A City of Chicago car wash vendor has been charged with theft of $931,900 from the city through a contract pass-through scheme, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General announced.
John and Natalie Balzano, president and manager of a Chicago car wash that provided services to the city, were each charged with felony of theft of government property, felony of fraudulently obtaining money reserved for disadvantaged business enterprises, and felony of wire fraud and mail fraud. Natalie Balzano is also charged with two counts of forgery.
According to a release from the Attorney General’s office, the Balzanos allegedly defrauded the City of Chicago by working with a minority business enterprise (MBE) subcontractor, the owner of Oak Park-based PJ’s Ace Hardware, who generated false invoices for car wash products that were sold and delivered by non-MBE suppliers.
John Balzano placed the orders directly with the non-MBE suppliers and PJ’s Ace Hardware created new invoices, marked up by 15-20%, which Balzano paid to make it appear that J&J Car Wash was complying with the city’s MBE contract goal to spend at least 16.9% of the total contract price with MBEs. J&J President Natalie Balzano then submitted bids to the city for car wash contracts. The estimated loss to the city is $931,949, which represents payments the city made under the contract.
The Balzanos were arraigned on March 19, and their next court date is April 27.