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Ald. Arena Returns 'Improper' Campaign Contributions After Investigation

 Ald. John Arena (45th)
Ald. John Arena (45th)
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45th Ward Office

JEFFERSON PARK — Ald. John Arena (45th) accepted "improper" campaign contributions from three companies owned by the same Jefferson Park businessman who has several contracts with city agencies, according to the city's Legislative Inspector General.

Inspector General Faisal Khan's semi-annual report did not name the alderman. However, Arena acknowledged Tuesday he was the subject of the investigation and said that he had returned $3,700 in campaign contributions from companies associated with Aleksander Peric.

The complaint was filed under oath by the owner of a business in the 45th Ward who told DNAinfo.com Chicago he wanted to expose Arena for requiring businesses to make contributions "to get things done."

The complainant said he feared Arena would "destroy his business" if he knew he was behind the investigation.

Arena called the allegations of pay-to-play politics "laughable."

"My office is completely transparent," Arena said, adding that he has held a public meeting on every zoning change in the ward since he took office. "It is rational and fair."

Peric said he never felt pressured to contribute to Arena and did not make the contribution in return for an official action or to encourage Arena to take an official action.

Arena said he was unaware of the contributions from Peric's firms until he was notified July 12 by Steve Berlin, the executive director of the city's Board of Ethics. The contributions were returned the same day, he added.

"I don't monitor my campaign contributions," Arena said. "I don't want that information in my head."

Peric's three businesses — Arlington Glass and Mirror Co., Chicago Metro Construction Co. and AGAE Contracting — contributed $7,650 to Citizens to Elect John Arena and Friends of 45 from October 2011 to March 2013, according to records from the Illinois State Board of Elections.

However, the city's campaign contribution limits prevents those doing business with the city or city agencies from contributing more than $3,000 per year to candidates running for office and $1,500 per year to city officials.

Arlington Glass has held several contracts for the Chicago Transit Authority, according to CTA records, and is an approved vendor for the Chicago Public School district. In addition, AGAE Contracting shared in a $24 million construction and maintenance contract with the City Colleges of Chicago that could have earned the company as much as $3 million, according to college records.

The improper contributions were not flagged by Arena's campaign finance staff because of a change in how campaign contributions are reported, the alderman said. Under a new city ordinance, the limits apply to each calendar year, while the limits used to apply to the fiscal year, which ran from June to July.

"I asked my staff to go back and check for other, similar issues, and we're confident that there aren't any," Arena said.

Peric said he was unaware of the campaign contribution limits and did not know he had violated a city ordinance.

"He's a young guy, a new alderman and I wanted to help him out and help get Jefferson Park growing again," Peric said. "I hope he's not in too much trouble."

In May 2012, Arena authored a measure adopted by the City Council that exempted Arlington Glass, located at 4547 N. Milwaukee Ave., from having to build barriers that would block drivers from entering the alley behind the business from its parking lot.

Peric said he has also asked Arena to help him redevelop the site of the former May Funeral Home at 4553 N. Milwaukee Ave. The funeral home, a neighborhood landmark, was torn down in 2005, leaving a lot that has been vacant ever since.

"I want to put a Starbucks there," Peric said. "That's what this area needs."

The inspector general referred the matter to the Board of Ethics.