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By Jean Lotus
New Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough is no longer employing two staff members who were found to have felony convictions in their background, Yarbrough said last week.
The Better Government Association and NBC 5 reported two weeks ago that Richella Goeloe Jackson, a long-time friend and employee of Yarbrough's -- and one of her seven Shakman-exempt staff members -- pleaded guilty to a single count of theft of bank funds in a "staged robbery" of an armored car in Hazel Crest in March 2009.
"She was terminated not because she had a background, but because she failed to disclose it," Yarbrough said. Goeloe Jackson "left the question blank" on her application, Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough said Goeloe Jackson, whose salary was $75,000, was a former intern who "has a master's degree, speaks four languages and is very capable."
"I knew her husband was in jail, but I didn't know about her conviction," said Yarbrough. "She never mentioned it."
Goeloe Jackson had worked for Yarbrough cleaning her office and as an assistant. She also rents a Maywood property from Yarbrough, she said. "She said her home had flooded and she was alone with a young child," Yarbrough said.
According to the BGA, Goeloe Jackson also worked for one of the Yarbrough family's insurance companies, "until her attempt to obtain an insurance license was rejected by state regulators because of the felony conviction."
Along with another man, Goeloe Jackson's husband, Jason Jackson -- who worked for the armored car company-- served time in prison for the robbery, which netted $407,000, but was quickly solved. Geoloe Jackson allegedly drove the getaway car. She pleaded guilty and was given two years of probation, though prosecutors asked for 18 months in prison.
Yarbrough said she wasn't in the office Feb. 25 when the NBC 5 film crew came to the county building to question Goeloe Jackson.
"They came behind her with cameras and chased her like a rat," Yarbrough said.
But Yarbrough added there is no prohibition for anyone convicted of a crime to work for Cook County. She said a second long-time union employee was found to have an arrest record and had even spent time in prison after an unrelated arrest a couple of weeks earlier. He was terminated, she said.
"I have 189 employees at the Recorder of Deeds office," Yarbrough said. "I don't know how to record deeds yet myself. I'm depending on those folks to do their jobs. I told my chief of staff to walk around and ask everyone The Question."
"I don't know why Cook County doesn't do criminal background checks. There are probably other people out there shaking in their boots."
"Don't know what Richella's going to do now," Yarbrough added. "The Department of Corrections has 60,000 people in it. They come out [of prison] and they can't find work and can't take care of their families, so what are they going to do?"
Yarbrough formerly represented the 7th District, which includes Forest Park and now includes River Forest. She declined to run again when she ran for the Recorder of Deeds position. Her state rep position was filled by recently elected 7th District State Rep Emanuel "Chris" Welch. Welch also hired a convicted felon as a part time employee at his district office in Westchester. Former Melrose Park police officer Ric Cervone pled guilty to Federal charges that he helped Melrose Park's ex-Police Chief Vito Scavo run a private security firm on public time and with public funds. Welch paid Cervone more than $14,000 in 2012, according to campaign records.
"I know that Ric has a controversial past," Welch said in January. "I have known Ric for 15 years. He's a heck of a guy. He works his butt off and he does a heck of a job."
See the BGA report on Yarbrough's hire and firing here.