most that occurred in Cook County during Devine's administration were led by federal prosecutors.

"With all of the re-assignment of people in my office and just making this a priority, we are doing more, and we're going to continue to do more," said Alvarez.

Secretary of State Jesse White is nearing the end of his third term in office, having followed George Ryan, who was convicted in the 'Licenses for Bribes" scandal. White, who says he has fired hundreds of less-than-honest employees, expects to fire more in the future.

"Whenever you're dealing with money, you're going to always find some individuals motivated by greed," said White.

Burns, a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, says the feds have to love it when they see the local state's attorney actively prosecuting public corruption.

"What do I think the Feds attitude today would be?" said Burns, then clapping his hands for the microphone. "That's exactly what it would be."

Alvarez also announced charges against a west suburban woman who allegedly overbilled the City of Chicago and a Franklin Park women accused of bilking the workman's compensation fund.

The state licensing office case buttressed by video evidence is drawing the most attention because of that office's long and notorious history.

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