Villa Park senator Cullerton resigns, plans to change plea in embezzlement case
Democratic state Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park resigned from office Wednesday morning just before his attorney told a federal judge the longtime lawmaker would soon plead guilty in an embezzlement case.
First filed through a grand jury indictment in 2019, the case has been delayed multiple times because of the pandemic. Cullerton had been scheduled to face trial in April on 39 counts of embezzlement and other charges.
Now, the outgoing senator will appear in court March 8 to change his not guilty plea, Lissa Druss, a spokeswoman for Cullerton, said.
"While the case is still pending, we're not going to comment until everything is over," Druss said.
Cullerton sent a terse, two-paragraph resignation letter to the Senate secretary earlier Wednesday.
He is accused of accepting pay and health benefits from a Teamsters job where he "did little or no work," court records state.
According to the initial indictment, Cullerton gave up a Teamsters job when he was elected to the senate in 2012. But Teamsters officials hired him back as a 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 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.
He would face a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted at trial.
Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said the party is working to select a replacement for Cullerton.
"Tom Cullerton served his constituents in the 23rd Senate district for nearly a decade," Harmon wrote in an emailed statement. "I look forward to welcoming and working with a new senator from the district. We've got a lot of work to do for the people of Illinois."
Cullerton's now-former 23rd District lies mostly within the boundaries of DuPage County with a small portion extending into Cook County. It includes all or parts of Villa Park, Bloomingdale, Glendale Heights, Carol Stream, Hanover Park, Itasca, Bartlett. Addison, Roselle and West Chicago.
Democratic Party leaders in DuPage County ultimately will decide who replaces Cullerton, but there has been no word on how the application process will be handled for anyone interested in taking over the seat.
There is less than a year left on Cullerton's term.
• The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report