keeps it in the family
Tobacco Road Inc. failed to disclose ties to 3rd Ward
alderman, IRS records show
by Kathy Chaney
Revenue Service (IRS) documents obtained by the Lakefront
Outlook show that Tobacco Road Inc., the non-profit group
that oversees the Harold Washington Cultural Center (HWCC),
routinely failed to disclose its ties to Ald. Dorothy
Experts said there appears to be
a series of questionable activities by those affiliated
with the non-profit group who failed to disclose their
ties to other businesses and organizations. These findings
could jeopardize Tobacco Road’s retention of its IRS
status as a non-profit group, executives from two charity
watchdog groups said.
According to Tobacco Road’s most
recent tax returns for the fiscal years from July 1, 2003
to June 30, 2004 and from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005,
the 501 (c)(3) charitable non-profit organization was
listed as not affiliated with any taxable organization
through “common membership, governing bodies, trustees,
In order for an organization to
remain compliant with non-profit status requirements, the
IRS requires the disclosure of persons affiliated with a
non-profit group, and their family members, who are
conducting financial or in-kind deals that profit a
non-profit group’s senior management or members of its
board of directors.
The following potential tax law
violations have been noted following a recent Lakefront
• The Harold Washington Cultural
Center’s executive director is the owner of one of four
approved caterers for the HWCC.
• Tillman’s personal assistant is
listed as an officer with Tobacco Road Inc. and the Third
Ward Aldermanic Office.
• One of the alderman’s sons is a
former Tobacco Road board member and the founder of a band
that has played at the cultural center.
• The alderman’s office
co-sponsors events with the cultural center.
The group’s most recent financial
reports show Ald. Tillman’s daughter Jimalita Tillman, who
is both proprietor of the Spoken Word CafÈ and the
cultural center’s executive director, was paid nearly
$45,000 per year for her services at the HWCC. Promotional
materials for the HWCC obtained by the Lakefront Outlook
list Spoken Word as one of four approved caterers. In
comparison, the South Shore Cultural Center has 19
caterers on its approved vendor list.
According to the Illinois State
Board of Elections Web site, Spoken Word was paid $7,860
by Citizens for Dorothy Tillman for catering and rental
space from March 2003 to February 2006. The cafÈ also
provided catering to the 3rd Ward Democratic Organization
in November 2004 for $400.
Andrew Schulz, deputy general
counsel for the Council on Foundations, said, “It may be
legal to do business with a company owned by a
disqualified person, and I can think of instances where
the non-profit might have gotten a better deal in doing
so. But the problem here is the failure to disclose this
American Institute of
Philanthropy President Daniel Borochoff reviewed portions
of Tobacco Road Inc.’s 2004 tax returns, at the
newspaper’s request, and found numerous potential cases of
tax code reporting violations.
Tobacco Road’s business address
is listed as 4645 S. King Dr., the same address as
Tillman’s ward office. Illinois State Board of Elections
records show Brenda Ramsey, Tillman’s personal assistant,
as the current treasurer for Citizens for Dorothy Tillman
and secretary of the board of Tobacco Road.
“First off, they need to have a
policy and then disclose any conflicts of interest board
members or senior management might have with other
organizations that have an operational relationship with
the non-profit group. It would appear from their financial
filings that the non-profit has not done that,” Borochoff
The “Bring It On Home to Me Roots
Festival,” held every summer at the intersection of 47th
Street and King Drive, was co-sponsored in 2004 by Ald.
Dorothy Tillman’s office and Tobacco Road Inc.
David Morrison, deputy director
for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said
Tobacco Road’s leadership gives the appearance it violated
federal tax laws by not disclosing its relationship with
for-profit organizations, such as Spoken Word CafÈ, to the
IRS. “The crux of the matter here is if and how federal
authorities deal with this. At the very least, you’d think
this would draw some IRS scrutiny,” Morrison said.
Tillman’s son and former Tobacco
Road board member Bemaji Tillman is the founder of the
House of Twang band. The band occasionally performed at
Spoken Word, the HWCC and the Roots Festival. Ticketmaster
sold tickets at $40 each for at least one performance by
the House of Twang at the cultural center on April 14,
Another ticket agent affiliated
with the center, The Urban Theatrical Group, is listed
with a Chicago and Indiana telephone number and a Gary,
Ind. mailing address. According to both the Illinois and
Indiana secretary of state’s offices, The Urban Theatrical
Group is not licensed to do business in either state.
Conflicts of interest
An investigation of public
records by the Lakefront Outlook revealed the following
apparent conflicts of interest:
• An assistant to the alderman is
apparently connected to the valet service provider for
Spoken Word and the Harold Washington Cultural Center.
• Tillman’s former chief of staff
is a former Tobacco Road board member who Illinois State
Board of Elections records show was the treasurer and
chairman of Citizens for Dorothy Tillman in 2003 and 2006,
• Another daughter of Tillman’s
is the special events coordinator for the alderman’s
office and the educational coordinator for the HWCC.
Noted in promotional materials
for the HWCC is that valet service for Spoken Word and the
HWCC is provided exclusively by SAQ Valet Parking Service
Inc. The Illinois Secretary of State records show SAQ is
licensed to Shamona Ambrose at 6902 S. Michigan Ave. The
contact telephone number for SAQ is a cellular phone
number that was answered last week by Qwin Dixon, an
assistant to the alderman. The Lakefront Outlook was told
by Dixon to mail requests for valet services to 6902 S.
City records show Tillman
requested and received a zoning ordinance to designate a
loading zone for SAQ in front of Spoken Word and the 3rd
Records obtained from the City
Department of Consumer Affairs by the Lakefront Outlook
under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act show the
city currently licenses 48 companies to provide valet
services. City law requires valet providers maintain a
minimum of $700,000 in insurance coverage. Records show
that SAQ’s insurance expired June 30, 2006. As of Dec. 19,
the city still had no insurance form on file.
The records show that SAQ was
insured for $500,000 to operate its valet business from
June 2004 to June 30, 2006. Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for
the department, could not explain why SAQ is still
operating and licensed by the city to run a valet parking
business without proof of current insurance.
Brenda Ramsey notarized the SAQ
license application in 2005.
Dixon declined to comment on his
role with SAQ.
SAQ also has office space in the
building housing Sammie Parr’s Alert Up II Parr security
firm. Parr, a Chicago police officer, is Tillman’s former
volunteer bodyguard. The security firm provided services
at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in September.
Qwin Dixon and Sammie Parr are
employed by the city. City documents show that Dixon is
paid $56,352 yearly. Parr’s income was not disclosed. By
city law, municipal employees must disclose any sources of
income from outside employment.
The city’s human resources
department did not have a Dual Employment Form on file for
Dixon as of Dec. 19. Parr is not required to disclose
additional income according to the police’s collective
Robin Brown, a former Tobacco
Road board member, was also Tillman’s chief of staff
during the 2003 aldermanic election year.
While Gimel Tillman, one of the
alderman’s daughters, is the alderman’s special events
coordinator and the HWCC’s educational coordinator, she is
not a current or former Tobacco Road board member.
Ald. Tillman, Jimalita Tillman
and Brenda Ramsey declined to comment and did not comply
with verbal and written requests from the Lakefront
Outlook to review financial documents for Tobacco Road
Inc. and the Harold Washington Cultural Center.
Exempt organizations, according
to the IRS, “must make available for public inspection
certain annual returns and applications for exemption, and
must provide copies of such returns and applications to
individuals who request them. Copies usually must be
provided immediately in the case of in-person requests,
and within 30 days in the case of written requests.”
“What’s really outrageous here is
that they have failed to let the public know of these
conflicts,” said Brian Imus, director of the Chicago-based
Illinois Public Interest Research Group. “These are simple
ethical requirements here, and the voters deserved to be
informed of any conflicts of interest involving their
elected officials, their family and their supporters of
Getting relatives on the public
payroll and rallying for them to snag key jobs in the
private sector has been a long-time Chicago political
Former Cook County Board
President John Stroger Jr. lobbied for his son Todd to
succeed him. The elder Stroger was sidelined from a
massive stroke he suffered in March. Ald. Darcel Beavers
(7th) was appointed to succeed her father, Commissioner
Aldermen are allotted to staff
their ward offices with three people at their discretion.
Their picks are added to the city’s payroll. Tillman is no
exception to the rule.
Tillman’s daughter, Ebony
Tillman, is paid $51,048 yearly by the city to be one of
the alderman’s assistants, documents show. Ebony Tillman
does not work for the Spoken Word CafÈ or the Harold
Washington Cultural Center.