A Mother's Day spent moving dirt at the dump? Bloomingdale Twp. Road District invoices under scrutiny

  • Robert Czernek

    Robert Czernek

  • A Freedom of Information Act request showed some unusual dates for a contractor hired by Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek to be out leveling the dirt at a township dump.

    A Freedom of Information Act request showed some unusual dates for a contractor hired by Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek to be out leveling the dirt at a township dump. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Michael Hovde

    Michael Hovde

 
 
Posted9/21/2020 5:30 AM

Labor Day 2016. A day of leisure for many, but not for a Bloomingdale Township Road District contractor who spent eight hours moving dirt at a local dump, records obtained by the Daily Herald show.

That's not the only curious date when Bulldog Earth Movers purportedly toiled at the dump, located just east of the Bloomingdale Township offices. The contractor, hired by Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek, worked a six-hour shift at $325 an hour on Mother's Day 2019.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There's a good chance that labor didn't happen, contend federal prosecutors who have charged Czernek with fraud and receiving more than $280,000 in kickbacks related to phony invoices for dump and storm sewer projects.

The highway commissioner processed the bills "knowing that the work and services reflected on the invoices at times had not been performed by BEM," an indictment states.

Bulldog Earth Movers owner Debra Fazio and employee Mario Giannini have also been charged with fraud.

All three pleaded not guilty Friday.

Authorities say Czernek, serving his second term as roads chief, started the scheme in May 2012 and would leave notes with instructions in secret hiding places around the road district headquarters. Fazio devised false invoices and passed on the kickbacks, prosecutors said.

A Daily Herald review of nine years of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Bulldog billed and Czernek approved about $300,000 in invoices for "leveling out dump area" jobs between 2016 and 2019.

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The jobs at the dump, which is owned by Bloomingdale Township, weren't just for Monday-to-Friday work. Records show Bulldog billed the highway department for 31 Saturdays and seven Sundays (including Mother's Day, May 12, 2019) -- days when township offices are typically closed.

Bulldog also invoiced for Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, and the Friday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, 2017.

The highway department is audited by a private firm and records show actual spending at the agency rose from $2.5 million in fiscal year 2015 to $3.1 million in 2019.

Another expense included a street sweeper that cost $256,755 in 2017 for the department, which manages just over 65 miles of roads, records returned in response to a FOIA request indicated.

Bloomingdale Township is a separate unit of government from the road district and although trustees approved Czernek's budgets, he does not report to the board and is in charge of hiring and contracts, officials said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Trustees have placed a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot seeking to abolish the road district and roll its responsibilities and staff into the township to allow for oversight similar to how a municipality directs its public works department, Supervisor Michael Hovde said.

Czernek has not resigned and Bloomingdale Township is not empowered to change his status.

Going forward, "if we as a board felt an invoice was questionable, we would refuse to pay it and dare him to sue," said Hovde, who has called for Czernek to step down.

Meanwhile, DuPage County Republican Central Committee Chairman Jim Zay of Carol Stream stripped Czernek of his committeeman job and membership in the organization following the Aug. 27 indictment.

"It is beyond me why public officials engage in unethical and illegal behavior at the expense of their constituents, who are basically their friends and neighbors," said Zay, a DuPage County Board member. "It is beyond me why, when they are caught, they don't immediately resign and apologize."

DuPage Democratic Party Chairwoman Cynthia Borbas called the charges very disturbing and "if true, they are a slap in the face of the voters of Bloomingdale Township."

Take off

The final parallel runway at O'Hare International Airport will open Nov. 5 on the north airfield. Runway 9-Center/27-Center is intended to help distribute flights more evenly around the region but may mean some unexpected noise for some neighborhoods when commissioned. It will handle east-west traffic and primarily handle arrivals.

One more thing

A new ramp helping to untangle the snarl of the Jane Byrne Interchange will open Monday. Illinois Department of Transportation crews have finished the ramp from the outbound Ida B. Wells Drive (Congress Parkway) to the outbound Kennedy Expressway.

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