Prosecutors: Married couple bilked city out of nearly $1M in contracting scheme

A married couple who run a Chicago car wash vendor were charged Tuesday with stealing nearly $1 million from the city through a contracting scheme.

John Balzano, 58, and 55-year-old Natalie Balzano were each charged with felony counts of theft of government property, fraudulently obtaining money reserved for disadvantaged business enterprises and wire and mail fraud, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Natalie Balzano was also charged with two felony counts of forgery.

The couple’s business, J&J Car Wash, allegedly defrauded the city by working with the owner of PJ’s Ace Hardware in Oak Park, a certified Minority Business Enterprise subcontractor, who created false invoices for car wash products that were sold and delivered by suppliers who weren’t certified through the program, the state’s attorney’s office said.

According to prosecutors, John Balzano placed orders with the suppliers before the hardware store created new invoices, marked up by 15 to 20 percent, which he paid to make it appear the car wash was complying with the city’s contract goal to spent nearly 17 percent of the total contract price with certified minority businesses.

Balzano’s wife then submitted bids to the city for car wash contracts, the state’s attorney’s office said.

The estimated loss to the city is estimated at $931,949, prosecutors said.

“Exploiting the laws intended to support minority business owners cost the City of Chicago as well as other legitimate minority-owned businesses,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. “I appreciate the city’s Office of Inspector General’s work to help hold these defendants accountable.”

The Balzanos, who live in Darien, were arraigned Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, prosecutors said. Their next court date was set for April 27.