February 29, 2012 10:48 AM
Voter Fraud in Elmwood Park?
Supporters of the suburb's mayor have moved away – but they still cast ballots in Elmwood Park elections.
By Patrick Rehkamp/BGA and Dane Placko/FOX Chicago
There's an old saying that we vote early and often in Chicago. But in Elmwood Park, there’s a new twist. People are coming back to vote long after they've moved away.
Frank Cupello owns a giant home in Kildeer, an affluent village in Lake County. The Better Government Association and FOX Chicago News were able to identify Cupello in person because he put his picture on his real estate website, talking about how much his family enjoys living in Lake County.
But how can a guy who has lived in Lake County for nearly two decades get away with voting, year after year, in west suburban Elmwood Park – 26 miles from his Kildeer home?
Cupello wouldn't talk about it and neither would his parents, who live at the Elmwood Park address he's been voting from.
Cook County Clerk David Orr said it is important that people vote where they live because that’s how elections are kept honest. "And two," Orr said, "so that you're voting for the people that represent you."
Orr said intentionally voting in the wrong place is a serious crime. It’s a felony in some cases, which could land false voters in prison.
But Cupello is just one of several people who the BGA and FOX have found no longer live in Elmwood Park, but still regularly vote there, like Don Parenti.
Investigators at the FOX sister station in Las Vegas tried to track him down at his Nevada home. He wasn't there, but his wife admitted on the phone that they do spend almost all of their time in Vegas these days. Yet, the couple has continued voting in Elmwood Park elections by mail since 2004.
Laura Sutter bought a condo in a downtown Chicago building in 1996. Yet, Sutter is still voting out of her mom's house in Elmwood Park.
Michael R. Durkin still votes from his parents' address in Elmwood Park, where he occasionally spends the night, even though the bio on his law firm's web page said he resides in Chicago.
In a statement, Durkin argues that what's good enough for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is good enough for him. "If leasing an apartment in another city or sleeping there [determined] legal residency," Durkin said, "then Chicago would have a different mayor."
Orr said no way.
"It's not enough to go back to some place once a week," Orr said. "They should not be voting in Elmwood Park."
So why do they vote in Elmwood Park? All have ties to longtime Mayor Pete Silvestri.
Frank Cupello is a friend who has donated more than $2,000 to Silvestri's political campaign. Don Parenti of Las Vegas is a former Elmwood Park trustee who also contributes. Michael Durkin is Elmwood Park's village prosecutor, and his father's law firm reportedly gets around $300,000 a year in village business. Laura Sutter is the daughter of longtime Elmwood Park Village Clerk Elsie Sutter.
The BGA's Andy Shaw said in a close election, it could change the outcome. "When you vote in Elmwood Park and you don't live in Elmwood Park, you are basically neutralizing the vote of a taxpayer there," Shaw said, "and that's wrong."
One more thing about Cupello: in addition to being a realtor, he's a cop. Cupello works as an investigator with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. This is the very office that investigates – you guessed it – voter fraud.
The State's Attorney’s Office learned of Cupello's alleged vote fraud in October, but decided there wasn't enough evidence to pursue charges. Once the BGA and FOX started asking questions, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez got involved. A spokesperson said the allegations are serious, and Alvarez has ordered a full investigation.
As for Silvestri, he said through a spokesman: "It is disturbing to hear of reports such as these, and I hope that election authorities will take the necessary steps to ensure that these and all voters are properly registered to vote in the communities in which they reside."
This story was written and reported by BGA Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp, and Dane Placko of FOX Chicago News. To contact Patrick, email email@example.com or call (312) 386-9201.