CHICAGO (CN) – A Chicago-area town must face accusations that it fired its president’s brother after he told the IRS about alleged corruption, in a blend of family feud and political scandal, a federal judge ruled.
In 2008, the trustees of the town of Cicero empowered their president, Larry Dominick, to create a Vacant Buildings Appeals Committee and appoint three members to it. One new appointee was his brother, Richard Dominick, whose annual compensation was set at over $10,000 plus health benefits.
Later, Richard told a CBS Chicago news program on government waste and corruption that he worked one hour per month for his salary.
He also shared information with the IRS about alleged corruption in the town.
At his deposition, Richard claimed that after finding out about his contact with the IRS, Larry confronted him and threatened to “take him down.” Larry claimed he never knew about Richard’s cooperation with the IRS until after Richard filed his lawsuit.
Larry fired Richard five days before the appointment was set to expire.
Larry testified that he did not reappoint Richard to the Committee in part because of Richard’s interview with CBS.
In July of 2009, Richard filed a whistleblower complaint against Larry and the town, claiming they fired him for speaking out on corruption and violated his right to free speech.
Larry and the town claimed Richard had no standing to sue because they merely declined to reappoint him to his post, rather than actually firing him, but U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras found that the president and the town would have to face the claims.
Richard’s whistleblower claim survives because “the undisputed facts reveal two potential retaliatory actions: defendants’ premature termination of Richard and defendants’ decision not to reappoint Richard,” Kocoras wrote.
The free speech claim survives as well, since the parties have offered conflicting versions of whether Larry knew of Richard’s contacts with the IRS before firing him.
Though the town may have had non-discriminatory reasons for firing Richard, Kocoras said that evaluating the credibility of witnesses is a job for a jury.
Depending on that final evaluation, this family feud may take its place in Cicero’s line of political scandals. In 2003, one of Larry’s predecessors as town president was sentenced to 8 years in prison for an insurance scam that cost the town $12 million.