By MIKE ROBINSON
The Associated Press
Thursday, June 8, 2006; 8:43 PM
CHICAGO -- A longtime suburban mayor was arrested Thursday on federal charges of steering business to a friend's insurance agency in return for bribes over almost two decades.
Nicholas Blase, mayor of Niles for 45 years, was arrested as he left his house on his 78th birthday.
According to court documents, Blase threatened to withhold liquor licenses and business licenses from restaurant owners unless they bought insurance from the agency once owned by his late friend Ralph Weiner and now run by Weiner's sons.
The fraud began at least 17 years ago, an FBI affidavit said.
"Businesses were being pushed to buy insurance that they didn't either need or want," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary S. Shapiro.
The affidavit said Blase used a shell company to receive the insurance agency's bribes. In the three years beginning in April 1997, the shell company deposited $281,000 in agency checks, the document said.
It said that Weiner's 53-year-old son Steven, who was president of the insurance agency, delivered checks from Ralph Weiner & Associates to the shell company. Steven Weiner was arrested Thursday and charged with one count of mail fraud.
Both men appeared in federal court and were released on their own recognizance. Blase has a preliminary hearing set for June 21.
Blase, who is an attorney, has denied any wrongdoing and said he steered business to Weiner simply because he liked him.
Steven Weiner and his brother became the agency's license-holders and co-owners after their father died last year, prosecutors said.
Blase attorney Harvey M. Silets said he was disappointed his client was arrested on his birthday in front of his wife and grandchildren.
Federal officials said the arrest was planned days in advance and that they only learned Tuesday that Thursday was Blase's birthday.
Niles, just north of Chicago, has 30,000 residents.
On the Net:
Insurance agency: http://www.ralphweiner.com