Can't See the Forest for the Sleaze: Happy Trails Between the DuPage County's Forest Preserve District & State's Attorney's Office

A true tale of cronyism, conflicts of interest and ethics in DuPage County.


By CountyLeaks

Recent "fraud scheme" charges against former employees and a vendor of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County raise disturbing questions of fairness and even legitimacy due to the District's historic cronyism with the DuPage State's Attorney's office. Of the 145 miles of trails at the Forest Preserve, the most consequential is invisible -- leading straight from the District's headquarters on Naperville Road to the law enforcers' office at 503 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton.

On Sept. 5th, Paul Biasco reported in the Daily Herald's, "DuPage Forest Preserve Employees Charged in Fraud Scheme," that the former director of information technology department, Mark McDonald, and the department manager, David Tepper, were accused of "stealing more than $100,000 from the district over a six-year period".

The article continued that a third man, Arif Mahmood, who worked for Alamach Technology, Inc., an IT vendor for the district, was charged with "being involved in one of the schemes".

Local government citizen watchdogs claim vendors contracted by the Forest Preserve District to conduct this internal IT investigation and to handle the crisis strategies surrounding the criminal charges have connections with the DuPage State's Attorney's office which are too close for comfort. The District's hiring of a finance director this year also bring concerns of a conflict of interest with the County's prosecutor.

The Daily Herald, in conjunction with the Better Government Association, published, "FBI Joins Probe of DuPage Forest District Contracts," on Aug. 2nd. "The FBI is 'part of the investigation,' (DuPage Forest Preserve District President) Pierotti said, along with the state's attorney's office," Andrew Schroedter and Elizabeth Mistretta wrote.

Despite outcries from citizens over months, the Forest Preserve District continues to have no Ethics Commission, as required by law. The District's ethics policy meets the minimal state standard with no amendments. Click here and here for the District's reactions to citizens who dare to question the investigation and FBI probe.

JRM Consulting, Inc. -- Forest Preserve's Contracted Internal Investigators

In July 2011, JRM Consulting, Inc. of Naperville was contracted to conduct an audit of the IT Department.  Unknown to the public and not mentioned in their contract was the true scope of work -- to conduct an "internal computer forensics investigation" at the Forest Preserve.  The results of the months long investigation was presented to the State's Attorney's office on Nov. 21st.

The owner of JRM is Jerry Marquardt of Naperville. No information can be located on-line showing that JRM has expertise or licenses to conduct forensic investigations -- a specialized field usually involving advanced training and certification. 

JRM has been paid $38,000 since 1999 for political consulting in Illinois, including payment of over $14,000 for goods and services by Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett, who stepped down in November 2010 to accept an appointment to the Illinois appellate court, District 2.

The brother of Jerry is Scott Marquardt, owner of Marquardt & Co., of Wheaton.  Marquardt & Co. are lobbyists for both the office of DuPage County State's Attorney and the DuPage County Election Commission. Scott Marquardt and his wife, Barbara Skurka, team up at the law firm, Marquardt & Belmonte, also of Wheaton. Marquardt and Skurka are former assistant DuPage County State's Attorney. In fact, all seven attorneys listed at the firm cut their legal teeth at the same office that is prosecuting McDonald, Tepper and Mahmood.

One former assistant state's attorney working at Marquardt & Belmonte -- Rick Veenstra of Addison -- has returned to the law enforcer's office as the Deputy Chief of the Civil Bureau and manager of its Governmental Affairs and Special Litigation Division. 

On reports to the Illinois State Board of Elections, Barbara Skurka uses one of two last names -- Skurka or Marquardt. There is no hyphenation.

Skurka/Marquardt is reportedly the paid fundraiser for the campaign of current State's Attorney Bob Berlin. Since February 2011, Skurka/Marquardt has received $40,000 from Citizens for Bob Berlin for consulting. The campaign's paid treasurer is Jack Hogan, finance director of the Forest Preserve.

Skurka/Marquardt, Hogan and the Forest Preserve's contracted political strategists, Reverse Spin, were also paid for extensive political work for former DuPage State's Attorneys Joe Birkett and Jim Ryan; on various campaigns, Skurka/Marquardt has been paid a total of $376,000, Hogan $102,000 and Reverse Spin/Curry Public Strategies $260,000.

Click HERE for a photo of lobbyist Scott Marquardt with his clientele DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin and DuPage County Election Commission attorney Pat Bond.

Reverse Spin -- Forest Preserve's Contracted Political Strategists

The Forest Preserve's board voted unanimously to hire Wheaton-based political consultants, Reverse Spin, in November 2011 in a no-bid contract for $48,000. Five of the six commissioners voting were up for re-election in 2012. The firm was brought on the same time the "crisis" of the District's IT scandal became public.

In the Daily Herald's, "DuPage Forest District Paying Consultants $66,000," Elizabeth Mistretta wrote, "The forest preserve already employs six-person public relations team, with a combined salary of nearly $400,000 per year and approximately 90 years of combined experience." 

Reverse Spin described themselves as "political strategists" in their three-quarter-page proposal and "game changers" on their website. The firm's motto is "control the news". Omitted from Reverse Spin's proposal was the disclosure that they were -- and still are -- the voice of the DuPage County Election Commission and had been contracted for two years by the Illinois Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor

According to the Illinois State Board of Elections' website, Reverse Spin and its owners, Dan Curry and attorney John Pearman, were receiving payments along with Skurka/Marquardt from the state-wide political campaigns of former DuPage County State's Attorneys Jim Ryan and Joe Birkett. Reportedly, Curry and Pearman consulted in communications and strategy and Skurka/Marquardt directed fund-raising in these campaigns.

Marquardt & Co. are also lobbyists for the embattled DuPage County Election Commission -- the same Agency which has been paying Reverse Spin $3,000 per month.

The Forest Preserve's new finance director, Jack Hogan, received payments as treasurer on the same political campaigns of Ryan and Birkett with Reverse Spin and Skurka/Marquardt. In May 2011, Hogan was paid $500 by YES 2 PCHS -- a campaign for a referendum to build a new high school in Paris, Ill. Pearman, who grew up in Paris, played a major role with this initiative. By the end of the year, Hogan and Reverse Spin were both under contract at the Forest Preserve.

CountyLeaks has reported on Reverse Spin's enigmatic activities involving state's attorneys past and present herehereherehereherehereherehere and here. Ironically, the political strategists were involved with the Forest Preserve's Transparency Portal, newly launched on its website.

Apparently, Reverse Spin is the go-to firm for delicate matters concerning investigations of governmental staff and state's attorneys. While performing these tasks, Reverse Spin has been closely associated with defense attorneys Terry Ekl and Jim Sotos. Ekl represents David Tepper in the Forest Preserve investigation.

CountyLeaks has reported on Ekl's representation of state's attorneys past and present hereherehereherehereherehere and here.

In 2010, Sotos led the "internal investigation" of financial abuses at Metra; no convictions against governmental staff result from any of Sotos' "internal investigations". Former Metra Chairwoman Carole Doris, who served during the period investigated by Sotos for financial mishandling, was the chief deputy attorney general under Ryan. Prior to this position, she was DuPage County State's Attorney Ryan's deputy chief of the civil division. 

The website designer who is paid along with Skurka/Marquardt and Hogan by Citizens for Bob Berlin is Merc Strategy GroupCurt Mercadante of Morris, Republican candidate for the Grundy County Board, is closely associated with Reverse Spin, as well. Mercadante's firm was paid $31,596 by Friends of Jim Ryan in his 2009-10 gubernatorial primary race -- the same campaign which paid Reverse Spin, Skurka/Marquardt and Hogan. Like Hogan, Merc was paid for services by YES 2 PCHS in 2011. One-third of Merc's paid political work that year was for Citizens for Bob Berlin and YES 2 PCHS.

A testimonial on Merc Strategy's website reads: "If you want someone who understands New Media and knows how to put it in used for your company, organization or campaign, Curt is the man..." -- Dan Curry, Principal, Reverse Spin, LLC.

Curry and Pearman met while working for former Illinois Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan; Curry was Ryan's spokesman and Pearman was chief of policy and legislative affairs. Skurka/Marquardt served as deputy chief of the Medicaid Fraud Bureau in Ryan's attorney general's office during this time.

In addition to currently receiving $7,000 per month for political consulting in DuPage government, Reverse Spin has recently performed paid campaign work for Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran.

Jack Hogan -- Forest Preserve's Finance Director & Paid Campaign Treasurer for Both DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin & Forest Preserve President D. Dewey Pierotti

According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, Forest Preserve Finance Director Jack Hogan has received $5,650 as treasurer for the political campaign of DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin since January 2011. Despite the on-going investigation at the Forest Preserve, which includes allegations of financial mismanagement by former staff, Hogan remains as treasurer for the prosecutor's campaign. 

Hogan was listed as both chairman and treasurer of former DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett's campaign for state-wide office, and treasurer of former DuPage County State's Attorney Jim Ryan's bid for governor.  

Along with Barbara Skurka/Marquardt, Hogan has been paid by Citizens for Bob Berlin, Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett and Friends of Jim Ryan.

The finance director has also worked on the same campaigns with the District's contracted political consultants, Reverse Spin, and Skurka/Marquardt, including battles of Ryan and Birkett for state-wide office. In May 2011, Hogan was paid $500 by YES 2 PCHS -- a campaign for a referendum to build a new high school in Paris, Ill. By the end of 2011, Hogan and Reverse Spin were both under contract at the Forest Preserve.

Hogan is still listed as treasurer in the active campaign for Forest Preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti; Hogan was paid $425 by Citizens for Pierotti the year prior to being hired as the Forest Preserve's interim finance director. Forest Preserve Commissioners did not discuss this matter publicly as being a potential conflict of interest.

In addition, Hogan has received payments from numerous campaigns, such as that of former DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, and the DuPage County State's Attorney spokesman Paul Darrah, who has commented on the on-going Forest Preserve IT investigation and charges.

Hogan has received over $102,000 for his paid political work -- mostly for DuPage County Republicans.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Joanne October 29, 2012 at 01:08 PM
We need a special prosecutor to thoroughly investigate the Forest Preserve! This cronyism is disgusting! Time to hold those in charge accountable
Gary Kleppe October 29, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Has the DuPage State's Attorney's office *EVER* investigated a Republican official for corruption or other wrongdoing?
CountyLeaks October 31, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Is it possible for Mark McDonald, David Tepper and Arif Mahmood (or anyone else?) to have fair prosecutions and trials in DuPage County? http://countyleaks.blogspot.com/2012/10/cant-see-forest-for-sleaze-happy-trails.html
CountyLeaks November 01, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Why should taxpayers be expected to accept and respect the decisions and actions of government entities who obviously see nothing wrong with such off-the-charts conflicts of interest? http://countyleaks.blogspot.com/2012/10/cant-see-forest-for-sleaze-happy-trails.html


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