Misdeeds Don’t Stop Hire

Cook County Recorder of Deeds taps family friend for well-paid government job – despite conviction for heist.

In March 2009, Richella Goeloe helped plot the "staged robbery" of an armored car with her husband and another man, court records show.

They made off with more than $400,000, but were ultimately caught and convicted of felonies. While her husband did prison time, Goeloe faced two years of probation, a fine and the threat of deportation (she was born in Aruba and isn’t a United States citizen, but is here legally, according to records and interviews.)

Either way, the experience certainly didn’t hurt her job prospects: as Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough took office late last year, Yarbrough hired Goeloe – described by the recorder as a family friend – into a $75,000-a-year job funded by taxpayers, the Better Government Association and FOX 32 have learned.

Yet that’s not the only connection between Goeloe and Yarbrough, a former Democratic state legislator and long-time ally of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

While Yarbrough contended she hadn’t known of Goeloe’s felony conviction until reporters brought it to the attention of her agency, FOX 32 and the BGA found:

  • Not only was Goeloe’s criminal case featured in local newspaper articles, Goeloe’s LinkedIn profile indicated she was employed by Yarbrough’s legislative office as an administrative assistant from 2008 to 2009 (though Goeloe said she was "on leave" at the time of the theft.) Yarbrough also wrote a letter, referenced in court documents, attesting to Goeloe’s "integrity."
  • Goeloe is currently living in a Maywood house owned by Yarbrough and her husband, according to county property records and interviews. Yarbrough said she’s a close friend of Goeloe’s mother-in-law.
  • After leaving Yarbrough’s legislative office, Goeloe worked for one of the Yarbrough family’s insurance companies. Goeloe was employed there at the time she pleaded guilty in 2010 to a single count of theft of bank funds, according to interviews. Yarbrough said she "recommended" Goeloe for the insurance job, and wasn’t aware until recently that Goeloe’s attempt at obtaining an insurance license was rejected by state regulators because of the felony conviction.
  • While Goeloe was still on probation, Yarbrough’s campaign fund paid Goeloe thousands of dollars to reportedly clean Yarbrough’s legislative office – although strangely, some of the payments covered work Goeloe allegedly performed several years earlier, according to interviews and state records.

Goeloe said the campaign payments "didn’t have anything to do with" paying off the $4,100 fine issued by the court.

Meanwhile, Yarbrough said Goeloe resigned last week when Yarbrough discovered Goeloe had left part of her application blank that asked about past criminal convictions.

While there are no prohibitions against hiring felons for such government jobs, applicants can be fired for not being truthful on job applications.

"We don’t do background checks," Yarbrough said. "Her only crime was she didn’t tell the truth on her application."

Goeloe confirmed this omission, but insisted she wasn’t some hack hire. She said she holds a master’s degree and speaks several languages, including Spanish, so was well suited to serve as Yarbrough’s "special assistant," a job that entailed clerical duties, and also some projects. "I’m qualified," Goeloe said.

Back in 2009 her husband was working for an armored car company when he and another man got together with Goeloe to fake a robbery in Hazel Crest and make off with more than $400,000, records show. Goeloe had several roles, including renting a car and stashing a gun, the records show.

The case was quickly cracked and Goeloe ultimately pleaded guilty, beating a prison term even though prosecutors urged one.

While Goeloe’s government job was one of the few recorder of deeds positions that can, under federal anti-patronage orders, be filled using political factors, Yarbrough got into hot water last year before she was even elected by trying to halt all hiring until she was able to take office.

The recorder’s office is one of several county agencies that reformers have suggested merging. The office is the holder of real estate records relating to sales and foreclosures, among other things.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and FOX 32’s Dane Placko and Patrick McCraney. To reach them email rherguth@bettergov.org or call (312) 821-9030.