Villa Park state senator Tom Cullerton indicted on federal embezzlement charges

Democratic state Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park is facing federal charges of embezzlement and making false statements in a health care matter.

Prosecutors said the charges stem from Cullerton's accepting pay and health benefits from a Teamsters job where he "did little or no work."

He also received vehicle and telephone stipends and was receiving contributions to a pension plan, authorities said.

Cullerton, 49, is charged with one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plans, 39 counts of embezzlement from a labor union, and one count of making false statements in a health care matter.

On Friday, Cullerton's attorney, John Theis, released a written statement saying the allegations "are simply not true."

"As an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Army and highly respected public servant, Tom Cullerton is a person who is dedicated to his family, constituents, and all Illinoisans," Theis said in the statement. "The action by the U.S. Department of Justice has nothing to do with Mr. Cullerton's work in the Illinois State Senate but is the result of false claims by disgraced Teamsters boss John Coli in an apparent attempt to avoid penalties for his wrongdoing."

Coli pleaded guilty to corruption charges this week and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in other corruption investigations.

Theis said Cullerton will fight the charges in court.

Attempts to reach Cullerton were unsuccessful.

According to the indictment, Cullerton gave up a Teamsters job when he was elected to the senate in 2012. But Teamsters officials hired him back as an union organizer in March 2013. The full-time, salaried position included benefits from Teamsters Local Union 734's health and pension funds.

From March 2013 through February 2016, the indictment alleges, Cullerton ignored union officials' requests for him to do his work as an organizer but collected $188,320 in salary, bonuses, and cellphone and vehicle allowances.

He also received more than $64,000 in health and pension contributions, according to the indictment.

The indictment also alleges Cullerton obtained more than $21,000 in medical reimbursements from a Teamsters fund during the time he was on the union payroll and a state senator.

He was not eligible for those reimbursements because he was not regularly scheduled to work more than 30 hours a week, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also claim Cullerton "falsely omitted" income he was receiving from the union on his 2015 and 2016 statements of economic interest reports legislators are required to file with the Illinois secretary of state's office.

The government is seeking a forfeiture of $274,066 from Cullerton if he is convicted.

John Patterson, a spokesman for the Illinois Senate Democrats, had little to say about the indictment. The indicted Cullerton is a cousin of Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago.

"This is clearly part of an ongoing investigation," Patterson said. "The Senate president reminds everyone we have a system of justice that presumes everyone innocent until proven otherwise."

If convicted, Cullerton faces a maximum of five years in prison.

Arraignment in federal court has not yet been scheduled.

Cullerton was Villa Park's village president in November 2012 when he unseated Republican state Sen. Carole Pankau in the race to represent the 23rd District, which includes parts of Bartlett, Bloomingdale, Glendale Heights, Roselle, Wood Dale and Villa Park.

Cullerton first was elected to office in 2005, when he became a Villa Park trustee. He became village president in 2009.

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