Democratic Illinois state Sen. Tom Cullerton resigns ahead of guilty plea on federal embezzlement charges

Democrats maintain control of the Illinois state Senate but their margin of majority will be reduced by one for the foreseeable future after a prominent member of the caucus resigned.

Illinois state Sen. Tom Cullerton (D) tendered his resignation Wednesday in a move that coincided with his attorneys announcing that he planned to plead guilty to federal embezzlement charges, Chicago’s WGN-TV reported.

The Democratic lawmaker was alleged to have been on the “ghost payroll” of a local labor union for several years and accepted a salary for a job he didn’t do and received benefits for which he was ineligible.

Cullerton faces 39 counts of embezzlement from a labor union, one count of conspiracy to commit the embezzlement, and one count of making false statements to investigators.


The local CBS affiliate in Chicago reported that Cullerton’s scheme began in 2013 after he was first elected to the state Senate but made secret arrangements with his former employer, Teamsters Local Union 734, to remain on the payroll with a “do-nothing job” as a union organizer.

Over the next few years, he received around $188,000 in full-time salary and other benefits, as well as about $64,000 in health care reimbursements and pension contributions that he was no longer eligible to receive.

That arrangement was reportedly made with former Teamsters head Tom Coli, who had pleaded guilty to federal extortion charges just days before Cullerton’s indictment was unveiled in 2019.

Illinois Senate Democrats ready to move on from Cullerton

In response to the announced resignation, The Daily Caller reported that the Democratic leader of the Illinois Senate, Don Harmon (D), issued a brief and rather neutral statement that made no mention of the criminality underlying the resignation and seemingly looked past Cullerton to whoever would eventually take his place.

“Tom Cullerton served his constituents in the 23rd Senate District for nearly a decade. I look forward to welcoming and working with a new senator from the district. We’ve got a lot of work to do for the people of Illinois,” Harmon said.

According to WGN-TV, Cullerton had already been stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate Labor Committee — a rather ironic assignment in retrospect — following the indictment for embezzling funds from a labor union.

Back in court next month

The CBS affiliate noted that the former state senator will be back in court on March 8 for a hearing during which his attorneys will change his plea to guilty from an initial plea of not guilty.

It remains to be seen how many years, if any, Cullerton is sentenced to serve in prison for his crimes, as well as if he will be ordered to pay restitution to the Teamsters union — and all of its dues-paying members — who he defrauded via his conspiratorial scheme.

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