Federal prosecutors on Tuesday asked for up to 18 months in prison for ex-state Sen. Thomas Cullerton, revealing for the first time that another state senator’s recommendation helped Cullerton land a do-nothing job with the Teamsters union.
Cullerton, 52, a Democrat from Villa Park, was charged in 2019 in an indictment alleging he pocketed more than a quarter of a million dollars in salary and benefits from the Teamsters union despite doing little or no work. He pleaded guilty to embezzlement in March, two weeks after abruptly resigning from office.
In asking U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman to sentence Cullerton to up to a year and a half in prison, prosecutors said in a court filing Tuesday that former Teamsters boss John Coli Sr. told investigators he’d hired Cullerton to his do-nothing position “as a favor to Senator A, at Senator A’s request.”
“Coli knew it was wrong to pay Cullerton because he was a ghost payroller,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amarjeet Bhachu and Erika Csicsila wrote. “Only when Coli became concerned that the Independent Review Board, an investigative body within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, would find out Cullerton was a ghost payroller, did he give the order for Cullerton to be fired.”
The state senator who gave the recommendation was not named in the filing.
The prosecution memo also revealed for the first time that after he was fired by Coli, Cullerton “went on to get another do-nothing job” with a video gaming company that made him the company’s only salaried salesman, working first for $1,000 a week, which was later doubled to $2,000 a week.
“Even though his salary was doubled by the video gaming company, Cullerton brought in little if any business for the video gaming company,” the memo stated. “He was kept on their payroll only until the current investigation went overt.”
Cullerton’s attorneys, meanwhile, asked Gettleman for a sentence of probation, writing in a court filing of their own Tuesday that while he understands the “public scorn” surrounding the high-profile case, he’s “committed to making things right with the Teamsters and working hard for his family and community.”
“He will forever bear the stigma, public embarrassment, and financial and other costs associated with this felony conviction,” attorney Daniel Collins wrote.
Collins said that Cullerton “understood that he was not meeting the expectations of the job” and should have resigned once he realized how difficult it would be to balance the added duties with his roles as a legislator and father.
“His decision not to resign right then and there will haunt him the rest of his life,” Collins wrote.
Gettleman has scheduled an in-person sentencing for Cullerton on June 21.
According to the indictment, Coli conspired with Cullerton in 2013 to give the newly elected senator a do-nothing job with the clout-heavy union. Over the next three years, the two ignored complaints from supervisors when Cullerton failed to even show up for work, according to the charges.
In all, Cullerton was accused of fraudulently obtaining nearly $250,000 in salary, bonuses and other perks from the Teamsters between 2013 and 2016, including cellphone and vehicle allowances as well as health and pension contributions, according to prosecutors.
Cullerton used the payments for personal expenses, including his mortgage, utilities and groceries, according to his plea.
The charges against Cullerton came three days after Coli pleaded guilty to extortion charges and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. According to his plea agreement, Coli extorted a total of $325,000 from Alex Pissios, president of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios on the West Side, by threatening a union work stoppage.
Coli’s sentencing has been delayed until after his cooperation against Cullerton was complete.
Cullerton, who previously was village president of Villa Park, is a distant cousin of former Senate President John Cullerton. He was first elected to the state Senate in 2012.