Normally, when you see a headline such as this one, the first thing that comes to mind is some sort of campaign finance kerfuffle. But that wasn’t the case with former Illinois state senator Tom Cullerton. When we describe the Democrat as having “taken money” from the state’s labor unions, it wasn’t coming in the form of the usual donations that they make to Democratic politicians. No, Mr. Cullerton confessed in February to a much more direct method of transferring union dues directly into his own pockets without all of the muss and fuss of laundering it through his campaign accounts. He conspired with a local union boss to have an imaginary job created for him as a union organizer for which he was paid a handsome salary and benefits over a three-year period while doing nothing. After multiple delays in starting his trial, a plea deal was reached and Cullerton was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. (CBS News)

Former Illinois State Sen. Tom Cullerton was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison on Tuesday, three months after pleading guilty to taking more than $250,000 in salary and benefits in a ghost-payrolling scheme involving the Teamsters labor union.

Cullerton, 52, resigned from office in late February, about two weeks before pleading guilty to one count of embezzlement.

At his sentencing hearing on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman rejected a request from Cullerton’s defense attorney to sentence him only to probation, sentencing him instead to one year and one day in prison.

At the sentencing hearing, Cullerton’s attorney asked the judge to allow his client to go on probation along with repaying the money he embezzled. Judge Robert Gettleman informed him that probation wouldn’t be an option and he would instead be heading directly to jail.

When you look at Cullerton’s story, it almost seems like a formula for failure. He had been a member of Teamsters Local Union 734 before being elected to the state Senate in 2012. State law forbids elected officials from holding salaried jobs with labor unions or receiving employment benefits such as health care. That didn’t stop Cullerton from working with former Teamsters boss John Coli to set up such a do-nothing job the following year. He racked up more than $250,000 in salary and medical reimbursements over the course of the scheme.

The original charges filed against Cullerton were “embezzlement from a labor union” and “conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union.” But that makes it sounds as if the union was the victim in all of this. In reality, a union boss worked hand-in-hand with the state senator to make it happen. The actual victims were the union members whose dues were spent to finance this scheme rather than representing them in negotiations with their employers.

According to the indictment, Cullerton conspired with former Teamsters boss John Coli to arrange for a do-nothing job with the union in 2013.

Coli pleaded guilty to extortion charges just days before Cullerton was indicted.

We’ve seen too many of these stories over the years to believe that Cullerton was some sort of outlier. There was Chuck Rocha, who was convicted of embezzlement in a deal with the United Steelworkers Union. Then there was John Dougherty in Philadelphia who was convicted after his own “no-show” job was exposed. Other examples abound.

Do you suppose that Cullerton was regularly informed how the union wanted him to vote on various matters while serving in the state senate? Perish the thought, right? This is all just so typical. The big labor unions all work hand in hand with the Democrats all across the country. And not all of that “work” is above board.

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