Two Illinois Secretary of State employees have been been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, accused of taking bribes in exchange for forged vehicle titles, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said Wednesday.
Kashema Burns, a 23-year-old auditor, and Michael Wesby, a 47-year-old security guard, were charged as part of an ongoing investigation called "Operation Cookie Jar," which targets public corruption in Cook County.
Authorities say surveillance cameras recorded Wesby and former used car salesman Fred Spandiary, of Schaumburg, exchanging bribes on three separate occasions late last year and earlier this year.
The transactions took place in the cafeteria of a state driver's and vehicle licensing office on Chicago's West Side.
"This was not a bribe exchanged in an alley or a parking lot, but rather right there in a public facility, where the illegal actions were actually captured on tape," said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Spandiary is said to have paid Wesby and Burns to help him completely bypass the car title transfer process, saving him time and money and allowing him to get around routine car inspections.
"In one occasion, [Burns] received money on tape at the greeter's desk out front. I don't need to tell you that kind of conduct is intolerable," said Secretary of State Inspector General James Burns.
Alvarez was careful not to criticize her former boss and predecessor Dick Devine, who as state's attorney rarely held news conferences to announce public corruption arrests. Most that occurred in Cook County during Devine's administration were led by federal prosecutors, ABC 7 Chicago pointed out.
Spandiary has been charged with bribery, while Wesby and Burns are each charged with both bribery and official misconduct and have been suspended without pay. Each of them faces between three and seven years in prison.
Secretary of State Jesse White said he hopes the charges send a strong message to the other 4,000 employees in his office.
"We will not have Safe Harbor with this office. We believe in tough love. There's a price to pay when you step over the line," he said at a news conference Wednesday.
The state's attorney's office has also charged three others with financial crimes as part of "Operation Cookie Jar." They include Bonnie Heraty, 52, of Franklin Park; Jaclyn Clair, 26, of Prospect Heights; and Fannie Weinshenker, 57, of Chicago Ridge.
Authorities said Heraty stole from the county to pay her own medical bills. Weinshenker, a supply company salesperson, over-billed the city $180,000 for trash bags, prosecutors said. And Clair, who worked for the office staff of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 726, is accused of forging the signature of her father, a former Teamster secretary and treasurer, on checks to herself.