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Illinois State Sen. Thomas Cullerton Plans To Plead Guilty To Embezzlement Charges, Resigns From Office

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois State Sen Thomas Cullerton resigned from office on Wednesday as his defense attorney told a federal judge he plans to plead guilty to charges he took more than $250,000 in salary and benefits in a ghost-payrolling scheme involving the Teamsters labor union.

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 on Wednesday that they had reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Cullerton's change of plea hearing will be held on March 8.

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) issued the following statement on Cullerton's resignation:

"Tom Cullerton served his constituents in the 23rd Senate District for nearly a decade. 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."

Thomas Cullerton is a distant cousin of former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, and has been in the Illinois Senate since 2012.

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