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Fundraiser aggravates deceased man’s family

Drowning victim Carlos Salgado (right) stands with state Rep. Robert Rit(D-Blue Island) an undated photo. Rithosted fundraiser Friday with Blue

Drowning victim Carlos Salgado (right) stands with state Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) in an undated photo. Rita hosted a fundraiser Friday with Blue Island Park District Board President Fred Bilotto, whose name is linked to the pool party that resulte

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:00AM



Leave it to the Calumet Township Democratic Organization to offend the voters it represents, even as it tries to raise money from them.

The organization, headed by committeeman and state Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island), hosted a fundraiser Friday with featured guests Blue Island Park District Board President Fred Bilotto, Calumet Township Supervisor Rose Rita and Calumet Park Mayor Joseph DuPar.

None of them is up for election April 5, but the township organization is involved in other races and held a reception Friday night to raise funds for political efforts. More than 150 people attended the buffet-style dinner at Beggars Pizza.

Trouble is, Bilotto’s name is linked to an infamous after-hours pool party last summer on park district property that resulted in the death of 26-year-old Carlos Salgado, a Calumet Township trustee who could not swim.

Salgado’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit that specifically names Bilotto. As park board president, Bilotto allowed the party to take place at Memorial Park Pool and broke several park district rules, including permitting swimming after hours without a lifeguard and allowing alcohol consumption.

At some point during the swim party, several women removed their clothes and one couple retreated to the bathhouse, according to police reports.

Salgado was discovered the following morning drowned in the pool.

A Blue Island Police Department investigation did not determine wrongdoing. No one seems to know exactly how Salgado drowned.

And no one from the park board has taken responsibility for the extremely poor judgment that night.

So invitations to last week’s event urging donors to “honor” Bilotto nine months after Salgado’s death struck some as tacky. It was a poor choice of words, according to Salgado’s brother.

“I understand they throw fundraisers all the time, but that choice of words was like a slap in the face,” Miguel Salgado said.

Carlos Salgado was a quiet person with learning disabilities and congenital defects, his brother said.

“He always had a desire to fit in,” he said. “He was picked on a lot, (Bilotto) embraced him and brought him into this organization and made him a trustee.

“Carlos was not qualified for it. We always felt it was more of a ruse. He had the Hispanic name and they were taking advantage of that. I always felt that, and my mom, too. But we thought, ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ Well, here we are.”

The Salgado family remain distraught over the loss of their loved one. They have been increasingly frustrated by what they view as a fortress mentality from Bilotto and the park district. The park board hired a public relations firm and lawyered-up after the tragedy.

“There probably would not have been a lawsuit if he would have just talked to us and told us what happened,” Miguel Salgado said of Bilotto. “Instead, we got nothing. (Bilotto) came to us once, but he was talking like a robot. He just kept saying, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ He was like a broken record.”

Bilotto, who remains president of the park district board and teaches at Thornton Township High School, said Friday’s fundraiser was not intended to disrespect anyone.

“This was for the organization. It is being construed in other ways. There were three names on the invitation,” he said. “People like to make up stories for political gain. It hurts me personally.”

The after-hours party last June was a park district tradition, Bilotto said.

“I didn’t see it as a big issue at the time, everyone jumping in the pool to cool off,” he said.

And contrary to speculation, the fundraiser was not organized to cover Bilotto’s legal fees. The district’s insurance company is paying lawsuit fees and will cover settlements if they are awarded, Bilotto said.

“I offered my condolences to the family,” Bilotto said. “(Salgado) was my friend and always will be.”

Bilotto could have ameliorated the fallout by stepping down as president last summer, but he did not, nor did the board ask him to.

That was a mistake. A tragedy such as Salgado’s death should force a demotion. It’s one way to take some responsibility. It’s not personal. It’s just a fact.

In the meantime, Calumet Township Democrats could have been more sensitive organizing their fundraiser.

Even Mayor DuPar, who tries to remain neutral in Blue Island’s legendary political brawls, said he was perplexed at the trio of individuals honored.

“I was certainly surprised,” he said.

The mayor attended, he said, because the Ritas have been helpful to Calumet Park.

But Bilotto’s name, for now, raises controversy. Someone died on his watch. It probably would have been wiser to “honor” someone else.



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