Days after Dean Argiris celebrated an Election Night victory to become the Wheeling village president in 2013, he filed for bankruptcy with debts on credit cards, a Mercedes-Benz, education loans and a home mortgage totaling nearly $600,000, court records show.
Argiris spent much of his first term as the village's top official under bankruptcy protection, but the problems have resurfaced as he seeks a second term. A federal judge dismissed the Chapter 13 case in January because Argiris and his wife failed to make monthly payments required under the financial reorganization agreement, exposing them to a host of creditors.
Argiris did not return a phone call for this report. In a previous statement, he said, "Like many people, I have had some financial struggles."
One of two challengers seeking to upend Argiris' bid for re-election in April has faced financial troubles, too. Michael Kurgan, a Wheeling Park District commissioner, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2011, court records show.
Kurgan, a real estate broker, claimed debts apart from his house totaling about $255,000.
A judge discharged the case three months later, wiping out certain debts. Kurgan declined to comment on the case.
Business owner Pat Horcher also is seeking the mayor's post.
While in bankruptcy, Argiris used a village credit card for numerous purchases that had no listed public purpose, which he paid back months or years later, and drove a decommissioned police department Ford Interceptor without restrictions on its use.
The village drafted new policies after a village resident and the Daily Herald began investigating Argiris' use of taxpayer-funded perks.
Argiris voluntarily returned the police SUV and turned in the credit card shortly after charging $462 at Tuscany Restaurant in October, a purchase he called a mistake and repaid.
He has consistently denied using taxpayer money for personal gain.
Argiris' bankruptcy case includes thousands of dollars owed to Capital One, American Express and retail store credit cards, as well as debts for a home mortgage, education loans, a Mercedes-Benz E320 sedan and a Honda Acura, court records show. The claims totaled $591,791.13.
Argiris settled on a plan to pay $5,000 monthly but fell six payments behind, leading a judge to dismiss the case Jan. 18.
He'd been warned twice previously with threats of dismissal for falling behind on payments.
With bankruptcy protection from creditors removed, attorneys for First Midwest Bank reopened a case last month to foreclose on Argiris' house in Wheeling, court records show.
This is not the first time Argiris has faced financial problems.
He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1991.
Meanwhile, Wheeling's next village president is in line for a pay raise. After the election, the job will pay $19,200 a year, a 75 percent increase from what Argiris currently makes in that role.
Argiris and political allies on the board have defended the pay hike, describing the village president's position as a full-time job.
Argiris also works as a mortgage loan originator and an assistant at Kolssak Funeral Home in Wheeling.
Illinois law doesn't require candidates to disclose bankruptcy before elections.
Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois-Springfield political science professor who specializes in ethics and campaign finance, described the state's rules for disclosure of economic interests as weak, arguing candidates should reveal financial information to gain trust from voters.
"If people don't have confidence there aren't conflicts of interest that would make politicians vulnerable for corruption, it makes them less likely to be accepting of the governmental process," Redfield said.