CHICAGO - State Sen. Thomas Cullerton’s long-awaited trial on federal embezzlement charges has been postponed due to a COVID-19 scheduling requirements that put defendants who are in custody at the front of the line.
Cullerton, 52, a Democrat from Villa Park, was charged in 2019 in an indictment alleging he pocketed almost $275,000 in salary and benefits from the Teamsters union despite doing little or no work.
The case against Cullerton, who has remained in office and is free on bond, had been set for a weeklong jury trial beginning Feb. 22.
But during a brief telephone hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said that date would have to be moved because another defendant who is in custody was set for trial on the same day.
COVID-19 protocols at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse allow only one criminal trial to start on a given day.
“That’s the world we’re in today,” Gettleman said. “Hopefully we’ll be out of it sooner rather than later.”
Gettleman set a tentative new trial date for April. But both prosecutors and Cullerton’s attorney, Dan Collins, said they needed to meet first to discuss how the case would go forward.
A status date was set for Jan. 26.
The scuttling of Cullerton’s trial was the latest pandemic-related cancellation at the federal courthouse, which has remained open for business amid the recent omicron surge, albeit with strict protocols in place. Cullerton’s original trial date in July 2020 was also moved due to the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, an in-person sentencing hearing for former Chicago Ald. Ricardo Munoz, who pleaded guilty to using campaign funds for personal expenses, was canceled due to concerns about the rising number of cases.
The indictment against Cullerton filed in August 2019 alleges 39 counts of embezzlement and one count each of conspiracy and making false statements.
According to the indictment, then-Teamsters boss John Coli conspired with Cullerton in 2013 to give the newly elected senator a do-nothing job with the clout-heavy union. Over the next three years, the two ignored complaints from supervisors when Cullerton failed to even show up for work, according to the charges.
In all, Cullerton was accused of fraudulently obtaining $188,320 in salary, bonuses and cellphone and vehicle allowances from the Teamsters between 2013 and 2016, as well as $64,068 in health and pension contributions.
The charges against Cullerton came three days after Coli pleaded guilty to extortion charges and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities.
Cullterton, who previously was village president of Villa Park, is a distant cousin of former Senate President John Cullerton. He was first elected to the state Senate in 2012.