Feds charge Bloomingdale Township highway commissioner in kickback scheme

The Bloomingdale Township highway commissioner pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from the owner of a Bloomingdale-based excavation company and her employee, according to a federal indictment released Thursday.

Robert Czernek, who is in his second elected term as the township's highway commissioner, received more than $280,000 in kickbacks from Debra Fazio, the owner of Bulldog Earth Movers Inc., and Mario Giannini, 58, a company employee, federal prosecutors say.

The trio is charged with 14 counts of honest services wire fraud. Fazio, 63, also is charged with six counts of money laundering.

In exchange for the secret kickbacks, Czernek, 69, used his official position to approve payment of stone delivery, dump leveling and storm sewer invoices submitted by Bulldog Earth Movers to Bloomingdale Township, according to the 30-page indictment.

Czernek approved the invoices knowing that much of the work and services had not actually been performed by Bulldog, the indictment states. The fraud scheme spanned eight years and resulted in Bloomingdale Township issuing checks totaling more than $700,000 to Bulldog, federal prosecutors said.

Czernek has refused multiple requests for comment since federal investigators raided his offices in January. Czernek and his attorney did not return messages Thursday.

The indictment accuses Czernek of leaving handwritten notes for Giannini at secluded areas of the Bloomingdale Township Highway Department building or construction yard. The notes included the description, hours and dates of work purportedly performed by Bulldog. Some detailed the amount of money Czernek wanted to reap in kickbacks, the indictment states.

Fazio and Giannini used the notes to prepare false invoices submitted to Bloomingdale Township, according to court documents. Some invoices repeated verbatim what Czernek wrote in the notes, the indictment says.

Fazio and Giannini deposited Bloomingdale Township checks into Bulldog bank accounts and directed a portion of the proceeds from the checks to Czernek.

The alleged scheme also involved drawing from Bulldog bank accounts and making checks payable to Tri-State Express, a corporation formed by Czernek and which ceased functioning as a business.

The amount of each kickback was typically $5 or $6 for each ton of stone on delivery invoices, half of the total amount for the storm sewer invoices and varied amounts for the dump leveling invoices, prosecutors said.

After the indictment was made public, Bloomingdale Township Supervisor Michael Hovde repeated calls for the embattled highway commissioner to resign. In a statement issued through attorneys Thursday, Hovde said the township has fully cooperated with federal investigators.

"The Bloomingdale Township office is not involved in today's developments and Czernek's conduct related solely his activities within the Bloomingdale Township Road District, which is a separate entity, and one of its vendors," Hovde said in the statement.

If the three are convicted, the government is seeking forfeiture of Czernek's 2014 Lexus RX350, 1966 Buick Wildcat and a 1981 Corvette as well as large excavation equipment prosecutors said Bulldog purchased during the scheme.

Each fraud count in the indictment carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, while the maximum sentence for each count of money laundering is 10 years.

When federal agents raided the road district office in January, their targets included Czernek's desk calendar, a "dirt log," and financial records involving three companies, according to a search warrant.

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