A former consultant to some of Illinois' biggest political names was convicted of felony perjury and misdemeanor disregard of election code Wednesday.
Rodney McCulloch, 43, of 203 S. Hudson St. in Westmont, faces up to five years in prison for the perjury conviction alone. A DuPage County judge also found him not guilty of related forgery charges.
The charges stem from nominating petition signatures McCulloch collected for former Milton Township Assessor Jim Gumm in an aborted 2005 re-election bid.
McCulloch was once a consultant to the likes of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Congressman Peter Roskam. He's worked in various political campaigns for both major political parties during his 22-year political career.
It's unclear what the conviction means for McCulloch's future in professional politics. Neither McCulloch, nor his attorney, Roland Lara, would comment on the verdict Wednesday.
McCulloch's defense strategy focused on the idea that four homeless men he hired to help collect about 600 signatures for Gumm got greedy and forged dozens of names without McCulloch knowing.
In court, McCulloch could only recall the first names of three of men, "Jimmy," "Danny" and "Scooter," but none of their last names. McCulloch said he promised the homeless men $1.50 for each signature. That's the same amount McCulloch himself expected to receive for the work, leaving him with no expectation of profit from the job.
McCulloch also trusted the homeless men to take the petitions home with them after each day of work. In the case of "Scooter," that meant to a sleeping bag under a bridge near the Fox River in Oswego.
Lara said the homeless men took advantage of McCulloch's kindness.
"What is more likely?" Lara asked. "That Mr. McCulloch was cheated, or that he, himself, would concoct this conspiracy?"
However, in making that case, DuPage Circuit Judge Michael Burke said McCulloch freed himself of one charge and convicted himself on the others.
Burke said there's no doubt some of the signatures McCulloch collected were forged. However, the fact that McCulloch used a crew to collect the signatures creates doubt about who committed the forgeries. But the crew created another problem.
"The defendant, in no way, with any certainty, can say with reasonable belief that the signatures were signed in his presence," Burke said.
McCulloch had testified that he watched the four homeless men collect the signatures while sitting in a van watching them go door-to-door.
Burke called that idea "ridiculous" and said McCulloch's whole explanation of using the crew "doesn't make a lot of sense."
McCulloch will next appear in court on May 1 for a pre-sentencing report.
Meanwhile, Gumm said he's happy with the verdict, but not satisfied that justice was completely served.
"I'm disappointed he wasn't found guilty of the forgeries," Gumm said. "I don't feel everything has come onto the table in this. There's more to the situation that hasn't been told. But I am happy Judge Burke made the ruling that he did."
DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett issued a statement saying he believes Burke's ruling is significant.
"This verdict is important in upholding the integrity of the electoral process," Birkett said. "No one should be able to tamper with the election process as Mr. McCulloch was found to have done."