Elk Grove claims developer behind robocalls critical of village leaders

Elk Grove Village officials Thursday accused a local developer of being behind a series of robocalls and campaign-style mailers critical of them - a charge denied by the businessman's attorney.

The accusation was leveled by Village Attorney George Knickerbocker during a court hearing on George Gullo Development Corp.'s lawsuit trying to block the village from annexing unincorporated properties the company owns along Higgins Road.

"I know from sources close to him, they've acknowledged, yes he's done everything," Knickerbocker said of Mario Gullo, the company's owner.

Knickerbocker also accused Gullo of "lying to my face" and "lacking any honesty and integrity" during a 45-minute meeting last week to discuss a possible settlement of the lawsuit.

Gullo denies involvement in the robocalls, said Kim Walberg, his attorney.

But she did say village officials were trying to interject terms and conditions during settlement discussions that are "outside of scope" -- specifically, their attempt to trample on Gullo's free speech rights.

After the court hearing, Knickerbocker said he'd agree to certain concessions - like allowing Gullo to continue operating his businesses unencumbered from village regulations - as long as Gullo helped stop the robocalls.

"You don't have to admit doing it personally, but acknowledge you control the happenings," Knickerbocker said. "In 48 years as the village attorney, I've learned, you don't let someone attack your village."

Robocalls and mailers have flooded residents' mailboxes and phone lines since August, criticizing Mayor Craig Johnson and many of his initiatives, including the village's sponsorship of the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl and the Elk Grove Village Cares anti-opioid program.

It comes at the same time as a term limits effort that seeks to oust the 22-year incumbent mayor and his long-tenured board in a March 2020 referendum.

On Thursday, Gullo's attorneys said in court any political issues in the community are unrelated to the merits of the case.

They've argued the village's attempt last year to forcibly annex 58 acres - including several properties Gullo owns - was improper because it was preceded by a voluntary annexation of a separate 41-acre parcel owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

Gullo's attorneys called the first annexation a "sham," arguing it was done only to put the village in position to annex Gullo's unincorporated properties.

Knickerbocker said the annexation was meant to "clean up" the village's borders. He added that he had a "handshake" agreement with Gullo, wherein the village agreed not to impose its codes on Gullo's gravel lots that are leased for truck parking.

There's now talks of putting those terms into writing.

At the same time, the litigation continues, with Judge Celia Gamrath on Thursday allowing Gullo's attorneys to file an amended complaint. Their request for a temporary restraining order stoping the annexation was granted by a different judge last February and upheld by an appellate court.

Both sides are due back in court again Dec. 3.

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