An employee of an excavation company has been convicted of paying kickbacks to a highway commissioner in the Chicago area for more than $700,000 worth of fraudulent invoices for roadwork.
Mario Giannini, who worked for Bulldog Earth Movers, paid more than $280,000 in kickbacks to Robert Czernek while he served as an elected commissioner of the Bloomingdale Township Road District between 2012 and 2020.
Czernek pleaded guilty March 24 and faces up to 20 years in prison.
Giannini was convicted by a U.S. District Court jury on June 13 of 14 counts of wire fraud.
According to court records, Czernek and Giannini hatched a scheme in 2012 in which Bulldog Earth Movers would add $5 or $6 per ton to the cost of stone for invoices to the township. Czernek and Giannini would then split the additional money. They later began adding hundreds of hours of dump leveling services to invoices to the township for work that was never done. They would also do the same for storm sewer work that was not performed and split the proceeds in half.
The kickback checks would be written to a former trucking company owned by Czernek called Tri-State Express.
Czernek also left handwritten notes in various places at the highway department for Giannini to pick up that would give instructions on how to fill out invoices and in some cases how much Czernek was to be paid.
In all, $736,237 worth of fraudulent invoices were submitted for approval by Czernek for Bulldog Earth Movers, according to his plea agreement. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois has said more than $800,000 in checks were issued to Bulldog from the township. The FBI investigated the case.
The estimated loss to Bloomingdale Township was $547,196, according to the plea agreement.
In exchange, Czernek got $281,941 total in kickbacks. As part of his plea agreement, Czernek forfeited a 1981 Corvette, a 1966 Buick Wildcat and a 2014 Lexus RX350, which were obtained with money he made from the kickback scheme. He also forfeited $205,714. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.
The owner of Bulldog Earth Movers, Debra Fazio, was initially charged in the case. But she was acquitted of all charges June 10 by Judge Matthew Connelly who said the prosecution had not proved she was aware of or participated in the scheme.
Sentencing for Giannini is set for September 7 for being found guilty of 14 counts of wire fraud.
Sentencing has not been set yet for Czernek, who cooperated with prosecutors in Giannini’s trial.