[Cochonour] Ex-judge admits he looted estate
- From: indigoace@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Indigo Ace)
- Date: Wed, 03 Aug 2005 14:10:14 GMT
>From the Chicago Tribune--
Ex-judge admits he looted estate
Downstate jurist stole while on bench
By Michael Higgins
Tribune staff reporter
Published August 3, 2005
A former Downstate judge admitted he stole hundreds of thousands of
dollars from a businessman's estate after being elected to the bench
in 1990, pouring the money into his family's failing businesses and a
second home for himself.
Robert Cochonour, who was a Cumberland County circuit judge from 1990
to 2002, testified that he stole from the $2.2 million estate as a
"last resort" to save his family's oil and horse businesses and that
he intended to pay the money back.
He also acknowledged spending money on improvements to a country
house, which he used for entertaining, and on expenses such as
restoring and tuning a piano, according to a transcript of his
Cochonour, 65, testified for three days last month at a deposition in
Chicago, answering questions from lawyers for Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa
Madigan's office. The questioning is to continue Aug. 29.
It was the first time Cochonour had testified about his tenure as
executor of the Jay Hayden estate. Cochonour pleaded guilty to felony
theft in 2003 but had refused to explain what happened to the stolen
Officials at the Jay Hayden Foundation, a charity in Greenup, Ill.,
and heirs of Hayden's mother hope Cochonour's testimony will aid them
in lawsuits they have filed to recover the missing millions.
"We've wanted this for the last two years," Fred Roth of Naperville,
attorney for the Hayden Foundation and some Hayden heirs, said
Tuesday. "We've wanted the answers."
A judge ruled in June that Cochonour had to testify or risk losing his
plea bargain. The plea deal is crucial for Cochonour--and unpopular
with many in Cumberland County--because it allowed him to keep a
judicial pension of $76,650 a year.
He also gets a pension of nearly $19,000 a year as a former Cumberland
County state's attorney, according to the transcript.
Cochonour's testimony is the latest twist in one of the state's
longest-running and strangest sagas of judicial misbehavior.
Cochonour was a prominent lawyer in rural Cumberland County when he
became executor of Jay Hayden's estate in 1985.
Hayden had died at age 45 after amassing a fortune through his
family's grocery business, commercial real estate and other
At times in the deposition, Cochonour said he took his responsibility
as Hayden's executor seriously. He said he had "grave concerns" about
stealing money from the estate.
"I have always been concerned about the safety of the estate's funds,
always, always," Cochonour testified.
But Cochonour also admitted that his family's companies went to the
Hayden estate for money because any bank would have considered loans
He acknowledged that he engineered other transactions that didn't
benefit the estate.
One deal involved a Long John Silver's restaurant building that Hayden
had owned. The tenants had been paying Hayden $2,000 a month in rent,
Cochonour sold the building to his family's company in a deal that
required it to pay Hayden's estate only $2,000 a month, the same
amount the building already earned. The company later sold the
building to Cochonour's brother for $1, according to the transcript.
Cochonour's testimony largely tracked written records he had provided
earlier to Madigan and her predecessor, Jim Ryan. Cochonour said he
had not given money to his brothers or family businesses outside of
what was covered in the documents.
Cochonour's scheme did not begin to unravel until 2001. When Cochonour
pleaded guilty, he admitted stealing an unspecified amount "in excess
of $100,000" from 1985 to 1990--before he became a judge. A probate
judge later ruled that Cochonour owed the foundation $5.2 million,
including more than $3 million in interest.
During the deposition, Cochonour said he could not estimate how much
money he had stolen.
"Obviously it's seven figures," said his attorney, Rick Halprin of
Chicago. But "my view is there's none of it left. It went into a
failed oil company and failed horse-breeding [business]."
Some money also went into the country house. But Halprin said the
house is worth about $120,000 and "it's mortgaged up to the hilt."
Foundation officials have filed civil lawsuits against Cochonour and
against a bank and lawyers they say failed to reveal Cochonour's
In the deposition Cochonour said he didn't tell his attorney, banker
and others about the scheme. But Cochonour also said he couldn't
remember the details of several meetings he had with others regarding
the estate's money.
Roth said that's an area that he wants to explore further.
"We don't yet believe that he did everything ... without the
involvement of other people," Roth said.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
indigoace at goodsol period com
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