Chicago Businessman Pleads Guilty to Benefit Fund Fraud

Stuart Levine’s ruse of innocence could last only so long.  The Chicago businessman and former board member of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on October 27, 2006 to charges of mail fraud and money-laundering in connection with kickbacks of retirement funds of active and retired teachers outside the city of Chicago.  Levine had been indicted in August 2005 on 13 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, soliciting a bribe, and attempted extortion.  He allegedly conspired with several other persons, including Tony Rezko, a top fundraiser to current Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, to obtain control over lucrative union-sponsored contracts, requiring that firms seeking to do business with the TRS pension fund and the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board pay kickbacks to ensure approval of their applications.

As reported in Union Corruption Update, Levine, now 60, had been accused, among other things, of extorting an $850,000 kickback from a Virginia-based firm, JER Inc., in return for handling an $85 million investment.  When JER hesitated, Levine pulled the contract off the agenda for an Illinois Teachers Retirement System board meeting.  A TRS staffer objected, and JER eventually won the contract without having to pay the bribe.  Key to the case was evidence given by a pair of Chicago lawyers, Joseph Cari and Steven Loren.  The two had pleaded guilty back in September 2005, agreeing to work with federal prosecutors to nail Levine.  It appears their cooperation paid off.  (U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Semiannual Report to the Congress, October 1, 2006-March 31, 2007; other sources).