A Democratic Illinois state senator has been indicted on charges that he embezzled $275,000 from a labor union over three years in return for “little or no work,” the U.S. District Attorney’s Office said in a Friday statement.
State Sen. Thomas E. Cullerton, 49, faces one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefits, 39 counts of embezzlement from a labor union, and one count of making false statements in a health care matter, according to the indictment.
Cullerton was elected Illinois State Senator in November 2012. Before that, he was a member of Teamsters Local Union 734. After his election, he was no longer eligible to participate in the union’s health and pension funds, prosecutors said.
In March 2013, John Coli Sr, who was then the president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, hired Cullerton to be a full-time union organizer, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office. Shortly after, the Joint Council 25 entered into the Local 734.
For the next three years, Cullerton allegedly did “little or no work” as an organizer, but was still paid a salary position and received benefits from the Local’s health and pension funds, prosecutors said. When supervisors requested he perform his job duties, he allegedly ignored them, according to the indictment.
Between March 2013 and February 2016, Cullerton made $188,320 from his position in the union, and around $64,000 in health and pension contributions, prosecutors said. He then allegedly used proceeds for personal expenses like his mortgage, utilities, and groceries.
Cullerton also submitted false information to medical providers so that he could appear as a full-time employee and receive medical benefits, prosecutors said. The indictment alleges that Cullerton fraudulently obtained around $21,678 in reimbursed medical claims from the union’s Health and Welfare Fund.
Cullerton’s indictment comes days after Coli pleaded guilty to shaking down a Chicago film studio and agreed to cooperate with investigators.
John Theis, an attorney for Cullerton, said his client had been charged as the result of “false claims” made by Coli, whom he alleged was trying to implicate Cullerton in an attempt to “avoid penalties” for his own wrongdoing.
Each charge in Cullerton’s indictment is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office said. Cullerton’s arraignment in federal court has not been scheduled.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.