Cicero spends $120,000 at hot dog stand linked to board member
BY STEVE WARMBIR Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org August 29, 2011 12:44AM
Exterior of The Dog Stop, located at 6100 W. Belmont Avenue, is photographed on Friday, August 26, 2011 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:28AM
When Town of Cicero officials need to buy hot dogs to feed their residents and workers, where do they go?
Often, they skip the hot dog stands in town and call on a fast-food restaurant on the Northwest Side of Chicago called the Dog Stop.
Town officials have been great customers there, spending nearly $120,000 since 2005, when Town President Larry Dominick took office.
While the Dog Stop is 8 miles from Cicero Town Hall, it’s still close to home — a paid Cicero town board member has a stake in it, and her two sons, who are highly paid Town of Cicero consultants, have worked there for years.
One son, Craig Pesek, 35, was hired as a consultant to oversee the creation of a new town park with special tax funds, which are meant to be spent on economic redevelopment in Cicero.
More than $26,000 of those special funds, called TIF money, short for tax increment financing, went to buy hot dogs and food at the Dog Stop for the 2008 opening of the Cicero Community Park.
Spending Cicero TIF money on food baffled experts on how such money is supposed to be spent under state law.
Jason Liechty, a co-author of a 2007 report on TIF spending, questioned whether the expenditure was proper.
“This is certainly a new one, hot dogs,” Liechty said.
Laurence Msall, president of the The Civic Federation, also criticized the spending, saying, “it is unreasonable and against the interest of taxpayers of Cicero to use TIF funds for hot dog purchases.”
A Town of Cicero spokesman said none of this was improper and praised the Dog Stop.
Town Spokesman Ray Hanania said Craig Pesek indicated he had nothing to do with the Dog Stop catering the park’s grand opening events. Pesek did not return phone messages for comment.
Pesek’s mother, Elaine, a Cicero teacher, lists herself as a shareholder in the Dog Stop. She sits on the Town of Cicero president’s office of literacy and has been paid more than $38,000.
Craig Pesek and his brother, Jeff, 38, another long-time Dog Stop employee and the president of the local high school district, have done well as town consultants, making more than $850,000 under Dominick.
The brothers were key to getting Dominick elected.
Both men were the focus of controversy earlier this year after the Sun-Times reported that a convicted drug dealer, Henry Rendon, had testified at a mob bombing trial that he was a silent partner in a bar called Ontourage that Craig Pesek owns and Jeff Pesek has helped manage.
Jeff Pesek testified at the same trial, under immunity, that while his brother is the bar’s owner, “there was other individuals who helped him out in the beginning, yes.”
In a later interview, though, Jeff Pesek denied Rendon was ever a partner in Ontourage or that he ever had any financial dealings with him.
The town spokesman, Hanania, praised the Peseks and indicated there was nothing wrong with buying hot dogs from a Chicago business — despite the town president saying he preferred buying in Cicero when possible.
“The Peseks are a well-known Cicero family with a great love for the town and the community,” Hanania said. “All of the Peseks have been raised in Cicero and have deep ties to our community and still have the interests and the well-being of the community at heart.”
Hanania also noted the town had done business with the Dog Stop before Dominick became president but could provide no details.
Former Cicero Town President Ramiro Gonzalez, who lost to Dominick in 2005, said he did not remember ever regularly using the Dog Stop to cater town events.
“It’s really hard for me to think we would go to the Northwest Side of Chicago for hot dogs when there are plenty of hot dog stands in Cicero,” Gonzalez said.
Of the $26,400 in TIF money spent for the 2008 park opening, Hanania said the money broke down across multiple days of the celebration like this:
† About $4,000 went to purchase 1,000 lunches for the park opening.
† About $3,000 went for a dignitary reception for more than 200 people.
† About $10,000 went to feed more than 2,500 town children.
† About $8,000 went to provide food for another 2,000 people.