Thursday, April 30, 2015 || Originally Published: Fox 32 || 4/29/15 || By Dane Placko
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News & Better Government Assoc.) – Plenty of politicians make an extra buck on the side. Some even make more money in private business than from the public payroll.
But what happens when a mayor gets paid thousands of dollars by a bank that does big business with that mayor’s village?
Well, in west suburban Melrose Park nothing happens, because it appears almost nobody knows about the mayor’s side job – until now.
You would think elected officials would want to know about their mayor’s outside income, because that income is coming from a bank where the village keeps a lot of its money.
But when FOX 32 tried to ask trustees about it, they seemed uninterested.
FOX 32: “Is that a conflict of interest in your estimation?”
Trustee Anthony Abruzzo: “I don’t know any of the details, any of the facts.”
FOX 32: “Did you know he was a contract employee of the bank?”
Trustee Anthony Abruzzo: “Have a good night.”
Serpico has been mayor of Melrose Park for 18 years.
Melrose Park is also the home of Pan American Bank, which FOX 32 and the Better Government Association learned has been paying Serpico’s law business thousands of dollars a year.
Through a spokesman, Serpico said he is paid between $1200 and $1500 a month by the bank to do loan reviews. However, he wouldn’t show FOX 32 any statements or checks.
Pan American is also the village’s bank of choice, with more than a dozen accounts holding 27-million dollars in village funds as of late last year.
Melrose Park also pays the bank to process its water bills and parking tickets, earning the bank $270,000 since 2009. And the village currently has a loan from Pan American for six million dollars.
Yet, one trustee who did talk to FOX 32 said that she wasn’t aware the mayor is working for the bank.
Trustee Cathleen Cossident-Italia: “Well I’d have to talk to him about it and find out more about it. I have no idea.”
FOX 32: “So you didn’t know he was getting money from them?”
Trustee Cathleen Cossident-Italia: “No, of course not. I wouldn’t know that.”
Melrose Park said it has no record of approving any contract, ordinance or resolution to use the bank for bill processing or to park its money. But the bank says those documents do exist.
The mayor’s spokesman said that Serpico had nothing to do with it, saying the village comptroller would have decided where to put Melrose Park’s money.
But former comptroller John Gregor told FOX 32: “I basically really didn’t pick Pan American. It was the mayor’s choice.”
“The fact that none of this is in any sort of written agreement or contract, and the fact that a village mayor then is also a contract employee for the bank is really troubling,” said Patrick Rehkamp of the BGA.
In a statement, Serpico said: “We have found (Pan American) to be diligent, fair, competitively priced and hard-working…. none of (my work for Pan American) is related to the village nor is any of it in conflict with my official duties.”
And the bank says: “Mr. Serpico’s law firm…fees are a small percentage of the bank’s annual legal fees.”
Elected officials in Illinois are required each year to fill out a statement of economic interest, disclosing outside income and gifts. On Serpico’s form, he says only that he makes money as a lawyer and nothing about the bank being a client.
While that may be legal, some lawmakers say we deserve more.
“The public deserves to know if there’s a potential conflict of interest,” said State Senator Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge.
Kotowski has been fighting for a bill that would overhaul Illinois’ statement of economic interest, which hasn’t changed in more than 40 years.
Kotowski said the questions on the current form are murky and enforcement is weak.
“I don’t think people in this business have anything to hide, nor should they. They should be able to say ‘look, if I’m working in another job, here’s what I do. Here’s how I’m making money’,” Kotowski added.
Pan American also has close political ties with the neighboring village of Bellwood, which has accounts at the bank totaling as much as nine million dollars.
FOX 32 has learned that since that banking relationship started, Pan American has hired the son of longtime Bellwood mayor Frank Pasquale and the daughter of Bellwood clerk Lena Moreland, who actually served on the bank’s board for a few months.
A village spokesman said neither elected official lobbied the bank to get their kid a job.
In a statement, Pan American says: “We are a bank dedicated to community service and have made contributions in the best interests of the communities we serve… nearly 60 percent of our employees live in the neighborhoods we serve. Mr. Pasquale and Ms. Moreland are just two examples, and we are proud of their service to our customers.”
Pan American has also made a number of campaign contributions to Mayor Serprico, totaling $13,700 since 2008.
Melrose Park actually has a policy prohibiting its employees from working for village vendors, but that policy does not extend to elected officials. VFP
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