When I read the news that Carla Oglesby, deputy chief of staff to County Board President Todd Stroger, had been arrested on charges relating to siphoning contracts to her friends and her own company, I literally jumped out of my seat.
So sayeth the Tribune:
Oglesby is charged with theft of government property, a class X felony punishable by six to 30 years upon conviction. She’s also charged with felony counts of money laundering and official misconduct.
It was a shocking (maybe) conclusion to an ignominious tenure on the fifth floor of the County Building. Her very presence in the Stroger administration was puzzling, given her background as a publicist for rappers and athletes. Then there was the consistent strain of news gushing out of the County Building, each one chronicling another shady contract designed to escape the scrutiny of county commissioners. There’s been no word yet (as of Monday night) from the Stroger administration, which is formulating a response.
Let’s recap Oglesby’s rise to the corridors of Cook County power – and her various failures, embarrassments and alleged crimes.
In December, her PR firm, CGC Communications, was retained by Stroger as he sought to win the Democratic primary. He lost badly, and his bid for reelection was not helped by CGC, which relied on an insular PR strategy, which isolated the media and targeted Stroger’s base. I chronicled the communications failures when I covered the race for the Chicago Current.
In February, shortly after Stroger was trounced by Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, MWRD President Terry O’Brien and Clerk Dorothy Brown, he hired Oglesby as his deputy chief of staff, a post that the administration paid about $116,000. Later officials would say she actually made $120,000.
In perhaps a very poor choice of words, looking back, Stroger said Oglesby “understands the initiatives and opportunities to which my administration is committed, and is dedicated to joining me in doing all we can to support policy and programs that help the people of Cook County.”
It was just days after she was hired that one of the first shady contracts was fast-tracked for payment. Oglesby pushed through at $24,975 contract to her own firm, CGC Communications. What’s worse is that it escaped the scrutiny of commissioners, who must sign off on contracts worth $25,000 or more. And it was far from the last. This was first reported in April by the Sun-Times and Fox Chicago News.
She was suspended for five days, and Stroger chided her for steering the contract to her own company, which she had vowed not to take a paycheck from during her employment with the county.
Yes, the crooked contracts kept coming. Rappers, ex-felons and friends got a cut of the county. The oddest was when a firm called Arrei Management, a firm purportedly run by West Side activist Mark Carter (he of Soldiers for Stroger, the n-bomb dropping fellas who passed out offensive fliers equating Preckwinkle with Aunt Jemima and detailing an Irish cabal). Arrei used to be owned by…Carla Oglesby. What address did Carter use? Carla Oglesby’s former UPS box address, the same one she used while dodging child support payments from a previous relationship in New Jersey.
One has to wonder what qualifications rappers have to spread the word about composting. Arrei was incorporated in Illinois by Tesa Anewishki, an executive at CGC. And Jenni Johnson, another CGC staffer, signed tax documents for another firm that arose out of nowhere.
Questions existed as to whether any work was done. Meanwhile, Oglesby returned amidst investigations by the county’s independent inspector general and the state’s attorney, defending herself and declaring her innocence.
Still, the contracts – or at least news or them – kept coming.
One that was never reported involved a marketing firm called Lavender B Media. The company was contracted to do PR work surrounding the county’s department of environment’s conservation initiatives. You can read the whole contract and series of documents here.
But here’s the thing: Lavender B’s principal, LaQuita Broughton, sent the county a proposal dated March 15, 2010. She sent an invoice for $24,995 on the same day. So she requested to be paid before the proposal was even accepted. How do we know that? The county agreed to pay Broughton on April 2, one day after Oglesby requested Lavender B be awarded the contract. (I reached out to Broughton, Oglesby and Gene Mullins, Stroger’s point person on all Oglesby requests in July, but was unable to reach them despite repeated attempts.)
What’s more, Lavender B, a marketing and public relations company has no website. Seriously? I don’t know what kind of self-respecting company selling yarn, let along peddling PR services, doesn’t have a website in this day and age.
It often takes weeks or months for such agreements and checks to move forward. The Oglesby contracts had an interesting way of yielding fast cash.
So now Oglesby has been arrested. I wouldn’t be surprised if more names from the past few months join her in the shackles of shame. There’s a lot of layers which have yet to be explored. Commissioner Larry Suffredin told Fox Chicago News that he expects more dominoes to fall.
It’s a strange end to this saga, which, like Greek tragedies, is fraught with greed, jealousy, retribution and comeuppance. And the fact that all this was happening under Stroger’s nose calls into question everything he’s done. He never condemned Oglesby, only going as far to suspend her and to call the CGC contract a “no-no.” How can taxpayers trust his judgment – if they ever did – when when someone this close to him was allegedly operating a contract shell game?
Voters will have an opportunity to pick a new president in November. Let’s hope the next one takes heed of the conflicts of interest that are leaving a stink in the County Building.