Former Cook County Land Bank Authority worker pleads guilty to property scam

A Woodridge man faces a prison sentence of around three years after pleading guilty Wednesday to scamming his former employer, a Cook County agency formed to promote the redevelopment of vacant properties.

Federal prosecutors charged Mustafaa Saleh in November with one count of wire fraud for the scheme involving the Cook County Land Bank Authority. The agency’s board is led by Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer.

Saleh’s sentencing has been set for June 22.

The charges against him landed more than a year after a federal grand jury subpoenaed the land bank in May 2021, seeking records on Saleh and two dozen properties the land bank obtained and sold in the city and suburbs.

Saleh was an asset manager for the land bank. The county agency acquires properties and sells them at below-market rates, but it prohibits buyers from selling or renting them again until adequate improvements have been made.


Land bank workers were barred from buying property from the agency unless they planned to use it as their primary residence.

But prosecutors said Saleh found bogus "straw buyers" to fraudulently purchase six properties from the authority on Saleh’s behalf between 2016 and 2021. The properties — in Chicago, Oak Lawn and Midlothian — were then redeveloped, resold or otherwise used for Saleh’s financial benefit, prosecutors said.

They said Saleh also formed a property maintenance company in 2016, Evergreen Property Services, but had someone else pose as its owner, then had the land bank contract with Evergreen and pay it more than $1 million for property maintenance.

Land bank workers are prohibited from having a financial interest in such contractors, prosecutors said. And land bank rules prohibit them from doing business with the agency for a year after leaving.

Saleh left the agency in June 2019. A source has said officials there "questioned him for violating policies and procedures, and he resigned."