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FBI Bribery Sting Nets an Oak Parker

Federal authorities say Dean Nichols was key part of kickback scheme during his tenure as former state Sen. Rickey Hendon's campaign aide.

Dean Nichols, a campaign treasurer for former state Sen. Rickey Hendon, was arrested this week in connection with a kickback scheme, federal authorities said.

Nichols, 62, of Oak Park, was arrested Tuesday. Investigators said he's part of a group of seven people who agreed to pay kickbacks to a person posing as an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nichols has also been linked to a separate bribery scheme at the Cook County Board of Review, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Nichols had worked as a campaign treasurer for Hendon until the mid-1990s, according to various media reports. Here's the FBI again:

While assisting the state senator’s campaign committee, Nichols allegedly helped steer state of Illinois grants to certain organizations, including a $50,000 grant to an organization operated by Nichols’ daughter from 2005 to 2006 and a $190,000 grant in 2007 to an organization operated by Hopkins with the understanding that a portion of the proceeds would go to Nichols and the state senator’s nephew.

Federal officials say the unidentified informant who helped blow the doors off the investigation was a close acquaintance of Nichols going back some 20 years.

The pair first met when Nichols when he was an accountant for an auto repair shop owned by the informant's family, and the informant, a former Chicago cop, was later a manager for a bar owned by Nichols. (Mark Brown with the Sun-Times has a piece on the "dirty cop who is scary good at this undercover stuff.")

The pair once attempted to bribe a former Chicago alderman by offering $10,000 in exchange for the informant landing a promotion within the Chicago Police Department, according to an FBI news release.

In July 2011, officials said, the informant recorded a conversation with Nichols, during which the witness said he'd "run into a friend” at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, someone who was handing out $25,000 grants "like candy" in exchange for kickbacks.

The pair then met with an undercover agent posing as an employee of a private company contracting with the federal agency. The undercover agent purportedly "had the ability get $25,000 grants approved by bribing the fictitious HHS official."

That's when Nichols offered up several other people willing to submit grant applications in return for $5,000 kickbacks, payments what would be divided amongst a growing group including Reggi Hopkins, Elliot Kozel and Anthony Johnson, officials said. Investigators said Kozel, a Cook County corrections officer, recruited his boss, Mary Smith, and two othrs, Bryant Jessup and Regina Hollie, who were allegedly also willing to submit applications to obtain the grants.

Investigators say Nichols provided the informant with 31 completed grant applications and hoped to net up to $100,000 in kickbacks.

Together, they'd have  “a big summer home” in Michigan if it all worked out, according to the charges. All the while, Nichols tried to arrange for hand delivery of the checks instead of mailing them. He had been concerned "about a federal investigation and avoiding federal mail fraud charges," authorities said.

Nichols was charged with three counts of bribery conspiracy.

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