With cases in 28 states, our lawyers travel frequently. I am no exception. This post is being written from Chicago’s O’Hare airport where I am reading the Chicago Tribune. Besides the normal election eve pulp – politics is big business in Chicago – there appears a first page story about the Village of Tinley Park and the town’s no bid garbage disposal contract.
Garbage, who cares? The garbage contractor for Tinley Park has enjoyed a no bid contract for nearly two decades. The present contract was extended in 2011 until 2019 and is worth $24 million. Unfortunately, the folks are paying more for garbage removal than property owners in nearby towns. Unfortunately, the reputed owner of the trash company is apparently a political insider and campaign donor to Tinley Park’s long time mayor, Ed Zabrocki.
See the problem?
The owner of the trash company says he is no longer an owner and that he is now just a manager. The mayor and assistant village manager… well, they just doesn’t seem to get it. When interviewed by the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Zabrocki said, “I really feel strongly we run a damn good town. We’re getting beat up and we don’t deserve it.” Apparently running a good town also involves awarding a no bid $1 million printing contract to a company owned by the mayor’s campaign manager and $176,000 to a flower shop owned by the family of the mayor’s secretary.
When asked why the village didn’t go to bid on the garbage contract the assistant village manager reportedly said because the existing contractor’s prices were not “exceptionally high.”
Illinois is one of the few states that allows taxpayers to file whistleblower cases under the state’s False Claims Act against people who rip off local government. In this case, it may not be the trash contractor that is doing anything wrong, however.
Illinois’ Whistleblower Law
The Illinois False Claims Act protects taxpayers of the state, counties and municipalities from people or businesses that “knowingly present, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval.” For an award to be available in a case like this, there may need to be a showing that the waste hauler was padding bills.
False billing doesn’t appear to be a problem in this case; aapparently the village is simply content to let the vendor set their own prices.
The Illinois False Claims Act pays hefty awards to whistleblowers but we aren’t sure that this scenario qualifies.
Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans… there are cities all over the country that are rife with corruption. Unfortunately when politicians are the root of the problem, there may not always be a False Claims Act remedy. Typically, the cases we see involve medical clinics with false billings, lenders that write bad mortgages knowing that they are backed by the government and contractors billing the government for services never performed.
We remain interested in all types of fraud against taxpayers. This includes allegations about dishonest politicians. Ultimately, wherever there is corruption, taxpayers are usually left holding the bag.
If you have inside, original source knowledge about a fraud to the government or taxpayers, give us a call. We represent whistleblowers in several, billion dollar cases. Obviously not every case can be that large but we have helped whistleblowers walk away with tens of millions of dollars.