Village Board Members Say Signatures on Referendum Petitions are Fraudulent
Oak Lawn Village Board members accuse community group of forging signatures on petitions to put referendum on April 5 ballot.
Some Oak Lawn elected officials are mounting an investigation into petitions that were circulated by a citizens watchdog group to put a controversial referendum on the April 5 ballot asking voters if Oak Lawn should abandon its current form of government.
Village Trustees Tom Duhig (District 2), Bob Streit (District 3), Alex Olejniczak (District 4) and Tom Phelan (District 6) along with village Clerk Jane Quinlan met with residents at Stony Creek Golf Club on Monday evening to determine if signatures that appeared on the petitions were indeed theirs. A similar signature check session was also held Sunday night.
Those elected officials are now claiming that their findings point to what appears to be “massive fraud,” including names of voters appearing multiple times, forged signatures, names of deceased persons, and phony or questionable petition circulators.
“I would say what we have here ... and what exists on this petition is massive fraud,” Streit said. “I think 100 people saying their signatures were forged would amount to massive fraud.”
The referendum to strip the village manager’s executive powers and return them to the mayor is being spearheaded by a community group called Oak Lawn Tax Watch, which purports to be a fiscal watchdog. The group mustered volunteers — including Trustee Carol Quinlan (District 5) and her husband, Joe Quinlan — and has been gathering signatures since November.
Olejniczak questioned his fellow village board member’s involvement, as well as Mayor Dave Heilmann’s, whose signature appears on the petition.
“It’s very concerning that the mayor and trustee would be behind this,” Olejniczak said. “I’m concerned that fraud has been perpetuated on something they’re working toward. You got a lot of seniors and they get worried about this. A guy came last night almost in tears because his wife signed the petition but couldn’t have. He came to verify and assure us that she passed way in 2009.”
Inkling of Fraud
Letters on plain white paper were mailed to a sampling of 640 residents of the estimated 1,900 whose signatures appear on the petitions. The letters asked residents to come to one of two sessions at Stony Creek to verify their signatures. All of the residents that showed up signed affidavits stating that their signatures had been forged.
“Not one person that came to us said it was a legitimate signature,” Quinlan said. “A lot were fraudulent.”
The village clerk explained that she first noticed something awry while flipping through the 132 pages of signatures and finding her son and daughter-in-law’s names — John and Megan Quinlan — on one of the sheets.
“They changed his name to look like ‘Jaclyn',” Quinlan said. “He came in and signed the affidavit. He wasn’t too happy.”
Streit spent all of Monday at Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office combing through voter registrations and comparing residents and circulators’ signatures to those on the petitions.
“We have (Heilmann’s) secretary at his law firm circulating petitions. Her signature does not match county records,” Streit said. “Oftentimes what that means is that someone else signed them (as circulator).”
Abuse of Power
Myrna Jurcev, chair of Oak Lawn Tax Watch, said the letters sent out by select village elected officials targeted only seniors that signed her group’s petitions, scaring them with claims of identity theft.
“If they thought there was identity theft and fraud and thought it was their jurisdiction to call people, would you not have thought they would have advised police,” Jurcev said. “I checked with the police and no one reported identity theft.”
Jurcev also accused the village clerk of abusing her powers.
“These guys have pulled off more grandstanding in the last three months,” she said, referring to village board members involved in the investigation. “I’m not surprised at their antics, but I am shocked at Jane Quinlan signing that letter. I didn’t think she was that type of person.”
The village clerk, however, said that signing the letter was within the realm of her elected office, including that as the village’s election official.
“I act in the capacity of the village board 24/7,” Quinlan said. “I can’t eat at a restaurant without somebody coming up and asking me about a pothole. I wasn’t even looking for this. It’s not political in my book. If they want (to place a referendum) on the ballot, get it on the right way.”
'That's Not My Signature'
Streit explained that letters were sent to those residents whose signatures appeared to be the most egregious.
George Hardin, a resident of a condo building near Advocate Christ Medical Center, came to Stony Creek Monday evening after a letter addressed to his condo president was slipped under his door. Hardin signed an affidavit stating that the signature that appeared on the petition wasn’t his own.
“I’m more disappointed that anything,” he said.