Melrose Park remains a curious place.
Historically it was a town with strong organized crime influences. While the current leaders of Melrose Park may not like that image, they don’t do a lot to correct it either, considering Mayor Ron Serpico continues to take campaign contributions from a waste-hauling company that the FBI has long contended is run by two high-ranking mob figures.
But we digress.
The mob aside, run-of-the-mill public corruption hasn’t disappeared from the western suburb, as evidenced by a scandal a few years back that sent the now-former police chief, Vito Scavo, to federal prison.
The Chicago Sun-Times puts it quite succinctly:
Scavo “was convicted of racketeering and extortion for strong-arming local businesses into using the two private security firms he illegally ran out of his west suburban police department.” What’s more, “Scavo used on-duty officers and village equipment to staff his firms.”
With Scavo as a backdrop, you’d think Melrose Park employees would be cautious these days about their secondary employment, and how it interfaces with municipal government.
Turns out the current deputy police chief in Melrose Park, Michael Castellan, ran a company that, until recently, sold uniforms and other supplies to the very agency that he also helps run.
The BGA detailed some of this a few months back (along with revelations that Assistant Fire Chief Bill Campanelli ran a vending company on the side that was dispensing snacks and pop at Village Hall and other village facilities, as well as local businesses that face inspections from Campanelli’s public agency.)
Although this surely represented a conflict of interest, it wasn’t against the rules. It was legal—and apparently not even frowned upon—for a municipal worker in Melrose Park to have a private business arrangement of this kind with the municipality.
However, prompted by questions from the BGA, Melrose Park’s village board did the right thing in the end: just before Christmas, trustees passed an ethics ordinance that, officials said, prevents the type of business relationships Castellan and Campanelli had with their town.
The “conflict-of-interest” measure reads in part: “No Employee at the level of a department head or higher shall have any Business Relationship with any entity other than the Village. . . . No Employee, or entity in which an Employee has a Financial Interest, shall have any employment or Business Relationship with any Person who is Doing Business with the Village if such Employee exercises Contract Management Authority with respect to the business with the Village.”
The ordinance also touches on possible discipline for those engaged in “impermissible conduct.”
It was like pulling teeth to get Mayor Serpico to talk, but when we finally got him he told the BGA that “when some of these things were brought to our attention, that’s when we addressed the ordinance . . . not that anyone did anything wrong from a legal” perspective.
“We took that extra step” to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, he said.
Mayor Serpico made it clear he considers this matter now closed, although we at the BGA still have questions about one aspect of Castellan’s business—which was (reportedly it’s now closed) called Shirt Stop and, until 2007, had a virtual lock on the village’s uniform sales to cops.
We discovered that, in 2008, the police department bought 14 Motorola police radios from Shirt Stop for $3,500. We obtained the sales documents from Melrose Park by making a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and, wow, the documents are sparse.
So far as we can tell, there’s no warranty, no paperwork from the manufacturer, no indication of bidding—very little of anything in the village’s official record except a copy of a check and an invoice.
Which raises two points: Why did the village buy the radios? And where did they come from?
A village spokesman answered the first question by basically saying, Hey, we bought the radios from Castellan because it was good equipment at a good price.
But nobody seems to know where the radios originated.
A Motorola spokesman told the BGA via email that Shirt Stop “is not an authorized Motorola dealer and is not licensed to sell Motorola Solutions radios.”
Motorola is looking into the history of the devices, he added.
Castellan wouldn’t talk to us about this subject, but the village spokesman, acting as intermediary, relayed that Shirt Stop had a flood some time ago and the water destroyed records showing where the equipment came from. So, in other words, Castellan can’t say with certainty where he got the radios.
Roger that, 10-4.
As we said, Melrose Park remains a curious place.
This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.