Feds ask judge to sentence ex-Teamster boss John Coli to 19 months in prison
CHICAGO – Federal prosecutors on Wednesday asked a judge to sentence former Teamsters boss John T. Coli Sr. to 19 months in prison, who pleaded guilty in an extortion case but later cooperated against the former Senator Thomas Cullerton.
In making his request to U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu wrote that Coli “has accepted responsibility for his criminal conduct.”
“Experience at this courthouse teaches that this is not an easy thing for a prominent local leader to do,” Bhachu wrote. “It’s easy to assemble a bus full of public figures in the same situation as Coli in this neighborhood who couldn’t bring themselves to accept responsibility.”
Coli reportedly once boasted that “you can cut my fingers off, I won’t talk” about the money he collected through extortion. But that was in late 2016, months before he was charged in 2017.
Two years later, Coli pleaded guilty and formally agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors, despite his earlier tough talk. With that, the federal government in July 2019 had enlisted a longtime labor leader with ties to high-profile politicians, including Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, former mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel and the former governor. Pat Quinn.
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Although many public corruption cases followed, the only one in which Coli is known is the embezzlement case that put Cullerton in jail. A federal grand jury indicted Cullerton just days after Coli’s guilty plea in 2019. Cullerton pleaded guilty this year and he was sentenced to a year behind bars.
A federal investigation into the diamond engagement ring purchased for Quinn’s publicist was also tied to the investigation that framed Coli, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Coli admitted that he received $325,000 in cash payments from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios between 2014 and 2017. Worried at one point that he might not receive his money, Coli told Cinespace President Alex Pissios, “we We’ll shut it down tomorrow. We’ll shut it down in an hour. … I’ll have a fucking picket line here, and it’ll all stop.
But Pissios also turned out to be a government collaborator. The Sun-Times previously reported that he signed a “non-suit agreement” that freed him from liability for failing to notify a bankruptcy judge of a $100,000 bank account he was using to support his family and pay his gambling debts.
Pissios began providing information to law enforcement about Coli in June 2016, according to an FBI affidavit first obtained by the Sun-Times. He told federal authorities he began making quarterly payments of $25,000 in 2014, taken from a petty cash account, according to the affidavit.
The studio head told authorities the deal began years ago under his late uncle, Nick Mirkopoulos, the Sun-Times reported.
Federal authorities watched and recorded as Pissios paid Coli in July and October 2016 at the Greek Islands restaurant in the 200 block of South Halsted. Investigators saw Pissios and Coli leaving the restaurant on July 7, 2016, and they saw Pissios handing a FedEx envelope containing $25,000 to Coli outside the entrance, according to the affidavit.
“It’s for the contract,” Pissios reportedly told Coli, using “contract” as a code word.
During the second meeting, on October 4, 2016, Pissios allegedly told Coli that an executive asked Pissios about his petty cash withdrawals. That story turned out to be a ruse suggested by investigators, but Pissios asked Coli what to do, according to the affidavit.
Coli said, “Send him back.
“No matter how hard you try to put him in a corner, okay, he’s always going to be a problem,” Coli reportedly added. “Once someone is a problem like that, even if you think you can exploit them and put them in a corner, you’ll still have one eye open to watch them. … He’s a rat.”
Pissios later allegedly put a FedEx envelope containing $15,000 in Coli’s vehicle. Afterwards, Coli complained during a phone call with Pissios that “some of the documents were missing in what I was supposed to look at today,” according to the affidavit. Feds say Coli was using coded language to report $10,000 missing.
Pissios ended up explaining that it was because of the problem with the executive.
Nine days later, Coli threatened to go on strike if he didn’t get his money. And, he added, “There are going to be once in a while unique things are going to happen that you’re going to have to deal with…you can’t have a fucking rat in a pile of wood. You can’t have a whistleblower here.”
He recovered the missing $10,000 from Pissios on November 29, 2016, according to the affidavit.