A federal jury recently awarded $166,000 to a former Clyde Park District employee who claimed in a lawsuit she was fired for speaking to the FBI about alleged misuse of taxpayer money.
While the park district is on the hook for that payout, the tab for taxpayers could approach $1 million if a judge rules the agency – which maintains recreation programs and parkland in west suburban Cicero – must also cover the attorney fees for the former employee, Laura Perez-Garcia, court records show.
An elected board controlled by political allies of Cicero Town President Larry Dominick oversees the park district. His son, Brian Dominick, is on the park board and was named as a defendant, as was Larry Dominick, though the elder Dominick was later dismissed.
Either way, Perez-Garcia claimed Larry Dominick was behind her firing.
Attorneys for the park district have asked for a new trial, claiming in court filings, “This case involves a disgruntled former employee, who let a fantasy go to her head. . . . Her belief that ongoing corruption and fraud were occurring within the District is unreasonable due to her complete lack of knowledge.”
In court filings, Perez-Garcia alleges park district officials used agency credit cards for personal expenses and failed to produce receipts or other documentation for various payment and reimbursement requests.
At the center of her allegations is Anthony Martinucci, a precinct captain for Larry Dominick’s political organization and chairman of Morton College’s board of trustees. Martinucci holds three taxpayer-funded jobs, including executive director of the Clyde Park District.
His three positions collectively paid him more than $130,000 last year, payroll records show.
In court filings, Perez-Garcia alleges that Martinucci’s park district credit card was used to pay for personal items at Sports Authority, Toys “R” Us and Jewel. Additionally, he and other district officials allegedly submitted invoices for expenses related to work outside the district.
Perez-Garcia met with the FBI on two occasions in 2012 to report “suspicious and fraudulent billing activity” by Martinucci and others, she says in court filings. Reached by the Better Government Association, an FBI spokesman had no comment. The FBI usually does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
In court filings, Martinucci and other officials say they’ve never been interviewed by law enforcement about the park district.
Perez-Garcia was hired by the park district as a clerk in 1998. She later became Martinucci’s administrative assistant, where her duties included processing check requests and managing credit card accounts. District officials fired Perez-Garcia in 2012.
She sued the district and its board members in federal court in 2013, alleging she was terminated at the “express or implicit request of Larry Dominick,” in retaliation for meeting with the FBI about alleged financial misconduct.
The park district denies her allegation and says she was terminated, in part, for using its Sam’s Club account for “personal purchases,” according to court filings.
Ray Hanania, a Town of Cicero spokesman, said Perez-Garcia’s claims about Larry Dominick “were without merit,” adding the town president was “wrongly dragged into the issue.” As for Larry Dominck’s son, Hanania says, “We believe the jury was wrong regarding Brian Dominick and post-trial motions to vacate the judgment have been filed. There was no evidence presented at trial that Brian, or any of the defendants, knew she went to the FBI and we are confident the motions will prevail.”
Martinucci didn’t return messages. In a statement, the park district said Martinucci was “neither a defendant at trial nor was he found liable for any misconduct.”
As Clyde Park District’s part-time executive director, Martinucci was paid $52,000 last year. That’s on top of the $71,000 he made as Berwyn’s full-time recreation director and $9,200 for coaching boys varsity basketball at J. Sterling Morton High School, according to public records.
In court filings, Martinucci has said he logs 40 hours a week at Berwyn, plus 25 to 30 hours a week at Clyde Park. He devotes 12 hours a week coaching during basketball season, and about an hour a month as head of Morton College’s board, a volunteer position that offers no pay or benefits.
The BGA and FOX32 asked Berwyn and Clyde Park District for timesheets or other records to corroborate Martinucci’s claims about his workload.
Berwyn said no documents existed.
Clyde Park District provided copies of unsigned, handwritten timesheets.
The jury award in the Perez-Garcia case is only the latest political controversy to bubble up in Cicero.
The BGA recently reported that the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago subpoenaed town records relating to municipal vendors that donated to Larry Dominick’s campaign funds.
Separately, the BGA discovered that a private security firm that employs Larry Dominick’s “bodyguard” was awarded two contracts – which apparently were not subject to competitive bidding – by public agencies where Larry Dominick wields significant influence.
The BGA also has written about questionable towing and trash-hauling contracts in Cicero.