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Jefferson Park, Portage Park

NW Side Alderman Had Staffer Falsely Report Cellphone Stolen — Then Had A Constituent Arrested, Lawsuit Alleges

Benjamin George says he found a phone that belonged to one of Ald. Jim Gardiner's staffers — but when he went to the police station to return it, he was arrested for theft.

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) at a City Council meeting in February 2020.
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago
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,JEFFERSON PARK — A Northwest Side alderman is being sued by a man who says the alderman falsely accused him of a crime, harassed him and had him arrested.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Chicago federal court, is aimed at Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th); Gardiner’s ward superintendent, Charles Sikanich; the city and seven police officers from the 16th district. 

Benjamin George, who owned a construction and repair company based on the Northwest Side, says in the suit that on Aug. 19, 2019, he found a cellphone inside a 7-Eleven at 6000 W. Higgins Ave.

George picked up the phone — which belonged to Sikanich — while checking out at the 7-Eleven and planned to take it to the local police station at the end of his day, according to the suit.

During the day, Sikanich informed his boss, Gardiner, he lost his phone, and the alderman allegedly told Sikanich to report it stolen instead of lost, according to the lawsuit.  

Neither Gardiner nor Sikanich responded to phone calls seeking comment.

George did not use the phone during the day and the phone did not receive calls or texts, according to the lawsuit. However, before George went to the police station, two Chicago police officers went to George’s apartment, where they “aggressively, profanely and threateningly” asked George’s roommate about the phone, according to the suit.

George was on his way to the station to return the phone when he received a call from his roommate, who told him the police were at their apartment, the lawsuit alleges.

George asked to speak to an officer and George told him he found the phone and asked if he should bring it home or to the station. The officer who spoke to George on the phone told him to bring the phone to the station, which he did, according to the lawsuit.

After officers left George’s apartment, Gardiner and Sikanich separately also visited the apartment, according to the suit. Both used disparaging language about George to his roommate, the suit alleges.

Once at the station, George, who is Romanian, was arrested and held at the district lockup for more than 24 hours, during which police belittled him and called him a “gypsy,” a slur, according to the suit.

The suit also alleges an officer told George, “I believe you. I wasn’t going to arrest you, but this person has power and I have bosses.”

Asked Monday how the police would have known George had Sikanich’s phone, Daniel Massoglia, one of George’s attorneys, said a clerk at the 7-Eleven might have noticed the company logo on George’s shirt and informed police.

“I do not know how the police knew,” Massoglia said. “I think there’s a lot of ways the police can track somebody down, which raises the question of how did Gardiner and Charles Sikanich get his address unless the police are providing this information in a totally bizarre type of investigation. There’s no reason the police should tell an alleged crime victim what somebody’s home address is. It boggles the mind.”

Massoglia said George had no relationship with Gardiner or Sikanich and could not say why they would make a false allegation, as the suit alleges.

Sikanich was arrested in January 2014 for battery and impersonating a police officer. He also was previously arrested twice for retail theft, according to police.

Police Department spokespeople referred calls about lawsuits to the city’s Law Department, which did not respond.

The criminal case against George was dismissed at the first court appearance, but he has suffered from emotional trauma from the experience, which caused him to spend a week in a psychiatric hospital and ultimately forced him to move out of Chicago, according to the lawsuit.

George is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, but the amount has yet to be determined, Massoglia said.

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