Markovich settles out of RICO lawsuit

Former official joins list of cooperating witnesses
2008-06-26T00:00:00Z Markovich settles out of RICO lawsuitJOE CARLSON
June 26, 2008 12:00 am  • 

EAST CHICAGO | In a city once seen as nearly impenetrable to government prosecutors looking for cooperating witnesses, another former insider now has agreed to testify against his former bosses.

Joel Markovich, a former city contractor and former president of Lake County Council, has joined the growing list of people who are agreeing to cooperate against former Mayor Robert Pastrick in a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act lawsuit.

Markovich and former City Engineer Pedro Porras signed agreements with the government this month to settle the racketeering claims against them in exchange for future cooperation.

In a separate but related case, Markovich and Porras both were imprisoned after pleading guilty to taking part in the 1999 sidewalks-for-votes scandal, in which more than $24 million was drained from city coffers for public services on private land in order to curry favor with voters.

Pastrick was never charged criminally in that case, but he was the highest-ranking figure named in a civil racketeering lawsuit filed in 2004 by Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter.

More than two dozen people were named in the RICO lawsuit, but state attorneys have said they expect to put only three or four of them on trial in the civil lawsuit, including Pastrick and his two former special assistants, Timothy Raykovich and James Fife III.

Eight defendants remain in the case today. Other former defendants who are now cooperating with authorities include former Finance Director George Weems, former public works official Frank Miskowski and former City Councilman Adrian Santos.

No trial date has been set in the complex case. The case was supposed to be heard by U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp in South Bend, but Sharp is stepping down from the bench this year.

The state says Pastrick ran a political machine that extended through the entire city government and spent public money in order to hold onto power. Much of the evidence in the case comes from the sidewalks-for-votes criminal trial.

Since the racketeering case is a civil lawsuit, no one will go to jail as a result of the trial. But defendants could be forced to repay the city millions of dollars.

So far $1.3 million has been recovered from the various defendants who have settled. Carter's office has paid $317,000 in legal fees for outside counsel to a former federal prosecutor who helped convict Illinois Gov. George Ryan of public corruption.

Defense lawyers say the government does not have the evidence to prove its case, but must continue with it now after spending so much money on lawyers.

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