Sheriff’s probe: Robbins deal heavily favored developer
By Casey Toner email@example.com January 27, 2014 9:54PM
Robbins Mayor Dr. Irene Brodie, center, looks on during the town hall meeting with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart at the Robbins Community Center in Robbins, IL on Tuesday February 19, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2014 1:21PM
A three-month investigation by the Cook County sheriff’s police into a controversial limestone mine and quarry project in Robbins shows the deal disproportionately favors the developer amid questions concerning the contract, transparency and the village’s legal representation.
Among other findings, the sheriff’s police report states the developer told investigators he currently lacks the money to complete the project, the developer made an allegedly illegal campaign contribution to a village trustee through a company employee and the village attorney didn’t know about the deal until after it was signed.
The report described the redevelopment agreement as “questionable” due to former Mayor Irene Brodie’s deteriorating health when she signed the deal as well as the contract’s notarization by a former village trustee, Willie Carter, whose son owns multiple properties in the project’s footprint, as previously reported in the SouthtownStar.
“It’s like these guys just thought they could come in, pull the wool over residents’ and village officials’ eyes with assurances of, ‘We got it covered, this will bring you revenue,’ ” said Cara Smith, Sheriff Tom Dart’s chief of policy and communications. “When you look at the terms, there’s no guarantee a cent is coming to the village of Robbins.”
To make the deal more favorable to the village and its residents, the report recommends that the village renegotiate the contract. It also urges the village board appoint someone to fill the seat of Trustee Shantiel Simon, who supports the project and told investigators that he has not resided in Robbins for four months.
The proposed quarry/mine project has been on hold since Nov. 27, pending the completion of the sheriff’s police investigation. Mayor Tyrone Ward, in a text message, told the SouthtownStar the village board supports a renegotiated agreement that offers “more than a fair deal for residents.”
Paul Stewart, a spokesman for the developer, ALM Resources, declined to comment, saying he has not yet read the sheriff’s police report. Stewart said he was uncertain of the project’s status because there has been no contact between ALM and village officials since November.
ALM Resources manager Jim Louthen — who the SouthtownStar previously reported is being sued by First Midwest Bank after defaulting on a $350,000 loan — told sheriff’s investigators that he does not now have the financing for the project, according to the report.
It says the report will be sent to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the Illinois Board of Elections due to concerns about Simon’s residency and allegedly improper campaign contributions to Simon from a company owned by ALM Resources.
Dart announced the investigation in October, weeks after the SouthtownStar reported that Robbins entered into a deal with Riverside-based ALM in May to create a limestone quarry on 60 acres, followed by asphalt and concrete plants and a 169-acre underground mine. More than 50 houses would need to be acquired for the redevelopment.
ALM wanted to acquire the land through a “quick-take” process using Robbins’ power of eminent domain, which allows it to take private property for the public good. That requires legislative approval, and many residents feared such a bill could pass in the Legislature’s veto session last fall.
However, the village board rejected the eminent domain option a day after a volatile town hall meeting between the developers and residents.
“This office could find no necessity for such a hurried and inscrutable strategy,” the report states. “Citizen attendance and opinions voiced at public meetings held after the Redevelopment Agreement was signed confirmed that this (quick-take) issue was one that caused suspicion related to the transparency of the entire project.”
The report states Louthen, who responded to investigators only in writing through his attorney, said he first pitched the project to village officials on Nov. 14, 2011, and the village board approved it the following month. Louthen said that during the next two years, he made more than 20 presentations about the project, according to the report.
It notes a clause in the contract that prohibits any royalty payments to Robbins until the Illinois Department of Transportation agrees to use limestone from the quarry.
The report says investigators tried to interview Brodie about the redevelopment but were told the former mayor was incapable of participating in an interview because of poor health.
The sheriff’s investigation states that ALM Resources and Robbins Renaissance Construction, two companies Louthen runs, donated $4,500 to Simon’s failed mayoral campaign in 2013. Louthen instructed Robbins Renaissance bookkeeper Cynthia Crane to give $800 to Simon’s campaign, and the company later reimbursed her in violation of Illinois election law, the report says.
Simon said he reported all of his campaign contributions and dismissed the report’s claim about his lack of residency.
“Everybody knows I’m a truck driver,” he said. “I have a contract that takes me out of town.”
Former village attorney Mark Sterk told investigators a former village manager, Napoleon Haney, told him about the redevelopment deal a day after it was signed, the report states. Sterk said his law firm represented Robbins for years until the newly elected village board fired the firm last spring, but its attorneys had not attended any village board meetings in the last two years because the village could not afford it, the report says.
Chicago attorney Don Kreger represented the village for free during negotiations on the redevelopment agreement, but it’s unclear why or how Kreger was selected, according to the report. Kreger could not be reached for comment.