Todd Stroger Zoo Party: Spent $79,000 In Federal Grants On Outing For Flood Victims

12/01/2010 11:24 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

First there were the hundreds of thousands of dollars in unsupervised no-bid contracts he gave to friends and allies. Then, there were the raises during the pay freeze; the taxpayer cash on sprucing up the office; the government credit card for hotel rooms and dry cleaning.

Now, it's been revealed that lame-duck Cook County Board President Todd Stroger spent nearly $80,000 in federal grants on a trip to the zoo.

It's not quite as bad as it sounds (although it's close). The trip was for thousands of victims of flooding in the county, and the grants were intended for flood relief. But, as the Chicago Tribune reports today, the chief executive of the second-largest county in America spent more than $8,000 in federal disaster-relief dollars on "a prize raffle, an interactive disc jockey, a face painter, seven caricature artists, a juggler and a stilt walker."

ABC-7 reported on the zoo party in mid-September, just a few days after it happened, but its many Freedom of Information Act requests to see the spending totals had been ignored. Still, it pointed out that many flood victims haven't seen the relief they were promised from the $10 million in federal money, two years after devastating floods in 2008 left many homes in the county underwater or filled with sewage.

From a recent ABC report on the flood repair:

"We're all in the same boat," said Mary Kaye Lavorato, Des Plaines resident. "You know, you take a third of my house and it's not usable."

Lavorato's basement has been destroyed twice: first during the devastating 2008 flooding when it was filled with sewage. Then, two years later, Cook County promised her a brand new basement paid for with federal disaster grant money. Contractors ripped out her walls, but then the money ran out. The grant ended, the office closed and work stopped.
In Park Ridge, Charlie Melidosian wonders the same thing. Home video from 2008 shows when water poured into his house.

"The government comes in, destroys the basement, and then disappears to not be able to finish it, and we're not making much progress getting them to finish it up," said Melidosian.

Today, the Tribune published the total expenditures on the zoo party, based on newly released documents. It found that just under $79,000 of the federal disaster relief money went to the party -- almost certainly a violation of the terms of the grant, and undoubtedly a frustration to the homeowners still awaiting actual relief from the fund.

The Stroger administration has refused to comment on the zoo excursion, because its allocation of the federal dollars is under investigation by Inspector General Patrick Blanchard.

Blanchard's probe of the President's office has already netted one arrest: Carla Oglesby, Stroger's deputy chief of staff, was charged with felony theft after steering a government contract to her own PR firm. The contract was one of many issued for $24,975, just under the $25,000 mark that requires County Board approval.

So far, no charges have been brought against Stroger, who lost in a landslide primary to incoming President Toni Preckwinkle.