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Proviso Probe

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

ethics complaint filed against Mark Sterk

It's long.

The gist of it is that he's doing political work for Welch, not representing the interests of Proviso Township High Schools.

District 209 is paying Mark Sterk of Odelson & Sterk for legal advice. Instead of providing sound legal advice that best serves the interests of D209, Sterk has joined with the Emanuel “Chris” Welch majority to represent their political and financial interests over the interests of D209. Sterk has repeatedly given dubious legal advice and in at least one instance joined a conspiracy to inappropriately bill D209 to put money in the pockets Eugene Moore, a political ally of Welch’s majority. Sterk’s questionable calls all have come down on the side of putting money in the pocket of Welch’s political allies.
On August 22, 2005, Sterk served as legal counsel at a meeting where the board majority gave a contract to EMM & Associates to be D209’s broker. The list of suspicious details includes:
1. EMM & Associates is not registered to do business in the State of Illinois or Cook County. If the business isn’t registered, it can’t have an insurance license.
2. The motion called for EMM to use Blue Cross Blue Shield. Why specify the insurance carrier if the broker is going to look for the best deal? And if D209 knew what carrier it wanted to use, why hire a broker?
3. Other brokers were not invited or allowed to bid against EMM for this work.
4. EMM contributed $5,000 to the campaign that elected Welch and two of the other three members of the board majority. Eugene Moore the owner of EMM assisted the campaign in other ways. This appears to be a conflict of interest.
5. Reatha Henry is Eugene Moore’s chief of staff. She makes $82,000 in a job that has no mandatory qualifications except Moore wants her in the position. Sterk told the Chicago Tribune there was no conflict of interest in Henry voting on the motion to give Moore over $100,000.
6. Welch and the entire board were asked about who owned EMM by a citizen that requested time on the agenda. Welch and all the others declined to answer the question. This shows Welch and his allies knew that using Eugene Moore’s company did create the appearance of impropriety.
7. Board president Emanuel Welch lied in the meeting and claimed one of the opposition board members (Kelly) had been the initial supporter of D209 using EMM. Kelly disputed Welch immediately.
Even with all these irregularities, Sterk stayed loyal to Welch, sacrificing the interests of D209.
On August 28, 2005 the Chicago Tribune reported, “Welch said board members conferred with attorney Mark Sterk of the Evergreen Park law firm of Odelson & Sterk prior to voting.” But we know three board members opposed the EMM deal and voted against it. When the citizen asked about EMM, one of the opposition (Flowers, Kelly or Marine) would have spoken, if they knew Moore owned EMM. But they didn’t. This suggests one of the following.
1. Welch lied to the Tribune.
2. Welch discussed the issue with Sterk, but the rest of the majority didn’t. (This is a subset of #1.)
3. Sterk met with the Welch-allied board members, but not the entire board. If he did this it is damning evidence that Sterk is working for the Welch’s majority and not the best interests of D209. Also, Sterk would know Adams, Henry, Madlock and Welch violated the Open Meetings Act. Lawyers are supposed to help people follow the law, not break it, right?
One of the opposition board members requested a ruling on conflict of interest in the August 22, 2005 meeting. One of the people on the agenda to be hired was Shavonne Henry, the daughter of board member Reatha Henry. Sterk declared there was no conflict of interest and no need for Henry to excuse herself from the vote. He did this quickly without asking a single follow-up question or providing any explanation. If Sterk were representing D209 it seems like he would ask if Henry and her daughter live in the same household and whether they share ownership of any investments.
Sterk did not see any conflict of interest when Emanuel Welch voted to hire his brother and client Billy Welch as a custodian (at over $46,000 per year). Did Sterk know Emanuel Welch represent Billy Welch in a case where he was charged with possession of 240 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute? If Sterk knew and didn’t inform District 209 that’s bad. If Sterk didn’t ask Emanuel Welch details about Billy Welch that’s bad too. Sterk would seem to either be Welch’s co-conspirator in duping D209 or a negligent attorney that tells Welch what he wants to hear as long as Sterk can bill D209.
Like EMM, Odelson & Sterk contributed to the election of Welch’s New Students First Party ($3,000). In general, attorneys are supposed to minimize financial interests of attorney and client overlapping or mingling. It seems likely that by investing in the Welch’s majority, Odelson & Sterk now feel a need to recoup the firm’s investment. Maybe Sterk’s judgment was clouded before contributing money to Welch’s campaign. But maybe the contribution was part of the process of transforming Sterk from attorney to political partisan allied with an apparently corrupt majority.
I request the ARDC consider the possibility that Odelston & Sterk’s contributions to the New Students First Party were inappropriate.
Remember, C. August Taddeo, the former Proviso Township Supervisor, is serving time for arranging kickbacks from attorneys doing work for Proviso Township. Taddeo also arranged to pay EMM & Associates for non-existent services, like Proviso Township High Schools appears to be doing. While this proves nothing about Sterk’s situation, it does suggest a culture of people committing this sort of crime. And Eugene Moore, the Democratic Committeeman, has approximately the same relationship with Welch as he had with Taddeo.

I filed the complaint with the ARDC.

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