| by Kelly Tarrant

On Thursday, January 18, the former mayor of suburban Markham, Illinois, David Webb Jr., pleaded guilty to federal grand jury charges that he solicited $300,000 in bribes and kickbacks to steer city contracts to connected contractors.

Webb pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. He is subject to a total maximum prison sentence of 23 years and a total maximum fine of $500,000.

In early 2017, Webb abruptly announced his retirement from his 16-year term, prophetically saying at his last council meeting, “I have probably made some decisions that didn’t agree with others, but I can live with that.”

His “retirement” was surprising because he had already gathered enough signatures to be placed on the April 2017 ballot for re-election. Claiming that he was “undecided” on running for re-election, Webb withdrew his candidacy and threw his support to Roger Agpawa, one of four candidates who ran to replace him.

During Webb’s tenure as mayor, Markham had multiple nightclub shootings and a heavily criticized city purchase of a roller rink. Markham’s city counsel, Steven Miller, oversaw the purchase, in which the city paid triple the property’s appraised worth. Federal authorities have subpoenaed records related to the transaction.

Even though Webb needed only 1,700 votes to win his mayoral elections in Markham, he perennially held a campaign fund with more than $1 million in donations. In January 25, 2017, Webb paid $100,000 to the Chicago law firm Cotsirilos, Tighe, Streicker, Poulos & Campbell, which has three former federal judges on its staff. Ted Poulos is the attorney now representing Webb in the federal indictment.

Markham elected Webb’s replacement, Roger Agpawa, in April 2017, with more than 70 percent of the total vote. Agpawa, however, was barred from taking the mayoral seat due to a 1999 conviction of medical insurance fraud. Illinois bars an individual from serving as mayor of a municipality if he or she has a felony on their record.

After Agpawa’s election, State Attorney Kim Foxx filed an immediate lawsuit preventing him from taking office. Agpawa and his attorney, Burt Odelson, have launched an aggressive initiative to amend the state law, arguing that a convicted felon can already serve as governor, state representative, state senator, or even in Congress.

On October 25, 2017, the Illinois Senate approved Senate Bill 225. The Illinois House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the bill the week of January 30, 2018. If passed and signed by Governor Bruce Rauner, Agpawa, as well as other people convicted of felonies more than 15 years old, will be able to serve as mayors, as well as other municipal elected posts previously barred.

With Agpawa unable to assume his mayoral role, on May 3, 2017, Markham’s City Council appointed 1st Ward Alderman Ernest Blevins to act as the interim “mayor pro tem.” A recent Project Six report uncovered how Blevins illegally, and despite the objection of the city treasurer, gave himself a raise worth more than $70,000 and a lump-sum “back pay” check for $34,615.

Despite Markham’s long working-class history, corruption and theft by public officials like Webb and Blevins have cost the small city millions.

At the January 17, 2018, Cook County Rules Committee meeting, public commenter Mark Armstrong expressed his concern for the residents of Markham to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. “The Markham election … has left us very troubled. We have an alderman serving as interim mayor, upping his salary illegally during his term and also retroactively collecting a salary as a mayor’s salary. Markham has been a basket case for that kind of illegal stuff for years. […] Perhaps coming up with some kind of legislation would go a long way and become a beacon of light to other communities with ethic basket case issues like that.”

The status hearing for Webb’s case is set for March 7, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. Judge Robert W. Gettleman will preside.

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