Eugene Mullins was a veteran Chicago police officer from a working-class family who'd grown up "sticking up for the little guy" when in 2006 his career took a dramatic turn.
His childhood friend Todd Stroger had just been elected Cook County Board president, and Stroger needed people he could trust on his team, defense attorney John Richardson said as Mullins' corruption trial got underway Monday.
"He (Stroger) said, 'Hey Gene-o, man, you gotta come over and help me. Help the little guy,'" Richardson told jurors in a theatrical opening statement in U.S. District Court. "And he did."
Federal prosecutors alleged that Mullins used his position as a trusted member of Stroger's staff to help himself, pocketing nearly $35,000 in kickbacks over a two-year period in return for steering county contracts to acquaintances. The so-called "24-9" contracts — each worth less than $25,000 so they didn't need County Board approval — were to promote awareness of the 2010 U.S. census, help residents affected by floods in 2008 and increase energy efficiency. But little or no work was done after the contracts were awarded, prosecutors alleged.
"The money just went into the defendant's pocket," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsay Jenkins said in her opening statement.
Jenkins said Mullins submitted invoices for work that hadn't even started and that the companies were not qualified to perform. Checks that typically took weeks to process were instead cut in a matter of days, and Mullins personally delivered them to his acquaintances, who in turn kicked back cash to him under the guise of paying for subcontract work, she said.
Mullins has pleaded not guilty to four counts each of wire fraud and soliciting kickbacks. The four contractors also were charged and are expected to testify against Mullins in exchange for potential leniency in their cases, prosecutors said.
Richardson said the contractors were bullied into telling authorities what they wanted to hear.
"You got a bunch of guys who are locked up and said (Mullins) didn't do anything, and then they changed their minds," Richardson said. "That's what this is."
In court filings, Mullins' attorneys have alleged that he was targeted after he refused to cooperate with authorities investigating his boss, a probe they claim began in the county inspector general's office and was being steered behind the scenes by Stroger's political enemies. Stroger, who was voted out of office in 2010 after a tumultuous term, is the first name on a list of potential defense witnesses submitted to the court, but it's unclear whether he will be called to the stand.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun