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Forest preserve employee charged with bribery

A Cook County Forest Preserve District employee was secretly recorded two years ago taking $10,000 cash in kickbacks to steer contracts to a west suburban construction company owner working undercover for the FBI, federal authorities said today.

Joseph Mollica, 52, of Elmwood Park, was indicted Wednesday on two counts of bribery, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He was released on his own recognizance after his initial arrest on Oct. 3.

Mollica, an assistant engineer for the Forest Preserve District for more than 20 years until his resignation last week, had authority to influence and award contracts for work under $25,000, prosecutors said.

On Oct. 14, 2011, Mollica accepted a $6,000 kickback from the undercover operative in return for steering a $24,900 contract to refurbish the Forest Preserve District’s headquarters building in the 500 block of North Harlem Avenue in River Forest, according to the charges. 

Two months later, the informant and Mollica discussed another kickback scheme involving a $16,500 contract to power wash and stain the building and its boardwalk and do caulking at the Sand Ridge Nature Center in Calumet City, the charges alleged. During the call, the informant asked Mollica how much in bribe money he was expecting.

“Whatever you give me, I’ll be happy, OK?” the charges quoted Mollica as responding. “It’s all going to pay bills…I still can’t get rid of this, this credit card (expletive). That’s what I’m trying to do.”

On Dec. 16, 2011, the two met in the parking lot of a Chili’s restaurant in Rosemont while FBI agents monitored the meeting from a nearby van. The informant allegedly counted out loud as he gave Mollica a $4,000 kickback for the contract, according to the charges.

“Four thousand, my little buddy, and lunch is on you,” the informant told Mollica, according to the charges. Mollica then thanked the informant and shook his hand before both men walked into the restaurant.

The undercover informant had agreed to cooperate with the FBI in the sting after being arrested on drug conspiracy charges , authorities said. The informant has been paid about $9,000 by the FBI for his undercover work in this investigation, according to the charges.

Mollica’s attorney did not immediately return calls for comment.

In an emailed statement, a Forest Preserve District spokeswoman said the allegations represent “a serious violation of the law and are completely unacceptable.”

“We are taking every possible measure to eliminate these kinds of unlawful actions, and are currently undergoing a complete review of our procurement policies and procedures,” spokeswoman Karen Vaughn said in the statement.

jmeisner@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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