Accusations of Patronage, Dummy Companies at Plainfield Park District

Attorney Matt Campbell is reportedly launching an investigation.

Credit: File photo
Credit: File photo
New allegations of unethical activity are swirling following Tuesday night's Plainfield Park District meeting — including claims of nepotism and alleged deals with companies that had ties to park district staff and board members.

According to commissioner Janet Silosky, after she blew the whistle about her suspicions that a shipment of LED lights purchased by the park district were connected to park board president Peter Hurtado, the order was cancelled and the payment never made.

Silosky — who told Patch Tuesday night that she can no longer comment on the allegations due to a pending investigation — said fellow board member Peter Steinys was able to stop a PayPal payment for the lights.

But park district staff claim that at least some of the lights did arrive at the park district and were installed at the Ottawa Street Pool, according to commissioner Mary Kay Ludemann.

Silosky has claimed that the lights belonged to Hurtado, who works in the commercial lighting industry, and that the payment was to a company by the name of Solis — which is also the name of Hurtado's daughter's boyfriend. Hurtado, for his part, denied the allegations at a special board meeting last week.

Sometime between Jan. 6 and 13, then-Executive Director Garrett Peck ordered staff to remove the lights and ship them back to the vendor, a company called Josue Solis and Associates with a Chicago address, according to Ludemann. Peck, who is Plainfield village trustee, resigned from the park district on Jan. 23.

Ludemann said staff purchased replacement lights at Menard's after sending back the shipment.

As for whether that story conflicts with Silosky's claim that Steinys was able to cancel the order, Ludemann said, "That's the stuff I don't know yet. There's still more to the story that hasn't come out yet, I think. We're getting little pieces here and there."

In fact, there appear to be multiple orders to "Solis," although it's unclear how many of the purchases went through.

According to a credit card statements obtained by Patch, a Bank of America card assigned to Peck was charged $475 on Dec. 12, 2013, by Josue Solis and Associates via PayPal. 

Patch also obtained a monthly credit card log for Peck that included a note that the Solis purchase was "returned 1-21-14 by Joe Masters."

Another payment to Josue Solis and Associates for $3,800 — this one charged to staffer Joe Masters' park district credit card — was made on Jan. 14, but refunded two days later, according to the statement. Masters was recently promoted temporarily to the position of director of parks and project management.

Patch also obtained a purchase order dated Jan. 2 for a $7,600 order from Solis and associates for more than a dozen 120-watt LED lights, priced at $475 each, with the note "horse farm," presumably referring to the Normantown Trails Equestrian Center.

An online search for Josue Solis and Associates turned up no results. A call to the phone number listed for the company yielded an automated "magicJack" ad. 

The same phone number, however, is on a directory listing for a company called Mastercraft Metal Spinning. The listing names Hurtado as Mastercraft's president. 

Commissioner Larry Newton said he also learned from staff that a shipment of 100 park district logo polo shirts was made to a company that allegedly had ties to Hurtado.

An invoice for $3,200 — 100 polos at $32 each — shows an order from a Chicago company called Goldstar billed to park district spokesman Doug Booth via PayPal. Booth did not return a call from Patch Tuesday.

Newton said staff told him that after the shirts arrived, employees were told to ship them back — but the package bounced back to the park district.

"Again, it was to a dummy location," Newton said. The invoice lists an address of 3147 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago, for the company.

Hurtado didn't return a call from Patch regarding the Goldstar purchase on Wednesday night.

Tech company with ties to Peck?

At Tuesday night's meeting, resident Howard Ruskin asked Hurtado about reports that the park district made payments to Government Utilities Technology Service (GUTS), a company with apparent ties to Peck's business, Magik Technologies Inc.

On a list of "partners" on its website, GUTS includes Magik Technlogies.

Park district documents show several checks paid to the Thorntown, Indiana, company, including a $2,025 payment in July 2013,  a $1,593 payment in November 2013 and a $3,483 payment in January, for a total of more than $7,000.

"The bottom line is, either Garrett on his own or Garrett with the blessing of the other three board members" made the decision to use the vendor, Ludemann said. "There was a lot going on that should have been taken to the board."

New hires

During public comment Tuesday, resident Vicky Polito questioned whether patronage jobs were handed out by the park district, saying that 10 out of 11 recent new hires have ties to Peck, Hurtado or Steinys.

"That appears to be true," Ludemann said, adding that among the new hires was Steiny's son-in-law.

"He'll deny it, but [the employee] is married to his stepdaughter," Ludemann said. "The question comes, where were these job opportunities, [and] were they posted properly?"

Investigation pending

On Tuesday, Newton called for an internal investigation.

According to Ludemann, park board attorney Matt Campbell has agreed to look into the claims. Patch was unable to reach Campbell on Wednesday.

"He is handling an internal investigation, and if he thinks he finds anything illegal he'll hand it over to the state's attorney," Ludemann said.

The state's attorney is also reportedly reviewing some documents related to the park district, although spokesman Chuck Pelkie declined to elaborate on what sparked the investigation.

On Wednesday, Pelkie said there was nothing new to report regarding the probe.

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Frank February 06, 2014 at 10:12 AM
Remember, innocent until proven guilty. Rather than speculating, let the professionals make the determination, though the odor does seem to be getting a bit pungent. If there is any truth to any of these allegations, it would be a very bad stain on our community, which is not something any of us should be hoping for.
Lisa S. February 06, 2014 at 11:44 AM
It's not really a matter of 'if' there is any truth at this point. It's just a matter of how deep it goes, and who is going with it. personally, it might be a bit of an embarrassment for Plainfield that it has happened, but it is also a testament to those who have worked to bring it all to light, and want to fix it rather than just complain. And for those that are unaware, Paypal now has a credit card processing service so that 'small business' can receive credit card funds. So it works just like any other processing...you don;t really have to log in, etc. I am unsure of how the Paypal payments listed above were made though.
Frank J Thierer February 06, 2014 at 12:08 PM
When we moved here in 2000 I thought how nice it was to be leaving CROOK COUNTY. "Not so fast, Not so fast". I guess it's everywhere. Except I'm finding out that out here people actually complain and they're heard. So here goes. Mr. Hurtado,Ms.Silosky,Ms.Steinys,and Mr. Booth you need to go and NOW!How many friends do you really think you have. Maybe 25,maybe 50 at the most. Plainfield has a population of almost 40,000 residents. If you want to split hairs, I guess you could say 25,000 voters out of 40,000. But even those that don't vote are reading about your desire to make the PPD your little play toy. Well, the jig's up. WE WANT YOU GONE. Wake up and smell the coffee. Do you think any of YOU will be able to achieve elected office again. Only if you live on another planet. Everyday you hold out you just create more enemies. You can't fix stupid so don't even try. LEAVE and leave now. It's the best thing you can do at this time. After all maybe some people might even have some respect for you when you do the right thing. NO, I think we're way past that now. So LEAVE and make it quick.
Vicky Polito February 06, 2014 at 12:32 PM
I agree that while this is definitely an ugly thing to have associated with the name of our town, on the plus side the other thing that is coming out loudly and clearly about Plainfield is that, hell or water high, the PEOPLE here will not stand for this kind of thing and aren’t going to shy away from the confrontation. I don’t know if we or even the whole state of Illinois are any more corrupt than any other place (I doubt we are), or if it’s just that we do, eventually, deal with our corruption where some other places just pretend that problems are just less real. We seem to be doing all right digging trouble up and out, and people find out about it. I know it’s become a popular, deeply rooted cliché to tag things as “Chicago style politics” or “like down in Springfield”, as if Chicago or Illinois is the ONE locus of corruption and graft. But, that’s not true. I do think that the image has been at least in part furthered by just how big a show the take-down of corruption in Chicagoland is, especially when you’ve got a front row seat. So, if Plainfield gets a reputation as someplace that the corrupt get smacked around, and in public, that might not be the worst reputation we could have. It’s better than being a place that everyone says is horrible and corrupt and it never changes, where no one is made to face consequences and the people just cover their eyes, ears, and mouths.
Think About It February 06, 2014 at 12:34 PM
After reading Shannon's excellent investigative reporting, the only word I could think of was "GOTCHA"! But yes, innocent until proven guilty. Maybe what the Plainfield Park District needs is former well known and very experienced elected officials with good, clean, fair, records to run against the board majority in the next election. Well known names with a lot of positive experience as elected officials should do the trick.
Tim February 06, 2014 at 12:50 PM
I would like to take a moment to thank garrett peck. Without him running around loudly and publicly throwing a tantrum, filing ridiculous lawsuits, and then claiming Patch was not 'real news', etc... nobody would really have paid much attention to it. It would have just been some lost and lonely comment on a message board somewhere, never to be seen or heard again. So thank you garrett, for drawing all this attention to yourself and your friends. We couldn't have done any of this without you!
Ericus Alanas February 06, 2014 at 01:05 PM
I may be wrong, but isnt having the park board attorney do the internal investigation a conflict? I would rather an external compliance attorney hired by the city preform the investigation.
Vicky Polito February 06, 2014 at 01:06 PM
PI, others--The Feb 17th VB mtng you mention has indeed been cancelled. The next regular VB meeting is set for Monday, March 3rd. (There is a Feb 24th meeting, but that is a COW or Committee of the Whole workshop meeting, a bit different.)
Vicky Polito February 06, 2014 at 01:11 PM
I'm not that pleased with this "internal investigation" by Matt Campbell for a couple of reasons: First, the SAO is already looking at things, has some documents, so why not just keep funneling things to them for their even preliminary investigation? Secondly, just like this silly, I assume "face-saving" move to change the terms of office for PTPD board officers down to one year from two and the "drafting of a resolution" for that (which, by the way, is not required to be done by a lawyer!), this is just more billable hours for Campbell and his firm, Kavanaugh. Why? What's the point of having Campbell investigate at this stage? He's got no "power" to do much about any of it and it looks like no one asked him so far what to do!
my conscience February 06, 2014 at 01:38 PM
Ed, its not like anybody said: "I've got this PayPal account, and it's [bleeping] golden!" So, relax folks. Let's just wait for the results of the investigation. I am sure no laws were broken and the internal investigation will answer Tim's question regarding timing and amounts of those payments to the tech company and what the district received for that tax money.
Bad News Bears February 06, 2014 at 02:04 PM
I'm just waiting to see actually how much stuff was actually done. Remember, the investigation just started and this is just the tip of the iceberg. And Randy Wayne is right, these guys may just find themselves on the 6 o'clock news soon. Wonder how much Peck and Hurtado will enjoy being in the spotlight for the whole viewing area
Jimmy Parks February 06, 2014 at 02:10 PM
Shannon, any chance you have heard back from any of the following: Hurtado, Booth, Masters, Solis, MajicJack, Santa or the Tooth Fairy?
Frank G February 06, 2014 at 02:29 PM
MC, while I agree that we should wait for the investigation, I would be stunned if laws weren't broken. Hurtado is caught in an obvious lie...he denied involvement, yet every piece of it traces back to him. That of course isn't illegal in and of itself, but it begs the question: If it's not illegal, why the denial and coverup? So far we have shell companies, bogus addresses, and dead phone numbers...not things typically associated with legitimate business dealings. If everything was legit, he should have just owned up to it the first day.
Ericus Alanas February 06, 2014 at 03:04 PM
Wasn't it Campbell and his firm, Kavanaugh the ones who screwed up that filing date?
Shannon Antinori (Editor) February 06, 2014 at 03:17 PM
The labor lawsuit is being handled by a different firm (Rock, Fusco & Connelly), so it's a different attorney.
Bill Thoman February 06, 2014 at 03:31 PM
I have seen a sample ballot for the March 18 primary election. The park district has three advisory referenda on the ballot which appear to have little meaning. It was explained to me that there is a limit of three referenda on each ballot relative to an entity. It was further explained to me that the reason these three referenda were placed on the ballot was to totally take up the three slots and that there were petitions being circulated to place a referendum on the ballot to allow a recall of park district trustees. It was alledged that the powers that be at the park district did not want this to happen so they filled the three possible referenda slots with matters of their own. Not having researched this matter it is not clear if this has been related to me accurately, but given the recent functioning of this board, actions as disingenuous as this would not surprise me.
Larry Newton February 06, 2014 at 03:40 PM
Bill Thoman, you are correct on all points. I believe this was discussed at either the October or November Board meeting. Go check the website and see. Good call.
not_buying_it February 06, 2014 at 05:47 PM
Things seem to be spiraling out of control and outside investigations may be in order. Having an internal attorney "investigate" the activities of those who paid for his services, is an outright conflict of interest. The FBI has a Public Corruption Division that handles corruption of local communities. The page is: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/corruption On the lower right hand side of the page is a link labeled "Submit an Online Tip". I know for certain someone has already submitted a request for investigation, but it is probably prudent for others to submit, as well.
Josh Herrara February 06, 2014 at 06:01 PM
Larry, since you were the one to ask for the investigation in the first place, is it possible to add patronage promotions and patronage pay increases to the list of items investigated? I would like to know why Gene Coldwater was promoted (and apparently given a raise) for the sole purpose of promoting Joe Masters and giving him a raise and why at least 3 of 10 new hires make more than the employees that have been there 5 years or so. Also, was Joe's promotion given before or after he paid for light bulbs? Wait; is it ok to ask you? Or do I need to direct this to Peter Hurtado?
Larry Newton February 06, 2014 at 06:45 PM
Josh, ANY misdeed needs to be investigated, identified and corrected. Raises can be rescinded and people who were hired inappropriately can be relieved of their duties and allowed to pursue a living somewhere else.
Doctor Zeus February 06, 2014 at 06:52 PM
Wooot!. Chicago politics in Plainfield!
oldschool February 07, 2014 at 07:09 AM
So the feds had time and manpower to raid a bunch of bars in the area for "Superbowl squares", yet these types of shenanigans are going on in plain sight.....
my conscience February 07, 2014 at 07:36 AM
Oldschool, the difference may be between legality and ethics. I can offer a refresher for you if needed.
Stella Reese February 07, 2014 at 12:06 PM
MC, here's one way the two things aren't different: our elected officials are expected to honor both. Deeply. They're spending our money. If some of it ends up in their own pockets, they need to have a mighty good explanation. Or they need to go.
my conscience February 07, 2014 at 01:43 PM
Stella, Let's say, hypothetically speaking, that some tax dollars end up in the pocket of a governmental official or political appointee as a result of a governmental district purchasing goods or services from a company somehow associated with the official. The way I see it, whether those goods or services are computers, software, data processing, projectors, light bulbs, polo shirts, or manure spreaders; if the goods or services were procured following the written rules of the district then there is no law broken. I think that the only way a law could be broken is if money was paid and no goods or services were provided. That is likely not the case. So to me, this all looks legal. Also, there is nothing illegal about using PayPal, as far as I know.
Frank February 07, 2014 at 02:41 PM
I'd seriously doubt that a law was broken, as an exchange of goods/services for payment is a perfectly legal transaction. The potential of an ethics breach is the real matter, which is a very serious allegation.
Vicky Polito February 07, 2014 at 02:44 PM
OK, MC--your take is based on omission of things already given. Those pretty little "if's" you list aren't if-fy, at all. First, at least two of the commissioners have made it clear that some of these arrangements to buy services or goods did NOT follow the district rules of coming before the board, doing open bids, vetting or credentialing vendors, etc. So, yes, these actions were wrong as taken. And, to your other point it may well be that money was paid for nothing or for something other than claimed. (I don't understand how you get to "that is likely not the case"--why do you say that? Why do you believe it isn't likely?) That's part of why the SAO is looking at this at all. Secondly, PayPal is not illegal, but it is also NOT "legal" for this case because, following established rules for the district, it isn't part of the sanctioned method for paying for goods and services purchased by the district. There is, solidly in place, a system of bidding, invoicing, check issuance, and ledger documentation/audit, none of which this PayPal mechanism meets or met as used here. Further, there is no policy in the district regarding the use of PayPal, while there is regarding the other forms of payment used by the district. If they wanted to add PayPal to the choices, they needed to do that via the board and a policy approval. There is no info in the existing check reports or warrant lists that reflects these PayPal transactions, so they are flawed at barest minimum by being "hidden". We don't hide how public money gets spent. Finally, legal-schmegal, at some point. All of this mess is WRONG, unethical, smarmy, suspicious, and unfair to the taxpayer, regardless of letter of the law.
Bad News Bears February 07, 2014 at 03:31 PM
Whether they find illegal activity or not, the things they have found should be enough to ensure these people do not serve public office again. Overcharging a local gov't agency to line your own pockets, bid rigging, patronage jobs, raises and promotions basically used as incentives to keep quiet, firing employees for unionizing, dummy companies to cover your tracks. And this is just the start. Hire your family and friends at your own company and pay them with your own money. Don't use my tax dollars to do it.
Bill Johnson February 07, 2014 at 04:03 PM
Just remember, most, if not all, the problems being dealt with in Plainfield arise from the Peck, Hurtado - tea party gang. So, next time you all vote, don't complain about these guys anymore. YOU VOTED FOR THEM. They are the Republican party in Plainfield. The only thing that can stop them is them, the Republicans who would stand up and tell these guys to resign. Call on every Republican to sign a letter for Peck and Hurtado to step down. Then, you'll know the difference between those who are part of the problem, and those that are not. The ones who sign it are the good Rs.
oldschool February 07, 2014 at 06:07 PM
@MC, I'm sorry that attempt to point out the irony in these two situations went right over your head, so let me clarify. In one case a number of bars were raided for alleged illegal (but commonly over-looked) activities. Aside from the loss of revenue IDOR and IRS, a pretty much victimless crime. On the other hand, allegations of violations of public trust seem to going unnoticed until the recent turn of event.


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