By Illinois Review
A recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and provided to Illinois Review, revealed that Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau and village trustees were using their official taxpayer-funded government email addresses to communicate with members of Pekau’s congressional campaign team to discuss political activities, and to review a list of current contractors doing business with the village, so they could gather donations for a golf outing fundraiser at Crystal Tree Golf & Country Club last September.
In a correspondence dated July 25, 2022, Tom Dubelbeis – a former village trustee and former interim village manager, is communicating with the mayor, his campaign team and village trustees Cindy Nelson Katsenes, Michael Milani, Bill Healy, Sean Kampas and Brian Riordan on their official government email accounts about a “Keith golf outing planning meeting.” In the email, Dubelbeis writes,
Please plan on attending a planning meeting for Keith’s golf outing. Thursday July 28th, 4 pm @ my house. The rules for congressional fund raising and golf outings are more restrictive than we’re used to. So, get your creative juices going so we can develop a plan to raise $120K for Keith. RSVP.
Minutes later, Trustee Michael Milani replies from his official government email account, “As of now, I will be able to make it.”
In September, the emails continued, but Trustee Brian Riordan, an attorney – is no longer on the email distribution list – most likely removing himself from the conversation – well aware that you cannot mix official government business with political campaign activities.
But in a follow up email dated September 10, 2022, Dubelbeis writes,
I’ve contacted 23 of the names on the list and need help with the rest. Again, gray and green have either been contacted or paid.
The names with X’s still need to be contacted. Please review the list and let me know who you can contact.
Attached to the email was a list of businesses that Pekau and his fellow trustees were trying to solicit for federal campaign donations – with many of those companies doing business with the village.
In January, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign faced potential legal trouble when emails revealed campaign staffers were contacting Chicago Public School teachers and asking them to identify students who could volunteer on the mayor’s re-election campaign.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois immediately raised an alarm – citing a US Supreme Court case, saying the Lightfoot campaign “is inappropriately coercive and raises First Amendment concerns. The Supreme Court has made clear that government officials cannot use their office or power to coerce participation or to punish for lack of participation in political campaigns…”
In other words, Mayor Pekau and village trustees – who oversee village contractors – cannot use their office to persuade people to donate to political campaigns – and in this case, the mayor’s congressional campaign.
The list – provided by Dubelbeis, includes several city contractors, including Edwards Realty Group, Fox’s Pizza, G.E. Mathis Company, Jeanes Construction, Joe Rizza Enterprises, Mazda of Orland Park and Ziegler Auto Group.
In March of 2022, Pekau and the village board voted in favor of signing a six-figure consulting agreement with one of the mayor’s biggest donors to develop village-owned property along one of Orland Park’s busiest corridors – Edwards Realty.
In November of 2022, the village board voted to reimburse Edwards Realty up to $1 million in potential costs as it related to the development project, and could assist in the purchase of the village-owned land.
Ramzi Hassan is the president of Edwards Realty and the current president of the Orland Park Chamber of Commerce.
On December 27, 2022, Hassan made a $5,000 personal contribution to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in support of her failed re-election efforts.
Eric Vates, the president of Orland Park Mazda – and a close friend and ally of Pekau, is routinely seen at local community events wearing official Orland Park Police gear and a badge – giving the impression that he is a member of law enforcement.
Orland Park Trustee Sean Kampas, an IT consultant and close friend and ally of Pekau is also seen during community events wearing an official Orland Park Police Emergency Services polo with an official police badge attached to his belt – giving the impression that he is a member of law enforcement.
In Illinois, it is unlawful to impersonate a police officer, and a Class 4 Felony, punishable by up to three years in jail and $25,000 in fines.
In March, Pekau and Kampas were caught harassing female Orland Fire Protection District candidates Angela Greenfield and Tina Zekich and their volunteers as they campaigned and knocked on doors in a local neighborhood just a week before the April elections.
Pekau and Kampas spent the morning following the group in Pekau’s Dodge Durango as they walked a nearby neighborhood to knock on doors and drop off literature.
Although Pekau and Kampas never got out of the car, numerous witnesses said the pair continued to follow the group as they knocked on doors – staring at them through the car windows in a sad attempt at intimidating the group of volunteers who were campaigning on behalf of candidates that they opposed.
Healy is a village trustee and served as the treasurer of Pekau’s congressional campaign. Healy is also a treasurer for other trustee candidate committees.
Nelson-Katsenes is a village trustee, Orland Township committeewoman and serves as the treasurer for Pekau’s mayoral campaign.
And in an email to constituents from the “Keith for Mayor” account in August of 2022, Pekau provides a recap from the last village trustee board meeting and then pivots to promote his congressional campaign and his upcoming golf fundraiser on September 26th.
The new revelations shed light on the inner workings of Pekau’s congressional campaign, and will undoubtedly catch the attention of state and federal election officials.