State Sen. Tom Cullerton pleads not guilty to embezzlement charges

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CHICAGO —Illinois State Sen. Tom Cullerton pleaded not guilty to federal embezzlement charges Friday.

In a brief appearance before U.S. District Judge Susan Cox, Cullerton entered his plea and was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. 

The feds allege the Democrat from Villa Park was a ghost pay-roller for the Teamsters Union. Cullerton is charged with 39 counts of embezzlement from a labor union, one count of conspiracy and one court of making false statements.

The indictment states Cullerton was hired as a union organizer, which is a full-time salaried position with benefits. The charges allege that for the next three years, Cullerton did little to no work but was paid roughly $275,000 in salary and benefits. 

There has been political fallout. Cullerton was stripped of his Chairmanship of the Labor Committee and moved to Veterans Affairs. 

Cullerton’s spokeswoman released a statement that said:

Today is another step in seeking justice for Mr. Cullerton. He will continue to fight these untrue allegations in court until his name is cleared.

A distant cousin of Senate President John Cullerton, Democrats are sticking with the senator despite Republican calls for him to resign.

Cullerton is not the only Illinois Democrat the feds have closed in on. Associates of House Speaker Michael Madigan have been raided, Alderman Ed Burke has been indicted on racketeering and extortion chargers and Alderman Carrie Austin’s ward office was raided, although she’s not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Austin and other party bosses met Friday at a South Side union hall, the modern version of the smoke-filled room, for the Cook County Democratic Party slating meeting.

27th Ward committeeman and alderman Walter Burnett was asked about the scandals surrounding Democrats.

“Because we have a large organization you’re going have folks who maybe, possibly, get accused of things and have made mistakes,” he said. “The Republicans – they’re not like they don’t make mistakes also. But I think our brand is a philosophy, it’s a belief, it’s about everyone.”

Daniel Epstein is running for the Illinois Supreme Court. Party leaders did not endorse him, rather they went with Justice P. Scott Neville Jr.

Epstein said to address corruption, the party needs to back fresh faces.

“There’s a desperate need for new blood. I think we really need fresh eyes, especially on the bench,” he said. “I think some of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you walk in and you don’t see – everyone is quite aged then it’s a bit of a deterrent to get involved but I hope young people don’t get deterred.”

Cullerton was stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate Labor Committee and given the gavel of the Veterans Affairs Committee. He will continue to earn his committee chairman stipend.

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