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Former Illinois Sen. Tom Cullerton pleads guilty to embezzling from Teamsters in ghost-payolling scheme

Former Illinois State Senator Tom Cullerton Pleads Guilty To Embezzlement 00:20

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Former Illinois State Sen. Tom Cullerton pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a federal embezzlement case, admitting he took more than $250,000 in salary and benefits in a ghost-payrolling scheme involving the Teamsters labor union.

Cullerton, 52, resigned from office nearly two weeks ago, shortly before his defense attorney told a federal judge he planned to plead guilty to the case.

On Tuesday, Cullerton formally pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement. As part of the plea deal, he faces up to 18 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. He also agreed to pay back approximately $250,000 he embezzled from the union.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 21.

Former Illinois Sen. Thomas Cullerton, D-Villa Park. AP File Photo/Seth Perlman

Cullerton, a Democrat from Villa Park, was indicted in 2019 on one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union, 39 counts of embezzlement from a labor union, and one count of making false statements.

According to the indictment, Cullerton conspired with former Teamsters boss John Coli to arrange for a do-nothing job with the union in 2013.

Coli pleaded guilty to extortion charges just days before Cullerton was indicted.

Federal prosecutors said Cullerton was a member of Teamsters Local Union 734 before he was elected a state senator in 2012, and after taking office was no longer eligible to participate in the union's health and pension funds.

Two months after taking office in 2013, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, based in Park Ridge, hired Cullerton as a union organizer, with a full-time salary, as well as health and pension benefits from Local 734, according to the feds.

Federal prosecutors said, for the next three years, Cullerton did little or no work as a union organizer, and routinely ignored requests from Teamsters supervisor to do his job. During that time, he was paid approximately $188,000 in salary, bonuses, and cell phone and vehicle allowances, and received about $64,000 in health and pension contributions.

According to the indictment, Cullerton continued to take a salary from the Teamsters union even when he was attending Illinois Senate session days in Springfield.

Cullerton allegedly used the money for personal expenses, including his mortgage, utility bills, and groceries.

The indictment also alleges Cullerton fraudulently received $21,678 in medical reimbursement claims from Local 734's health fund by submitting paperwork that concealed the fact he wasn't eligible to participate in the fund, because he was not regularly scheduled to work at least 30 hours per week for the union.

Cullerton's trial had been delayed multiple times, and most recently had been set to begin in late April before his attorney informed U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman last month that they had reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

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