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Bank president allegedly had employee falsify loan records for Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, plea reveals

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson during a City Council meeting May 26, 2021.
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson during a City Council meeting May 26, 2021. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

A former loan officer for a failed Bridgeport bank admitted in federal court Wednesday that she falsified loan records for Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson at the direction of the bank’s president to make it look like payments were being made.

Alicia Mandujano, 50, of Chicago, pleaded guilty during a telephone hearing in U.S. District Court to a conspiracy charge stemming from an alleged $29 million embezzlement scheme that led to the 2017 collapse of Washington Federal Bank for Savings.

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Among those charged in the ongoing investigation was Thompson, who was accused of filing false tax returns involving a $219,000 line of credit he’d received from the bank before he became alderman in 2015.

Thompson, the grandson and nephew of two former Chicago mayors, has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 4 — the first sitting alderman to face a criminal trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in decades.

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Mandujano, meanwhile, is cooperating with prosecutors and is a potential witness at Thompson’s trial.

Her 27-page plea agreement with prosecutors included new details about loans the alderman allegedly obtained from Washington Federal that are at the center of the tax counts against him.

According to the plea, the then-president of Washington Federal, John Gembara, directed her on three separate occasions in 2013 and 2014 to provide Thompson with “loan distribution checks that were in excess of the principal amount of Thompson’s note.”

Thompson personally picked up the checks from Gembara at the bank, according to the plea.

Between 2012 and 2017, after Thompson did not pay back the loan, Gembara directed Mandujano to alter the bank’s records “and make it appear that loan payments had been made by Thompson, including by advancing interest payments and then adding those amounts to the principal balance of his loan,” the plea stated.

In a statement to the Tribune on Wednesday, Thompson’s attorney, Chris Gair, said the prosecution’s summary of Mandujano’s testimony in the plea agreement was “highly misleading.”

“As the government well knows from their interviews of her, Mandujano will testify that Mr. Thompson had no way of knowing that they were altering the books of Washington Federal,” Gair wrote in the emailed statement. “Furthermore, it is important to note that Mr. Thompson is not accused of any wrongdoing with respect to the Washington Federal loan.”

In addition to altering the loan records for Thompson, Mandujano admitted her role in the larger embezzlement scheme, which included falsifying entries to funnel millions of dollars to preferred customers, using bank funds to pay real estate taxes for customers, and clearing loans with little or no collateral and no expectation the money would be repaid, court records show.

At the center of the alleged fraud scheme was Robert Kowalski, a Chicago attorney and former bank customer, who was a large debtor of the bank when it was closed by regulators in December 2017 with about $66 million in bad loans, according to a superseding indictment filed last year.

The latest indictment also charged William Mahon, a then-top official with the city’s Streets and Sanitation Department, with willfully filing false tax returns as part of that larger probe.

Gembara, 56, who is referred to in the charges only as Individual A, took his own life in Park Ridge less than two weeks before the bank’s closure, according to a medical examiner’s report.

After Mandujano’s guilty plea Wednesday, her attorney, Victor Henderson, portrayed his client as a pawn in a “classic case of powerful men” exerting control over “women who had no say.”

“The millions of dollars that were stolen went to men,” Henderson said. “The bank tellers and low level employees who were women simply got to keep their jobs. Their alternative was to get fired for failing to follow orders.”

Mandujano faces up to five years in prison under sentencing guidelines contained in the plea. However, if prosecutors are satisfied with her cooperation they will ask for a lesser sentence, according to the document.

Thompson, 52, the 11th Ward alderman since 2015, was charged in April in a seven-count indictment with filing false tax returns and lying to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. officials about the payments from Washington Federal.

He has vehemently denied wrongdoing. In a statement after the indictment was announced, Thompson said his “conscience was clear” and that he’s paid the back taxes owed and repaid the rest of the loan in question.

“I did not commit any crime, I am innocent and I will prove it at trial,” the statement said. “The charges in the indictment do not relate in any way to my public service or to my professional life. I remain 100% dedicated to serving the people of Chicago to the best of my ability.”

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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