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Limos, fraud alleged in Southland races

Flanagan Vahl

Flanagan Vahl

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Updated: November 24, 2011 3:34AM



In one Southland election, a mayoral candidate allegedly transported supporters to the polls in fancy limousines.

In another, a school board candidate accused an incumbent of mingling his campaign with school business.

And a handful of candidates hoping to win your vote Tuesday carry baggage so weighty, they would need a bellhop just to cross the room — including a candidate for Palos Park Village Board.

Yes, it’s election season in the Southland. Again.

In Park Forest, where incumbent Mayor John Ostenburg faces JeRome Brown, poll watchers during early voting reported stretch limos parked outside an early voting site. Brown was asked about the limos but offered only a coy answer.

It’s certainly not unusual for candidates to drive voters to the polls, especially from senior citizen centers and neighborhoods where transportation is needed. That’s how machine committeemen get the job done.

But I can’t say in 12 years covering politics for the Southtown I’ve seen such a luxurious escort. Stretch limos might be a first — and might be considered too rich for election law, which prohibits anything of value exchanged for a vote.

Meanwhile, a school board candidate from Oak Lawn this week accused her opponent of ethical lapses.

Linda Flanagan Vahl, who previously served on the Oak Lawn Community High School District 229 board, moved into Community High School District 218 recently and is running for a board slot there. She questioned why incumbent school board member Ron Pratl relied upon district personnel to collect his signatures.

Four custodians, a district secretary who is his sister-in-law, and a teacher helped circulate petitions for Pratl to get on the ballot. They are, essentially, his employees — although Pratl doesn’t see things that way.

“I don’t run the day-to-day in the district,” he said.

While he usually relies on family and friends to knock on doors, a union official who works custodial duties for District 218 offered to help him get on the ballot. The custodian slipped the signed petitions in Pratl’s mailbox, he said.

Of Pratl’s petitions, six of eight circulators work for the schools.

“I did not ask them to do it. I already had what I needed, but I didn’t want to offend them by not filing the signatures,” Pratl said.

As a board member, Pratl makes decisions about the school district budget and “it doesn’t look good” to have district employees passing petitions, Vahl said.

“What if something like privatizing custodians comes before the board?” she said. “It puts him in a really bad position.”

Although she, too, served on a school board, Vahl said she never asked friends who worked for the district to do campaign work.

“I wouldn’t want to put them in that position,” she said.

Pratl, a communications foreman for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134, said Vahl’s complaints amounted to a last-minute hit job that doesn’t reflect on his years of service. He previously served on the Chicago Ridge Park District board and, having raised his children in the district, has many friends who want to help his campaign.

“I don’t even know one-tenth of District 218 employees,” he said. “I’ve never in my life asked anybody for help.”

Meanwhile, in Palos Park, a candidate seeking a position on the village board was once entangled in a federal criminal case involving her former workplace, Intercounty National Title Insurance Co.

Susan Peloza, who also ran for a village board position in 2002, and her boyfriend, Terry Cornell, were investigated as part of a 2000 fraud case that resulted in charges against two of their business associates, Laurence Capriotti and Jack Hargrove.

Capriotti and Hargrove both were convicted on federal charges they siphoned money from firms they oversaw to cover Intervounty’s losses and to feed a lavish lifestyle.

Peloza and Cornell never were charged, but they were referenced in indictments and sued in civil court by Fidelity National Title Insurance, which claimed $20 million vanished from real estate escrow accounts they oversaw.

Peloza has operated an under-the-radar campaign for village board, declining to participate in a recent candidates forum and failing to return a SouthtownStar questionnaire. She did not return a call Wednesday afternoon.



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