Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lawyer: Rep. Jackson 'completely guiltless'

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is "completely guiltless" in the alleged scheme to corrupt the appointment of a new U.S. senator from Illinois and will meet with federal investigators as soon as Friday, the congressman's newly hired lawyer said today.

Jackson was not named in the criminal complaint yesterday charging Gov. Rod Blagojevich with trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. But descriptions in the court document fit the congressman's profile and sources have further identified him as the "Senate Candidate 5" who was among those being considered for the job.

Jackson hired longtime Chicago lawyer James Montgomery Sr. on Tuesday after federal prosecutors unveiled criminal charges against Blagojevich and top aide John Harris, sources said.

"There is nothing there to implicate the congressman," Montgomery told the Tribune. The attorney said he and Jackson have been advised by a top deputy to U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald that Jackson is not a target of the investigation.

Montgomery said he expected Jackson would meet with officials from Fitzgerald's office as soon as Friday.

In an interview posted on the ABC News website today, Jackson did not specify who had told him he was not a target. He also said he did not know whether he was Candidate 5.

Jackson did say, however, that prosecutors had asked him to "come in and share my insights and thoughts about the selection process" and he planned to do so after consulting with his lawyer.

A lengthy government affidavit filed with the criminal complaint against Blagojevich refers to a Senate Candidate 5 who was under on-again, off-again consideration by the governor as a replacement for Obama in the Senate.

The affidavit quotes Blagojevich from a surveillance recording as describing an approach by an emissary of Candidate 5 who had promised to raise upwards of $1 million for Blagojevich if Candidate 5 secured the Senate seat.

On Oct. 31, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich described an approach by an associate of Senate Candidate 5. "We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know, he'd raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made [Senate Candidate 5] a senator," Blagojevich allegedly said.

Last week, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich told an adviser that he was giving greater consideration to Senate Candidate 5 because that person could raise money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election and perhaps kick in "some [money] upfront" as well. And Blagojevich was recorded as saying that he was going to meet with Senate Candidate 5 in the next few days, the affidavit said.

On Monday, Jackson met with Blagojevich to discuss the Senate post. Last week, Jackson told the Tribune that he had recently reached out to Blagojevich confidant John Wyma as well as the governor's patronage chief, Victor Roberson, to discuss the Senate job. The Tribune reported last week that Wyma has been cooperating with the federal corruption probe of Blagojevich.

Blagojevich allegedly told one of his fundraisers to pass a message to someone identified in the affidavit only as Individual D whom Blagojevich believed to be close to Senate Candidate 5: If Candidate 5 was to land the Senate seat, "some of this stuff's gotta start happening now . . . right now . . . and we gotta see it. You understand?"

Of the affidavit, Montgomery said: "Even if you read that in its worst light, it was an assumption on the part of Blagojevich that his operatives had sought to induce someone who he believes to be as associate of the congressman to engage in a quid pro quo for the Senate seat."

Jackson told ABC News he had authorized no one to make overtures to Blagojevich on his behalf and said he was sure no one did.

"It's impossible for someone on my behalf to have a conversation that would suggest any type of quid pro quo, payments or offers," Jackson declared. "It's an impossibility to an absolute certainty."

-- Bob Secter and Dan Mihalopoulos

Happy birthday, Guv — How about a little self-exam?

Mary Schmich
December 10, 2008
Happy birthday, Governor.

Yeah, well, bleep you, too. Sit down. Yes, that seat is very hot. We don't coddle our clients here at to Pay-to-Play Therapy Inc., a fully licensed Illinois facility catering to crooked politicians. You're lucky we could squeeze you in. We're usually booked.

Let's cut to the chase, Guv. Are you out of your bleeping mind? Trying to sell—allegedly—a Senate seat? Trying—allegedly—to extort Tribune Co.? When you knew the feds were watching you through the sights of a loaded gun?

Ha ha ha. Very funny, sir, but you can't have me fired. I'm a therapist, not an editorial writer.

And I'm here to help you, Governor. You're 52 years old today. It's OK to feel sad. Fifty-two's no lollapalooza even if you're not a crook.

But it's especially sad for you. Just think. On Dec. 10, 1956, an innocent babe was born in Chicago. He grew up to be a husband, a father, a politician, an embarrassment to his state and a joke to the world. Help me to understand why someone would squander so much opportunity and promise.

That's all you can say? The word "bleep" again?

Here. Take this mirror. Birthdays are a time for self-examination. Are you proud of what you see?

Yes, you've still got a full head of hair. That's not what I meant. Keep looking while I consult my manual.

Hmm. "Delusional." Sounds right. How else could you think you had a chance of running for president in 2016?

"Compulsive." That works. You certainly seem to have been overpowered by repetitive, irrational behavior.

"Arrogant?" Yes. "Narcissistic?" Could be. Hmm. I don't see an entry for "dumb."

Sir. Please. Do I have to warn you again about the word "bleeping?"

I agree with you on one thing, Governor. No, not about the media. It's true they're feasting on your woes, but you have to admit that those taped phone conversations are pretty juicy meat.

Like the time you allegedly were talking about Barack Obama's open Senate seat and said, "I've got this thing, and it's [bleeping] golden. And I'm just not giving it up for [bleeping] nothing."

Grade A sirloin, sir.

Anyway, the thing we probably agree on is your kids. I'm sad for them, too. I'm sad they had to wake up Tuesday and find their dad had been hustled out of the house at dawn by the FBI. I'm sorry you put them in that position.

Are you listening, Governor? I get the feeling you don't listen very well. Can I read you something? It's from the statement by U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald. Ready?

"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges," he wrote, "is staggering. They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."

Can we at least agree that Pat Fitzgerald can turn a phrase?

Governor, our time's almost up, so I'm going to offer you some advice. Even if these charges haven't been proven, they're so strong and the evidence is so compelling that this state and this city are weakened if you stay. Give up your job. Give Illinois back. Commemorate your birthday by giving the people that gift. You owe us.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Feds: Allegations against Gov. Blagojevich 'would make Lincoln roll over in his grave'

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says the corruption charges against Gov. Blagojevich represent “a truly new low,” and he says the allegations “would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.”

“This is a sad day for government,” he said at a news conference with federal prosecutors to discuss the arrest of Blagojevich. “Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low."

Fitzgerald called Blagojevich's actions in the last several weeks as “a political corruption crime spree.”

The head of the FBI office in Chicago said if Illinois isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s a strong competitor.

The charges accuse Blagojevich of trying to benefit financially from his ability to appoint President-elect Barack Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says federal investigators bugged the Democrat’s campaign offices and placed a tap on his home phone. And Grant says even seasoned investigators were stunned by what they heard on those tapes.

Fitzgerald described the situation by saying: “We were in the middle of a corruption crime spree and we wanted to stop it.”

Blagojevich has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Blagojevich calls Obama mother****er

December 9, 2008

Click here to read the entire complaint

Rod Blagojevich calls Obama a mother******
Rod Blagojevich said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to "suck it up" for two years and do nothing and give this "motherf***er [the President-elect] his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him." Rod Blagojevich states that he will put "[Senate Candidate 4]" in the Senate "before I just give F***ing [Senate Candidate 1] a F***ing Senate seat and I don't get anything." (Senate Candidate 4 is a Deputy Governor of the State of Illinois). Rod Blagojevich stated that he needs to find a way to take the "financial stress" off of his family and that his wife is as qualified or more qualified than another specifically named individual to sit on corporate boards. According to Rod Blagojevich, "the immediate challenge [is] how do we take some of the financial pressure off of our family." Later in the phone call, Rod Blagojevich stated that absent getting something back, Rod Blagojevich will not pick Senate Candidate 1.
Harris re-stated Rod Blagojevich's thoughts that they should ask the President-elect for something for Rod Blagojevich's financial security as well as maintain his political viability. Harris said they could work out a three-way deal with SEIU and the President- elect where SEIU could help the President-elect with Rod Blagojevich's appointment of Senate Candidate 1 to the vacant Senate seat, Rod Blagojevich would obtain a position as the National Director of the Change to Win campaign, and SEIU would get something favorable from the President-elect in the future.

Patti Blagojevich: Hold up that f***ing Cubs s***
During the call, Rod Blagojevich's wife can be heard in the background telling Rod Blagojevich to tell Deputy Governor A "to hold up that f***ing Cubs s***. . . f*** them." Rod Blagojevich asked Deputy Governor A what he thinks of his wife's idea. Deputy Governor A stated that there is a part of what Rod Blagojevich's wife said that he "agree[s] with." Deputy Governor A told Rod Blagojevich that Tribune Owner will say that he does not have anything to do with the editorials, "but I would tell him, look, if you want to get your Cubs thing done get rid of this Tribune." Later, Rod Blagojevich's wife got on the phone and, during the continuing discussion of the critical Tribune editorials, stated that Tribune Owner can "just fire" the writers because Tribune Owner owns the Tribune. Rod Blagojevich's wife stated that if Tribune Owner's papers were hurting his business, Tribune Owner would do something about the editorial board. Rod Blagojevich then got back on the phone. Rod Blagojevich told Deputy Governor A to put together the articles in the Tribune that are on the topic of removing Rod Blagojevich from office and they will then have someone, like JOHN HARRIS, go to Tribune Owner and say, "We've got some decisions to make now." Rod Blagojevich said that "someone should say, 'get rid of those people.'"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Corrections officer charged wth bribery for buying cigarettes for an inmate

November 26, 2008

BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN Criminal Courts Reporter/
A Cook County correctional officer has been charged with bribery and official misconduct for allegedly purchasing cigarettes for a female inmate.

The inmate allegedly asked Cook County Jail guard Javier Toro, 23, about bringing her supplies at the jail, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Evans said during Toro’s bond hearing today. She gave him the phone number of a woman who would pay for the supplies, prosecutors said.

During his lunch break on Nov. 18, Toro allegedly met the woman at a Citgo gas station at 4319 W. 47th, Evans said. He then charged to his credit card six packets of loose Kite brand tobacco and two lighters. The woman allegedly gave Toro $100 on behalf of the inmate.

Toro was stopped by authorities when he tried to give the tobacco to the inmate back at the jail, Evans said.

Judge Laura Sullivan ordered Toro held in lieu of $20,000 bail

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cheney, Gonzales Indicted In South Texas County
McALLEN, Texas (AP) ― Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have been indicted on state charges involving federal prisons in a South Texas county that has been a source of bizarre legal and political battles under the outgoing prosecutor.

The indictment returned Monday has not yet been signed by the presiding judge, and no action can be taken until that happens. The seven indictments made public in Willacy County on Tuesday included one naming state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and some targeting public officials connected to District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra's own legal battles. Regarding the indictments targeting the public officials, Guerra said, "the grand jury is the one that made those decisions, not me." Guerra himself was under indictment for more than a year and half until a judge dismissed the indictments last month. Guerra's tenure ends this year after nearly two decades in office. He lost convincingly in a Democratic primary in March. Guerra said the prison-related charges against Cheney and Gonzales are a national issue and experts from across the country testified to the grand jury. Cheney is charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity related to the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees because of his link to the prison companies.

Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment on Tuesday, saying that the vice president had not yet received a copy of the indictment. The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately-run prisons. Gonzales' attorney, George Terwilliger III, said in a written statement, "This is obviously a bogus charge on its face, as any good prosecutor can recognize." He said he hoped Texas authorities would take steps to stop "this abuse of the criminal justice system." Another indictment released Tuesday accuses Lucio of profiting from his public office by accepting honoraria from prison management companies. Guerra announced his intention to investigate Lucio's prison consulting early last year.
Lucio's attorney, Michael Cowen, released a scathing statement accusing Guerra of settling political scores in his final weeks in office. "Senator Lucio is completely innocent and has done nothing wrong," Cowen said, adding that he would file a motion to quash the indictment this week. Willacy County has become a prison hub with county, state and federal lockups. Guerra has gone after the prison-politician nexus before, extracting guilty pleas from three former Willacy and Webb county commissioners after investigating bribery related to federal prison contacts. Last month, a Willacy County grand jury indicted The GEO Group, a Florida private prison company, on a murder charge in the death of a prisoner days before his release. The three-count indictment alleged The GEO Group allowed other inmates to beat Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. to death with padlocks stuffed into socks. The death happened in 2001 at the Raymondville facility.

In 2006, a jury ordered the company to pay de la Rosa's family $47.5 million in a civil judgment. The Cheney-Gonzales indictment makes reference to the de la Rosa case.

None of the indictments released Tuesday had been signed by Presiding Judge Manuel Banales of the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region.

Last month, Banales dismissed indictments that charged Guerra with extorting money from a bail bond company and using his office for personal business. An appeals court had earlier ruled that a special prosecutor was improperly appointed to investigate Guerra.

After Guerra's office was raided as part of the investigation early last year, he camped outside the courthouse in a borrowed camper with a horse, three goats and a rooster. He threatened to dismiss hundreds of cases because he believed local law enforcement had aided the investigation against him.
(© 2008 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rezko plea for acquittal denied

BY NATASHA KORECKI Federal Courts Reporter
A federal judge has denied Tony Rezko’s plea for an acquittal or new trial, giving the convicted businessman even more incentive to cooperate with the feds.

In a 34-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve didn’t buy the argument that

Rezko’s conviction relied solely on the testimony of a shaky witness: Stuart Levine.

Levine sat on two state boards that Rezko was convicted of defrauding with Levine.

Levine was the chief witness in the case, testifying for 15 days.

“The government introduced substantially more evidence than just the testimony of Stuart Levine to prove defendant Rezko’s criminal conduct, including extensive corroborating wire taps,” St. Eve wrote. “When viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, the government proved defendant’s knowledge and intent beyond a reasonable doubt. A new trial is not required in the interest of justice.”

Rezko has been providing information to federal prosecutors since August. The two sides haven’t signed a cooperation deal, however.

St. Eve’s opinion allows Rezko to appeal his conviction with a higher court. The next hearing in Rezko’s case is scheduled in January.

Rezko’s attorney declined to comment.


Man arrested for trespassing dies in police station

November 13, 2008

A man arrested for trespassing died Wednesday morning while being detained at a South Loop police station.

Rafe McMullen, 52, died in police custody at the Central District police station at 1718 S. State St., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

McMullen, of an unknown home address, was pronounced dead on the scene at 6:20 a.m., according to the medical examiner’s office.

McMullen was discovered unresponsive at the station after being arrested for trespassing, a misdemeanor, police said. Further details on his arrest were not available.

A Wednesday autopsy was inconclusive and “pending further studies,” according to the medical examiner’s office.
U.S. rep: 'I hope this was not a case of racial profiling'
NOT GUILTY | Davis claimed last year he was given ticket for 'driving while black'

November 13, 2008

BY MARK J. KONKOL Staff Reporter/
Rep. Danny Davis was found not guilty Wednesday of "driving left of center" in Lawndale last November -- a ticket Davis had blamed on racial profiling.

The Traffic Court trial did little to shed light on what happened when Chicago Police curbed Davis' black sedan and ticketed him for an alleged lane violation. The Chicago Police officer who spoke to Davis during the traffic stop did not appear in court. That officer's partner, Police Officer Laura Kuhlmann, testified that Davis was driving a gray car on 16th Street and crossed the double yellow line when turning left onto Kedzie.

Cook County Judge Martin Coughlin kept discussion focused on Davis' alleged left turn crossing the center line and refused to hear testimony from Kuhlmann about a second time she claimed Davis' vehicle drifted over the double yellow lines. Davis remained silent.

Coughlin dismissed the charge, saying "of course" Davis crossed the double yellow line -- that's what happens when you make a left turn.

Last November, Davis made headlines for filing a complaint with police claiming the traffic stop was an example of racial profiling.

After court Wednesday, Davis said he hoped the white officers who ticketed him simply had made a mistake and that he wasn't stopped for "driving while black."

"I hope this was not a case of racial profiling," Davis said. "All I know is that I was driving a black car. The officer said I was driving a gray car. . . . The officer said I made a left turn off 16th Street onto Kedzie. And I've never been on 16th Street."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mayor reverses on who's to blame

October 22, 2008

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Two years ago, Mayor Daley accepted his share of responsibility and offered to “apologize to anyone” for the torture of suspects by Jon Burge — even as he argued that the ultimate responsibility rests with the Chicago Police Department.

On Tuesday, the mayor changed his tune.

Hours after Burge was arrested in Florida and charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, Daley refused to accept even an ounce of responsibility for one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department.

Never mind that a $ 7 million report by special prosecutors faulted Daley, who served as state’s attorney during the 1980’s, for failing to follow up on a 1982 letter from then-Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek that strongly suggested abuse in the case of accused cop killer Andrew Wilson.

“I was very proud of my role as prosecutor. I was not the mayor. I was not the police chief. I did not promote this man in the ’80’s,” Daley said Tuesday.

“Brzeczek ran against me in ’84. He was the head of the Police Department….The Police Department cleared him and they promoted him in the `80’s. I was not the mayor then.”

Daley said there is “no room whatsoever for any type of torture” and he’s pleased that a “20-year-long” federal investigation of Burge has “finally” culminated in an indictment. Since Burge is facing criminal charges, it means Chicago taxpayers who have spent millions to defend Burge in civil cases will no longer have to pay his legal fees.

But the mayor said he feels no accountability whatsoever for Burge’s decades-long reign of terror.

“I just don’t…I was state’s attorney. I had 700, 800 prosecutors under me. It would be like [holding] you [accountable] for some of the headlines you write about me. I don’t hold you accountable…You can’t hold me responsible,” Daley said.

He added, “Looking back, you could do a lot of things [differently]. But you don’t look back. You look forward.”

In the 1982 letter, Brzeczek passed along explosive information he had received from Dr. John Raba, medical director of Cermak [Prison] Health Services.

Raba had examined Wilson and found: multiple bruises, swelling and abrasions on his face and head; a battered right eye; linear blisters on his thigh, cheek and chest “consistent with radiator burns.” Raba also reported Wilson’s claim that electric shock had been administered to his gums, lips and genitals.

“There must [be] a thorough investigation of this alleged brutality,” Raba wrote.

Brzeczek tossed the political hot potato to Daley, who referred it to his Special Prosecutions Unit for further investigation. Nothing ever came of the investigation.

It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the Police Board finally got around to firing Burge.

The mayor’s response Tuesday was in sharp contrast to his contrite tone in July, 2006, when Daley was gearing up for his 2007 re-election campaign and was concerned the special prosecutor’s report could come back to haunt him in the African-American community.

On that day, Daley accepted his share of responsibility for what he called “this shameful episode in our history….I’ll take responsibility for it. I’ll apologize to anyone….It should never have happened….Everybody should be held accountable…The system could have broken down.”

But Daley categorically denied he deliberately looked the other way to avoid jeopardizing either his political ambitions or the prosecution of an accused cop killer.

“Do you think I would sit by, let anyone say that police brutality takes place, I know about it, that I had knowledge about it and I would allow it? Then you don’t know my public career. You don’t know what I stand for…I would not allow anything like this,” the mayor said then.

On Tuesday, Daley was asked if the Burge nightmare could ever happen again. His answer was hardly reassuring.

“Anything could happen again. You try to do a lot of preventions….But individuals could do something outrageous any time,” the mayor said.

“We have good police officers. I know you want to beat them all up all the time. But we have good men and women in the Police Department,” he said, adding that “90.9 percent are hard-working men and women who want to do the job” the right way.

After decades of accusations, Burge finally faces charges

October 22, 2008

APOLLO BEACH, Fla. -- Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge's arrest here Tuesday didn't close the book on decades-long allegations of police torture, federal authorities said.

The FBI will investigate "others who may have participated in these crimes or knew about them but remained silent," said Chicago's FBI chief, Robert Grant.

Burge, 60, was arrested at his Apollo Beach home on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. He's accused of lying under oath in a lawsuit accusing him and other officers of torture. After his court hearing in Tampa, he was released on $250,000 bond.

Burge was accompanied by former Chicago Police Lt. Tom Brady, who lives near Burge and brought his friend his reading glasses.

Burge told the court he travels to Las Vegas as a security consultant for trade shows. The judge told Burge he's restricted to Florida and the Chicago area. He must turn over four pistols and a rifle to Brady.

Burge limped as he left court. He explained that he suffers from knee problems. "I'm old. I'm hurting," he said. "Please leave me alone."

Burge wouldn't talk about the charges, but Brady was quick to defend him. "The city of Chicago politics caught him up in this," Brady said. "The mayor of the city of Chicago fired him after he was found innocent, twice."

At least three of Burge's former police colleagues -- John "Jack" Byrne, Peter Dignan and Daniel McWeeney -- also have denied under oath that they were involved in torture. Their 2006 statements were given in a lawsuit brought by alleged torture victim Darrell Cannon, court records show.

Asked Tuesday if he still stands behind his 2006 statement, Byrne said, "Of course I do. I don't worry about it. . . . I feel very bad for Jon Burge. I've known him all my life."

The charges against Burge are in connection with sworn statements he gave in 2003 in a suit by former Death Row inmate Madison Hobley. Hobley claimed Burge and other officers tortured him into confessing to a 1987 arson that killed seven people.

Burge was asked if he used sleep deprivation, phone book beatings, electric shock or other methods to torture suspects.

He replied, "I have never used any techniques set forth above as a means of improper coercion of suspects while in detention or during interrogation." Later, he added, "I have not observed nor do I have knowledge of any other examples of physical abuse and/or torture on the part of Chicago Police officers at Area 2."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said prosecutors will try to prove that Burge tortured suspects and knew that other officers did, too. One method was "bagging," putting a typewriter cover over a suspect's head, the indictment said. Fitzgerald emphasized that prosecutors are not necessarily claiming Hobley was tortured.

Hobley was on Illinois' Death Row for the murders of his wife, child and five others in a 1987 arson on the South Side. In 2003, Gov. George Ryan pardoned him and three other Death Row inmates after they claimed they were tortured into giving murder confessions.

Edward Egan, a former appellate judge, and Robert Boyle, a former Cook County prosecutor, later were appointed as special Cook County prosecutors to investigate the torture allegations. In 2006, they released a report that found Hobley probably was lying about torture.

Last year, federal authorities launched a new investigation of the 1987 arson -- and whether Hobley was involved.

Egan and Boyle's $7 million investigation concluded that dozens of other suspects were tortured decades ago by Burge and his colleagues. Still, the special prosecutors said they were unable to bring charges against the former officers because the state's statute of limitations had expired.

Fitzgerald said the federal statute of limitations for torture also has expired. But the federal statute of limitations for perjury is five years. Prosecutors were able to charge Burge with perjury because he gave his statements in November 2003.

"If Al Capone went down for taxes, it's better than him going down for nothing," Fitzgerald said.

Flint Taylor, an attorney who represents some of Burge's alleged victims, said he was "extremely pleased and gratified that, so many years later, a U.S. attorney has made the move to indict the leader of the police torture ring. I presume some of his henchman will be charged, too."

Already, the torture claims have cost the city of Chicago millions of dollars. Hobley and the other three pardoned Death Row inmates sued the city and agreed to share nearly $20 million in a legal settlement.

In one lawsuit, Cook County Judge Dennis Dernbach is continuing to battle former Death Row inmate Leroy Orange in court. Orange accuses Dernbach of coaching his 1984 murder confession while Dernbach was an assistant state's attorney on the case. Dernbach denies the claim.

Natasha Korecki reported from Florida. Frank Main, Carol Marin and Shamus Toomey contributed from Chicago.

Feds punch hole in 'perjury trap,' statute of limitations excuses

October 22, 2008

BY ABDON M. PALLASCH Staff Reporter/
Can't be done -- it's too late.

That was the $7 million answer that a special prosecutor delivered two years ago in the case of former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, accused with his men of torturing false confessions from as many as 148 defendants, most of them minorities, in the 1980s.

Attorneys for those who said they were tortured had argued that, even if the statute of limitations had expired for the torture, Burge and other officers and prosecutors who took part or cooperated in any such coerced confessions could be charged with lying under oath in civil suits.

Not practical, special prosecutors Ed Egan and Robert Boyle concluded after spending four years on a probe that ultimately cost $7 million. Burge and the others could get any perjury or conspiracy charges dismissed on a "perjury trap" defense, Egan and Boyle said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made clear he disagrees.

"I don't know that the law has ever recognized a 'perjury trap,' " Chicago's top federal prosecutor said. "If it ever was recognized, this ain't one of them. People in this courthouse have received substantial sentences for perjury if convicted."

Experts say that, given that city of Chicago officials concluded Burge tortured people when they fired him, it should be easy enough to prove he perjured himself when he denied torture in written answers in a civil suit, especially if fellow officers come forward to testify.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dozens of companies, people get lifetime ban from city work

October 7, 2008

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter/
Twenty-five companies and 26 individuals -- most of them caught up in the Hired Truck and minority contracting scandals -- have been banned forever from doing business with the city.

"The city should be consistently sending the message that, no matter who you are and who you know, you'll be barred from benefiting from city contracts if you act unethically," said Inspector General David Hoffman, whose office investigated seven of the targeted firms.

"I don't think Procurement has ever taken action against this many companies and individuals. It's a step in the right direction and suggests a seriousness about debarment matters that is welcome."

The city contracting equivalent of the death penalty targets 20 individuals and 18 companies convicted of criminal offenses in federal court.

The Procurement Services Department's hit list includes: A. Affetto Trucking and Anthony Affetto; American Tank Inc. and Timothy Shrader; Cayla Trucking and owners Richard and Debra Coveliers; Elliott Inc. and Martin McDonagh; FRC Trucking and Frank Cannattello; Garfield Trucking and Richard Rylewicz and Charles Romano; Get Plowed, Inc. and owner Michael C. Jones; GNA Trucking and John Canatello; Joseph S. Ignoffo and Ignoffo Trucking; LR&C Truck Line and Leroy and Commelie Peters; R&V Trucking and Robert Mangiamele; Sarch Hauling Ltd. and Salvador Alverez.

The debarment list also includes Leahy & Assoc., John Leahy and Edward Wisniewski, co-defendants in the $100 million minority business fraud engineered by the mob-connected Duff family. It also targets companies involved in a fraudulent fence contract that victimized the Chicago Board of Education. They are: Tru-Link Fence and Products, Tru-Link Commercial, Inc. and owner James H. Levin; MPZ, MPZ Enterprise and MPZ Construction and James Picardi, brother of Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Michael Picardi.

Seven companies and associated individuals were never convicted, but nevertheless handed lifetime bans after Hoffman found "substantial evidence" that they had either forged documents as part of the minority certification process, obstructed investigators or otherwise de-frauded the city.

They include: Patricia Trucking; Victory Transport; Pitts Transportation; G& L Trucking, Inc. and ATS Decorators. Two other companies -- Chicago Sound and Joyce Ford -- were debarred earlier this year.

For years, Chicago Sound supplied sound equipment for city festivals. According to Hoffman, the company was partly owned by Lori Cole, whose father was one of the founders of Cole Taylor Bank. The city's investigation determined that Cole was not a legitimate women's business enterprise, the inspector general said.

Earlier this year, Chief Procurement Officer Montel Gayles found himself in hot water with Mayor Daley after issuing a three-year ban against James Duff, head of a mob-connected family that became the poster child for minority business fraud in Chicago.

Hours after defending a penalty that African-American aldermen condemned as a slap on the wrist, Gayles fell on his sword and ordered the permanent debarment that Hoffman recommended more than a year ago.

"The Department of Procurement Services, along with the Office of the Inspector General, is committed to eliminating misconduct and fraud from city contracting," Gayles said Monday in a press release.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sheriff's officer faces firing over FBI data

July 27, 2008

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart will move to fire an officer charged by federal authorities with illegally using an FBI computer database to obtain information about a drug dealer.

Authorities said Rodney Quinn accessed the National Crime Information Center database using a sheriff's mobile-data terminal on May 8, 2003. Quinn searched for information about the drug dealer's 1998 Ford Expedition, even though he did not have an official reason to do so, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors did not say what Quinn did with the information.

Quinn, a sheriff's employee since 2002, has been on desk duty for three years as the FBI investigated, sheriff's spokesman Steve Patterson said.

Frank Main

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Feds say contractor attacked FBI agent

MINORITY FRAUD PROBE | Franklin Park firm was being served with search warrant

July 22, 2008

The owner of a Franklin Park construction company has been charged with assaulting a federal agent who was attempting to execute a search warrant as part of a joint city-federal investigation of alleged minority business fraud.

John Esposito, owner of National Concrete Pipe in the near west suburb, is accused of "pushing, rushing at and engaging in a physical struggle" with Special FBI Agent Brian Etchell last Thursday.

Federal agents had arrived at National Concrete to investigate allegations that the company had lied about its minority subcontractors to satisfy the City of Chicago's minority set-aside requirement.

According to an affidavit filed by FBI agent Alan W. Reiner, who accompanied Etchell, the agents asked Esposito during a "voluntary interview" whether "another business was acting as a fraudulent minority business enterprise, functioning as an improper pass-through" for National Concrete Pipe.

Esposito reportedly denied the allegation and invited the agents to follow him to "an outdoor area on the grounds of his business to show us what he claimed was inventory belonging to the MBE," the affidavit states.

When Etchell pointed to what appeared to be a new sign and asked how long it had been there, Esposito reportedly used a profanity and pushed the agent.

"Esposito then rushed at Special Agent Etchell. Esposito was then on top of Special Agent Etchell on the ground. The two continued to struggle," Reiner's affidavit states.

"I jumped on Esposito and attempted to pull him off. Several workers of the business then arrived and assisted me in separating" the two men. The attack reportedly left Etchell with only minor injuries.

The affidavit says federal agents "had received information as part of the FBI investigation that the sign and the inventory area supposedly belonging to the MBE had been recently added in response to an interview from a representative from another government agency."

Esposito could not be reached.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lynwood issuing tickets for baggy pants

By Alan Krashesky LYNWOOD (WLS) -- It's another one of those clothing trends that some teens love and many parents hate.
And now one Chicago suburb is taking its dislike of those below the hip saggy pants to a new level by banning them and handing out tickets.
"They just rolled up on us and told us to come here. And they didn't say why, so we didn't come. So then, we came to them, and they put us in the back of the car," said Antonio, 19, ticketed for wearing baggy pants, recounting a recent experience with south suburban Lynwood police. " We went to the station. They wrote out these tickets, and now we got to go to this little Lynwood court thing."
He is one of the first to be ticketed under a week-old ordinance that outlaws baggy pants and carries a $25 fine. Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams says he wants his growing community to keep an upscale appeal to help attract businesses.
"It makes it very hard to drive through the neighborhood with a retailer and show him where he could possibly locate a store, and you've got people walking around that have no regard to anything," Williams said.
"In this case, I think it's very clear who the police are going to interact with. They're going to interact with young men of color because it tends to be young men of color who wear their pants this way. This is really the worst kind of racial profiling," said Ed Yohnka, American Civil Liberties Union.
Regardless of the motive for the ordinance, Yohnka said this ordinance opens the door to trouble.
Mayor Williams denies the ordinance has racial undertones. He says after being raised in Chicago's Robert Taylor projects and teaching in Chicago public schools for more than 20 years, the new ordinance is more about tough love. Some residents don't buy it.
"He can't raise my kids. And I love my mayor. I voted for him. But he's wrong on this one," said Margaret Liddell, Lynwood resident.
Some other residents say they believe in a tough economy, this is just a creative way for the village to make money. The mayor denies that allegation. He also says some parents have thanked him

Governor: Chicago might need National Guard help

CHICAGO -- Governor Rod Blagojevich is raising the possibility of bringing in Illinois State Police troopers or even the National Guard to help Chicago fight a recent increase in violence.
Blagojevich says he'll meet with state police, National Guard and other officials later in the day to discuss the options.
The governor says Chicago Mayor Richard Daley hasn't asked for help, but Blagojevich says he'll call the mayor once he has some concrete suggestions about what help he can provide.
The governor didn't have many specifics, but he says it's more likely that state police will be brought in than the National Guard.

Blagojevich also says there are a lot of retired Chicago police officers and state police troopers who could be rehired for the summer.

Weis says cops worry about suspensions

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Embattled Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis emerged unscathed from a day-long City Council inquisition today, but not before disclosing a troubling trend: Police officers are being less aggressive as violent crime rises because they’re afraid of piling up citizen complaints.

“I think he’ll survive — and he should,” said Police Committee Chairman Isaac Carothers (29th), who put the rookie superintendent on the hot seat.

Standing alongside Carothers, Weis said, “This has been made out to be confrontational-type thing —and it wasn’t. I don’t mind tough questions. The city … has the right to ask tough questions — especially when our crime is up nearly 13 percent. I’m not happy with that. I’m gonna do everything I can to bring it down.Ó

Weis acknowledged the contradictory trends of rising crime and less aggressive policing under Perry Mason-style questioning from Carothers.

The alderman recited a string of statistics that Weis did not challenge. Compared to this time last year, Chicago has had 28 more homicides, 2,626 more gang disturbances, 1,210 more reports of a person with a gun, 7,136 more reports of shots fired and 473 more reports of narcotics sales.

With crime indicators headed upward, police should be more aggressive, but the opposite has occurred. Gang loitering interventions are down 1,163, narcotics loitering interventions have dropped 2,329, and police have taken 500 fewer guns off Chicago streets.

Carothers (29th) called it "de-policing," a condition that exists when officers Òstop doing their jobsÓ because they're afraid nobody has their back.

Weis took issue with the term. But he acknowledged being so concerned about the drop in arrests, he recently exhorted over 100 police officers to pick up the pace and "take back street corners" from gangs that refuse orders to disperse.

"I have heard from many officers that there is a degree of timidness -- that people are not maybe as engaged as they should be because of fears of lawsuits, fears of [complaints registered] being put against them by criminals and by other folks who are just trying to impugn their integrity," the superintendent said.

To reverse the trend, Weis said he has directed his command staff to "go out to roll calls to try and re-instill the confidence that we are here for our officers and to ask them to aggressively police." But he said, "I'm not naive. When officers have told me, 'It's tough out there. I don't want to get sued,' it's not unreasonable to believe that some officers might not be as aggressive as we need them to be."

Carothers blamed low morale that nosedived after Weis ordered an unprecedented housecleaning that swept out 21 of 25 district commanders and nearly all of the Police Department's top brass.

A career FBI agent brought in from the outside, Weis argued that you can't change the culture of an organization by leaving the same people in place and that change is better made "all at once."

Carothers summoned Weis to appear before his City Council committee to address the citywide surge in homicides and other violent crime that boiled over at Taste of Chicago. That's when four people were shot, one fatally, as the crowd from the city’s annual July 3rd concert and fireworks show was dispersing.

Today, Weis reiterated the policing plans tipped to aldermen during private meetings last week, as first disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times.

He’s hoping to develop a methodology by the end of this year to realign at least some police beats or districts to get more officers into high-crime areas. And he plans to resurrect a "better trained, better supervised" version of the disgraced and disbanded Special Operations Section by changing the focus of so-called Targeted Response Units.

"I know there's a lot of negative things associated with that. But, not the concept. That was a very aggressive enforcement group that would go out and take weapons off the street and arrest a lot of bad guys. The failings were in, perhaps, a lack of leadership and a lack of centralized accountability. But the concept was strong,” he said.

As for the Taste debacle that infuriated Mayor Daley, Weis disclosed that there were 995 officers assigned there July 3, including 23 tactical teams and nine more added at the first sign of trouble.

That’s 399 more officers than were assigned to secure the annual fireworks show last year.

“We had never seen large groups of individuals coming in like that. … There’s too many people inside of a small area. Next year, we’re gonna see if we can limit that and control the access,” Weis said.

Ald. Sharon Dixon (24th) said she’s tired of the media’s laser-like focus on the Taste shootings when Lawndale residents are living in constant fear. She was not alone. Aldermen from across the city complained about rising crime and shortage of manpower.

“What happened at Taste happens every day where I live — every single day. If we were addressing the issues in the communities [like Lawndale], it probably wouldn’t escalate to the Taste,” Dixon said.

Relationship with cop gets attorney in trouble

A Kane County assistant state's attorney will be suspended for four weeks without pay for having a relationship with an officer who served as a witness in several of the prosecutor's cases.

County Prosecutor John Barsanti said he was tipped about the relationship between Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Lovig and the officer. Lovig eventually acknowledged the relationship.

Barsanti's office is conducting an internal investigation on the relationship. Maintaining such a relationship without disclosing it, is a violation of office policy, Barsanti said.

Lovig, 43, will start her suspension next month. Lovig has led the state's attorney's domestic-violence unit since 2002.

According to Barsanti, Lovig's relationship with the unnamed officer began in 2001, and the office has identified six cases in which the officer served as a witness.

Two of those cases resulted in acquittals, and two others ended with a guilty plea. The remaining two yielded convictions, and these may be retried.

One of them is already scheduled for a retrial. Duka Smith, 31, of Aurora, was convicted in April of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. His conviction was vacated last week, Barsanti said. A new court date has been set for July 17.

Additionally, Barsanti said he has informed the defense attorneys in each of the five other identified cases. The concern, he said, is that the defense attorneys, the judge and the jury deserve to know whether testimony given may be biased and whether it affected the outcome of the trial.

"We have an obligation to ensure that all parties in a criminal matter are treated fairly, including defendants, and that the interests of justice are served," he said.

The identity of the Aurora police officer was not released.

No immediate disciplinary action has been taken against the officer. "I am disappointed that the actions of our officer may have compromised justice being served in these cases," Chief Greg Thomas said.

Was old-style patronage more honest?

BY MARK BROWN Sun-Times Columnist
The lawyer who defended city patronage chief Robert Sorich on federal fraud charges says he faults Mayor Daley and the corporation counsel's office for the hiring procedures that sent his client to prison, which isn't to suggest he thinks they did anything wrong.

Meanwhile, the lawyer who prosecuted Sorich said he thinks the old-style Democratic Machine patronage system in effect in Chicago in the 1960s and '70s -- before the Shakman court decrees -- was "so much more honest" than Daley's underground patronage operation, which isn't to suggest he'd turn back the clock.

These were among the insights offered during a panel discussion Friday on the future of patronage hiring in light of Sorich's recently upheld conviction.

'He had a job to do'
The Better Government Association hosted the event -- bringing together Thomas Anthony Durkin, Sorich's lawyer, with Patrick Collins, the Sorich prosecutor -- for a rare outside-the-courtroom exchange, made possible by the fact that Collins is now in private practice and mostly free to speak his mind.

Rounding out the panel were Michael Shakman himself and former Chicago alderman-turned-radio host Cliff Kelley, but Durkin and Collins were the draw.

What actually convinced me to attend was word that former City Clerk James Laski was planning to be there, too, possibly in hopes of confronting Collins, the guy who sent him to prison for his role in the Hired Truck scandal.

Sure enough, Laski was hanging around the railing at the Harold Washington Library when we arrived and confirmed he wanted to see Collins.

Later, before the session started, heads turned as Laski made his way to the head table for his encounter with the guy who put him away.

Fireworks? No, entirely cordial.

"He had a job to do. It's as simple as that," Laski explained on the way back to his seat.

"And he said he read the book. He liked the book," Laski added, referring to his self-published tell-all.

System 'poorly thought out'
But back to the main event, much of it a rehash with Collins arguing for the umpteenth time that the prosecution of Sorich and three co-workers wasn't about patronage but rather about the fraudulent hiring practices that were used to enable a sub rosa patronage system.

Durkin reiterated for the umpteenth time his contention that prosecutors trying to nail Daley improperly swept up Sorich in an overreaching interpretation of federal fraud laws -- an argument rejected in April by a federal appeals court.

But they also set aside the usual script.

"There are very valid reasons the mayor has stated why he wanted to run the hiring out of the intergovernmental affairs office," Durkin offered at one point, then stopped himself when he remembered Daley's version of events was never made public during the trial.

"There's a document," he continued, apparently referring to a sealed account of the mayor's 2005 interview by federal investigators. "I've read it. I think there are some pretty valid reasons there."

"Do I condone the way they did this? No. I think it was improperly set up. I think it was poorly drafted and poorly thought out," Durkin said.

"This is what I do fault the mayor's office on. They could have set it up -- the way they did it -- correctly, and they didn't, and they should be faulted for that," he said. "But should Robert Sorich be in jail for 43 months? That's preposterous."

Earlier, he had observed: "I don't think Daley's motives in that were purely negative," another reference to the decision to allow Intergovernmental Affairs to oversee hiring and promotions, which we now know led to the system being rigged.

How it used to be
Collins said the hiring fraud investigation grew out of the Hired Truck scandal, in particular the prosecution of former Water Department boss Donald Tomczak.

Collins said he vividly recalled his first meeting with the once-powerful political operative, after Tomczak had decided to "flip" and become a cooperating witness.

"I gave him my little speech about telling the truth and how important it is. He says, 'Everything in the indictment is true. I did it all,' " Collins recounted.

And there are other things you don't know, Tomczak continued, proceeding to clue in investigators about how hiring and promotions were rigged.

Collins later observed that the patronage system in effect before the Shakman restrictions, when a letter from a sponsoring ward committeeman was routinely placed in a job applicant's city personnel file, was "so much more honest."

"There's some honesty in that, frankly, that was completely absent in this fraud system that was built, perpetuated and thrived for years," Collins said.

In a way, Durkin and Collins were saying the same thing. If the mayor had been aboveboard, his people wouldn't be in jail.

HDO is dead, but members still call shots

BY MARK BROWN Sun-Times Columnist

The Hispanic Democratic Organization is officially dead. The group that became known, feared and loathed by its initials -- HDO -- filed its Final Report this week with the Illinois State Board of Elections, legally terminating its activities as a political committee.

Some would say HDO has been effectively deceased since the federal Hired Truck investigation of City Hall began focusing attention on its activities in 2004.

But they would also tell you the group's individual members continue to carry on pretty much as before Hired Truck, just not as effectively since the federal heat made the organization and its leaders too hot to handle, shutting off its patronage and fund-raising pipeline.

At the peak of its power, HDO controlled hundreds of jobs and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations -- all with the de facto if not explicit blessing of Mayor Daley.

Before closing the books, the organization doled out its last $32,575.

Roosevelt Media, a company affiliated with HDO founder and chairman Victor Reyes, got the biggest check, $10,411, while his sister Virginia, a lawyer, was paid $4,772 for unspecified services. Another $7,000 went to Alberto Guevara in connection with his brother Carlos Guevara's losing campaign this year against state Sen. Iris Martinez, one of several recent political rebukes to HDO.

The job holders, though, are still out there, still serving as loyal political armies in support of pretty much the same regional coordinators who controlled them during HDO's heyday. These HDO "cells" remain a potent political force, especially in legislative and aldermanic races.

In fact, for all the hoopla surrounding the federal investigation, it's notable how few of HDO's leaders were actually charged in connection with it.

The highest-ranking HDO leader indicted was former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez, who ran a political street army of perhaps 100 patronage workers for HDO. A couple of his top lieutenants also got nailed.

Sanchez is scheduled to go on trial next March, and until his case is completed, nobody is ready to say for certain that the Hired Truck probe -- and its sister investigation of city hiring fraud -- are at an end. But many believe all signs point that way.

In case you've forgotten, Reyes has never been charged, even though he was named by the U.S. attorney's office as an unindicted "co-schemer" in the fraud trial of former City Hall patronage chief Robert Sorich and three associates.

Defense lawyer Tom Breen, who represents both Reyes and Sanchez but represented Reyes first, says he would not have taken Sanchez as a client if he "thought there was any chance of any charges being brought against Victor Reyes."

Others came to a similar conclusion when federal prosecutors raised no objection to Breen taking Sanchez's case. Often under those circumstances, they will complain about a conflict of interest.

Reyes left city employment in 2002, and it's possible the statute of limitations has run out on any potential case against him, although Breen won't make that assertion.

Instead, he says: "Quite frankly, I don't know what he would have done wrong."

Some of us assumed Reyes did everything Sorich did and more, but obviously, the U.S. attorney's office felt the evidence against him was weaker. The hiring fraud case stalled when Sorich declined to cooperate against higher-ups. Sorich is now serving a 43-month prison sentence.

A federal appeals court recently upheld the Sorich verdict -- and the legal theory under which the case was brought. Some speculate that will breathe new life into the city investigations, and as much as I'd like to think that, I've seen no signs of it.

There haven't been any indications Sanchez is inclined to turn "flipper" on his old associates either.

As one of its last acts when it still had some real money, HDO paid $140,000 to Breen's law firm in late 2006, partly as a retainer for future services. Breen declined to say whether the money was to be applied to representing Reyes or Sanchez or both.

In the meantime, there aren't a lot of outward signs Reyes' career was thrown off kilter by the federal attention. His political consulting firm continues to report an extensive list of lobbying clients in Springfield and City Hall, and he's still listed as a director of Park Bancorp.

The political officeholders most closely connected to HDO have continued to get re-elected, although they have been unable to extend their reach in efforts to pick off those deemed disloyal. A reminder: HDO was never as much about Hispanic political empowerment as about which Hispanics would have the power.

So, HDO is dead. Ding-dong?

Friday, February 29, 2008

2004 | 'Clout on Wheels' had instant, continuing impact

February 29, 2008

The ripples created by the landmark Sun-Times series "Clout on Wheels" began immediately. And they're still being felt.

The three-day series, published in January 2004, documented that trucking companies in a $40 million-a-year City of Chicago program were, as a front-page headline said: "PAID TO DO NOTHING."

By Day 2 of the reports, federal prosecutors had arrested the head of the city's Hired Truck Program.

But the investigation into widespread waste and corruption -- begun by reporter Tim Novak, later joined by Steve Warmbir -- went much deeper, exposing the Hired Truck Program as a hotbed of payoffs, sweetheart deals and mob connections.

Last November, the 46th person convicted as a result of the Hired Truck scandal was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

The wide-ranging federal investigation prompted by "Clout on Wheels" continues.

The newspaper's investigations into clout and corruption at City Hall have continued, too.

Subsequent Sun-Times reports spearheaded by Novak have exposed, among other things: the powerful role in Chicago city government that one family with strong ties to organized crime has had for nearly a century; evidence of widespread cheating among city workers filing workplace-injury claims, and secret city deals involving Mayor Daley's son and nephew.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Budget director getting shower installed in City Hall office
Executive paying for all the work, officials say
By Gary Washburn | Tribune reporter
February 21, 2008

City workers who dig ditches, pave streets and fight fires sometimes get dirty during a day's work. City Budget Director Bennett Johnson III, by contrast, doesn't usually break a sweat performing his $155,600-per-year job.

But despite his white-collar toils, Johnson is having a shower installed in his City Hall office.

Daley administration officials acknowledged the plumbing job Wednesday but said the budget chief is covering the estimated $5,400 cost with his own money.
Department of General Services tradesmen are doing the work. They recently punched a hole in the floor to make a pipe connection in the office below, which belongs to Mayor Richard Daley's chief of staff, Lori Healey, a worker familiar with the upgrade said.

It's a clean project, insisted Daley press secretary Jacquelyn Heard.

"When I talked to Lori, she said the only way she was willing to sign off on it was if he was willing to pay for it, and he did," Heard said. "That's what sealed the deal."

Heard said Johnson wants the shower because he rides his bicycle to work when weather permits.

"As I understand it, Bennett is a big cycling enthusiast," she said.

Johnson was unavailable for comment.

Johnson was the architect of Daley's 2008 budget, which calls for nearly $280 million in tax, fee and fine increases.

"I think allocating public resources to install a shower in a city office would be totally inappropriate, especially given the budget challenges that this City Council has had to struggle with," said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who was among those who voted against the spending plan. "However, if Mr. Johnson is willing to pay that tab out of his own pocket ... I don't have a problem with that."

Ald. Manuel Flores (1st), who also voted no on the budget, sounded a cautionary note. "I think we have to be careful," he said. "What is the message we are sending at a time we are asking people to step up to the plate to help finance government?"

Other council members said they would have no objections to a stall in Johnson's office even if the city were footing the bill.

"Who cares? What's wrong with that?" asked Ald. Bernard Stone (50th). "These guys who work 14, 15 hours a day -- that doesn't bother me."

Johnson's will not be the first shower in City Hall. The chief of staff's office got one in the 1970s, and the mayor's office has had one "forever," Heard said. The office of the Streets and Sanitation commissioner, who sometimes works round the clock during snowstorms and other emergencies, also has a shower.

A shower in Johnson's office could save time, eliminating the need for the budget director to duck out to a health club for a quick clean-up before an evening meeting, said Ald. Brian Doherty (41st).

"You don't want a smelly budget director," Doherty declared.
ShowerGate steam rises as City Hall circles drain

If you don't know about City Hall's latest scandal -- ShowerGate -- then you probably haven't seen my new, hot video quest to take a steamy, lathered-up shower one floor above Mayor Richard Daley's office.

Just think of me at City Hall on Wednesday, towel over my arm and a couple of bars of Irish Spring soap, begging to shower in the new, luxury spa built secretly for the mayor's tax-happy budget director, Bennett Johnson III.

But don't think of my Mediterranean back hair. It might ruin your breakfast.
You think this is a joke? You think taxpayers are allowed to take a shower in one of the secret City Hall showers built with taxpayer dollars?

No. They're not allowed to shower in the secret shower. And I wasn't allowed a shower, either, though I brought the special soap.

If you've got a computer, just go to and you'll see the whole thing, including the FedEx guy who likes Irish Spring, too, and a discussion of pulsating water jets, the hot towel rack, soap dispensers, and heaters to keep you toasty.

"And the public can't use it?" asked the troubled FedEx guy.


I've known about ShowerGate for several weeks now, and, as a former City Hall reporter, I waited for the bureaucrats to finish ordering city workers to complete the shower before asking any questions.

They'd have shut it down if I'd asked earlier. They still might shut it down, now that City Hall has massaged its story considerably from the time I showed up with my towel. Seconds after city workers and politicians spied me and the Polish Spartacus carrying shower gear into the building, the secret was out. I wouldn't be surprised if they leaked it to the other paper.

Now Bennett Johnson is being forced to say he's paying for the shower, some $5,400 or so, a cheap shower beneath the dignity of a budget boss. They're probably dropping the Greek marble, the hot-stone warmers and the fancy scented candles as you read this. Is there soap in the shower? Or do you have to bring your own?

"I haven't seen it," she said. "I'll have to go look at it."

Why would a budget director need a shower?
"A fair question. I promise I will get back to you by the end of the day," she said.

Is it stressful? Does he sweat? I sweat.

"That's fair. I think they're all fair, Mr. Kass," she said.

She was right. They were fair. And City Hall did respond to my questions, after they had several meetings about Johnson's secret shower and they shaped a story out of fear and chaos.

Personally, I think it's another Chicago fairy tale, like the time I gave the mayor's airport operations boss, Dave "Pool Boy" Ochal, his nickname.

"Pool Boy" had a beautiful in-ground pool built in his Northwest Side backyard, with concrete you could land jets on, with shrubbery as fine as any from Streets and San, and with lights as nice as anything City Hall electricians could build. Once completed, it flooded his neighbors' yards, causing damage, and Pool Boy's favorite paper, the Sun-Times, defended him with an editorial saying he was a good neighbor who'd remove the pool immediately.

City Hall insisted that Ochal paid for it all himself, and would show me the canceled checks to prove it. The next day, they decided they didn't have to show me the checks. Last we checked, Pool Boy was still having pool parties.

On Wednesday, my old City Hall reporting partner, now the mayor's press secretary, said Bennett Johnson was a dedicated bicyclist who needed to take showers after riding to work and that Johnson was paying for everything now.

"He's a big biking enthusiast," Jacquelyn Heard said. "I'm told he needs a shower after biking and that he's willing to pay for the privilege of having one."

That's nice. There are other, older showers used at City Hall, but the mayor doesn't have to pay for his shower, and the chief of staff doesn't have to pay for hers, and the boss of Streets and San gets a quick, free rinse whenever he gets sweaty behind his desk.

But the budget director has to pay out of his own pocket? And I didn't get my chance to lather up with Irish Spring: manly, yes, and City Hall likes it too.

"I can't let you into the budget director's office without him being present," said Johnson's spokeswoman, Wendy Abrams, who handled the stressful situation with style and grace.

I'm not going to look at any secret contracts, or anything with Tommy DiPiazza's name on it.

"I'm not suggesting you're going to snoop around," she said.

You can come with me, I said.

"No!" she said.

I swear to God I'm not going to take a shower in your presence, I said, waving my towel and soap. I just want to see it.

But she said that was quite impossible, so I asked some more.

How many people can fit in the shower?

"Another fair question," she said. "I will give you all the details by the end of the day."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Whistleblower suspended 18 days
CITY | Plumbing inspector punished after reporting on violations at school

February 19, 2008
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
An $85,068-a-year Chicago plumbing inspector who uncovered two pages of building-code violations that left 1,100 children at Jose de Diego Community Academy without water for weeks has been hit with back-to-back suspensions of three and 15 days.

Michael McGann said Monday the actions are in retaliation for his faxing a copy of his inspection report to the school's principal, talking with a Chicago Sun-Times reporter about the threat of disciplinary action and cooperating with an inspector general's investigation into what McGann calls "a rash of" substandard cast-iron pipe being used on city jobs.

The Sun-Times reported in late November that McGann faced disciplinary action for violating internal rules that prohibit preliminary inspection reports from being shared with outsiders until they're officially approved.

McGann said he gave the Oct. 24 report to de Diego principal Alice Vera so she could use the information to expedite repairs that had languished for weeks at the 116-year-old school at 1313 N. Claremont.

On Jan. 18, McGann was told he was being suspended for three days. McGann said he pulled out a tape recorder because, "I wanted a record of the event -- who was saying what, who was issuing what."

The inspector said he served his suspension even as he filed an appeal with the same officials who suspended him.

Then, on Friday, he was hit with another suspension, this time for 15 days. Among other things, he was accused of "borderline insubordination" for taping the earlier meeting.

Found E. coli
"They're trying to get rid of me because I'm honest, and I'm exposing corruption," McGann said. "They were totally disregarding the health and safety of students in that school, using plumbing contractors they want to put Band-Aids on it. Eighty days after the water main broke, I showed up and found E. coli bacteria in three different locations. There was still contaminated drinking water in that school. They had a full kitchen and swimming pool they couldn't use."

Building Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said McGann "is not being punished for sending that report out," nor is he being targeted for blowing the whistle on alleged wrongdoing.
Dad went to prison for extortion

February 19, 2008
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
His father went to prison in 1983 for extorting up to $32,500 in remodeling work for his ward office. Now, Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) finds himself under a federal microscope.

An old-school politician who has complained loudly about hiring constraints imposed by a federal monitor, Carothers has endeared himself to Mayor Daley with cheerleading speeches -- and his West Side army of city workers who delivered the vote for Daley's candidates.

Daley chose Carothers to chair the Police and Fire Committee over more-senior aldermen.

Carothers has sponsored crackdowns on crank 911 callers and on the parents of curfew violators. He joined Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) in pushing through a "Traffic Stop Code of Conduct" after a stop involving state Rep. James Meeks.

In 1985, a federal judge ordered Carothers' imprisoned father, former Ald. William Carothers (28th), to help pay $152,000 for organizing a campaign of violence against a political foe. U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras said Isaac Carothers appeared to be the ringleader. He was ordered to pay $25,000.
Feds probe city records on alderman's zoning changes
29TH WARD | FBI mole may have taped Carothers

February 19, 2008
Federal investigators have requested city records on four West Side zoning changes pushed by Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th), amid questions about Carothers' relationship with a Chicago developer who made secret recordings as an FBI mole.

Last year, Carothers' New 29th Ward Campaign Committee got $11,000 in contributions from Morgan Properties Inc., which lists FBI mole John Thomas as "manager."

The contributions came in payments of $9,000, $500 and $1,500, with the last one made on Feb. 23, 2007 -- four days before the aldermanic election, records show.

Last April 9, the committee returned all $11,000, offering no explanation in campaign records except "refund of excess contribution."

Carothers, the powerful chairman of the City Council's Police and Fire Committee, did not return calls seeking comment. He also declined to answer written questions.

Thomas is the Chicago developer-turned-FBI-mole who played a pivotal role in one of the two federal cases involving Tony Rezko, the indicted developer and political fund-raiser who is accused of business fraud and of seeking kickbacks and campaign contributions for Gov. Blagojevich from companies seeking state pension business.

The Sun-Times has reported that Thomas recorded hundreds of hours of conversations for federal investigators. Sources said the government had Thomas -- who is cooperating in hopes of getting probation for a felony fraud conviction in New York -- secretly record conversations with an unidentified Chicago alderman.

One of the 29th Ward zoning files that federal authorities requested from the city dates to May 2005, when Carothers introduced a zoning change for vacant land at Roosevelt and Central to be converted from manufacturing to heavy commercial.

The applicant for that zoning change was V-Land Chicago Roosevelt LLC. Jason Gigot, listed as a contact for the applicant, could not be reached. Nor could attorney John Pikarsky. Jay Javors, spokesman for listed property owner Roosevelt and Canal LLC, did not return calls.

Two of the three other zoning files pertain to the same property and were jointly introduced in August 2006 by Carothers and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), his protege.

The applicant on those, Grand Central Center for Business LLC, was seeking to change zoning from manufacturing to mixed-use. The land, part of a so-called planned development, required -- and received -- a green light from the Planning and Development Department.

The fourth application was introduced by Carothers in 2007 on behalf of the Chicago Board of Education for Knute Rockne Stadium in Austin.

Three years ago, Carothers' name surfaced in the Hired Truck scandal. Carothers, a former Streets and Sanitation Department deputy, received $2,500 in contributions from Naperville businessman Martin McDonagh, who later pleaded guilty.

McDonagh allegedly made the contributions to Carothers at the request of John "Quarters" Boyle, who was sentenced to seven years for accepting $214,000 in cash, gifts and campaign contributions for steering Hired Truck business to favored companies.

At the time, Carothers said he knew Boyle from their days together on the city payroll. Carothers was not charged, said he did not ask Boyle to muscle truckers for gifts. And he returned the money.

Monday, February 18, 2008

'I told myself the money wasn't for me but for my family'
LASKI'S BOOK | Disgraced former city clerk chronicles his downfall

February 17, 2008
For $48,000 in bribes, former Chicago City Clerk James Laski ended up in prison, the highest-ranking official caught in the federal government's investigation of the city's Hired Truck Program.

His downfall traces to 1994. That's when Laski helped his close friend Mick Jones get work from the Hired Truck Program to supplement the paycheck Jones got as a city housing inspector.

Jones eventually admitted paying bribes for Laski's help -- an admission that sent them both to prison and ended their friendship.

Jones got out last summer. Laski was released this month, after 11 months in prison and six months more in a halfway house.

What follows are excerpts from My Fall From Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls, the self-published book Laski wrote during his time in prison:

At . . . the beginning of 2004, a story broke in the Sun-Times that would change my life forever. . . . I decided to go to a 7-Eleven, as I usually did in the morning, to pick up a large coffee for [his wife] Kathleen and a Sun-Times. . . .

When I picked up the paper from the rack, I immediately saw the words "Hired Truck Program," which caught my attention. As I read the story, I experienced a burning and nauseous feeling [in] my stomach. What I always feared in the back of my mind was now actually happening -- someone was looking into the city's Hired Truck Program's operations.

Not only was there a media inquiry, but information was leaking out about preferential treatment, politics and bribes. I quickly headed home, where I dropped off the coffee to Kathleen. I told her I had to stop at the law office . . . but what I really did was get into my car and call Mick Jones. . . .

We spoke basically in general terms, except when the name Angelo Torres, the director of the entire program, came up. For whatever reason, Torres wasn't being kind to Get Plowed, Inc., the company that Mick and his wife Traci owned with their friends John and Mary Novak. Because one has to know some basic facts about the city's trucking operations to understand why the Sun-Times was turning up the heat, we must first go back to late 1994.

• • • •

I was campaigning for city clerk at that time . . . Mick asked me for a favor. He told me that the city had a Hired Truck Program that employed private trucking companies to work for various city departments. . . . As I began to learn, the whole truck program was a gravy train for these companies, and Mick wanted to hop on. Let's say the city paid a company $40 per hour for its truck and driver for a day. That company was paid regardless if the crew worked or not. . . .

The following week, I had an appointment with [Mayor Daley's City Council floor leader] Alderman Pat Huels . . . and told him I had a very good friend who was interested in being part of the program. . . . When I finished, the alderman answered nonchalantly, "No problem.''

It wasn't long after the trucks were on, maybe a month or so, that Mick stopped by the house one evening. . . . Before too long, he leaned over to shake my hand, and said, "Take care of the family." As I extended my hand and we shook, I knew, though we never spoke about it in any detail, he had just handed me money -- how much, I didn't know. As soon as we transferred the money, I quickly put it in my pocket. During the course of the evening, Mick used my bathroom, and I went into my pocket and counted five $100 bills. I knew at this point that we were starting a wonderful, but illegal, business relationship, because this was technically bribery, but I told myself the money wasn't for me, but for my family, my loved ones.

• • • •

There were also times when Torres' people did inspections and found that certain paperwork, such as insurance certificates for Mick's trucks, were not in place, and suspended his trucks. When these shutdowns would occur, I would ask Daley's people to call Torres and to order him to put the trucks back on the payroll. . . .

Let's look again at the Hired Truck Program and Daley's people who granted my requests: Pat Huels, Victor Reyes and Robert Sorich. During an 11-year period, each of them helped me, in one way or another to put my friends' trucks on with the city. These same people talked to Daley on a regular basis, and not one of them ever told him they were doing favors for me, the city clerk, by giving out business contracts to my friends?

• • • •

Mick and I hoped that the story would just go away, but two weeks after the first Hired Truck article had appeared in the Sun-Times, new trouble erupted. I decided to make a pit stop at Ray Drish's house to talk about politics, fund-raising and employment issues. Ray was still my number one adviser, even though he was no longer on the city payroll. About 10 minutes into our conversation, my cell phone rang. On the other end was Joe Panarese, my new chief of staff . . . Joe [now a Cook County judge] immediately cut to the chase and told me that a Sun-Times reporter called, asking me to speak about Mick and Traci Jones and Get Plowed, Inc. Unfortunately, my political campaign had recently received a recent donation from Get Plowed. In addition, these checks were signed by Traci, even though she was supposed to have been off the books, and working for me, for several months . . . In addition, Mick had allegedly divested himself of any ownership or monetary interest in Get Plowed, yet the company's business address in the phone book was 5711 S. Sayre, which was, in fact, the Jones family's home address.

• • • •

I left City Hall around three in the afternoon and told Tom Lally to drive me straight to Mick's house. . . . As I entered the house, I could immediately see that Mick was worried. . . .

As we sat on the couch, just trying to stay calm, I glanced out the front window and saw two individuals, one with a camera, walking toward the front of the house. I quickly dove on the floor to avoid being seen, and Mick ran to the kitchen. I still had on my full-length overcoat as I crawled out the front room into the kitchen.

Mick and I quickly moved toward the back of the house, to get out of sight. Mick then called his wife, to tell her not to come home until he had called to give her the OK . . . The door bell rang, and I could see panic in his face. We knew it was a Sun-Times reporter. . . . We decided to sit in the back bedroom and wait to see how long they would camp out.

• • • •

As the rest of the year 2004 moved quickly by, Mick and I constantly reassured each other that everything was going to be fine. With so many other investigations going on in the city, unless there were some informant in our inner circle with some solid information, there was no way the U.S. Attorney could ever indict either Mick or me on just speculation or hearsay.

• • • •

In September [2005], each time Mick said he had an upcoming meeting with his attorney, we would talk in my garage. I actually would turn my stereo radio up quite loudly and pat him around his waist and chest, which really insulted him. When he was in my garage one last time, he angrily told me that he was going to drop his pants, so that I could check . . . for a wire. I guess I should have listened to him.

• • • •

Don Zochowski, my former legislative assistant during my alderman days . . . came right out and said, "The word on the street is that Mick's been wearing a wire."

I didn't waste any time and said, "Mick, according to Don, the word on the street is that you've been wearing a wire."

There was a short moment of silence before Mick replied, "I heard that, too." . . . What I didn't know was that Mick and I had just talked together for the final time!

• • • •

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins opened the door and invited us in. . . . My knees were shaking, and my hands were dripping with perspiration. . . .

There was a small table, with the morning edition of the Chicago Sun-Times on top. The headlines read, "Laski Friend Wore a Wire." . . .

I started looking at the various paraphernalia. Every single tape had been labeled with a different informational heading, such as "Laski and Jones" and "Gammicchia." . . . I then started examining the copies of the pictures. I saw myself sitting in my basement on the day I came home from the hospital after my tests, with a blanket pulled up to my chin. During that time, and with my children around, either Mick or Traci had brought some type of hidden camera (probably in that big purse of Traci's) to take pictures of me. . . .

• • • •

The last tape he played, and the most damaging of all, was that portion of my conversation with Mick on the two-way, when I was recorded as saying, "Go Cubs!" According to the feds, that was the go-ahead for Mick to instruct his wife to lie to the grand jury. . . .

Mr. Collins . . . told me that I was now under arrest. . . . He said he was not out to crucify me, but that I needed to cooperate with them. . . .

I looked across the table at Collins and, with my voice cracking, told him that I would cooperate.

• • • •

I'll never forget the look of panic on my wife's face when she asked me again if everything was OK. I don't know really how to describe my feeling, except to say that I felt as if a part of me had just died, and that I was now saying goodbye to my family. I looked at Kathleen and told her that I was arrested by the FBI and indicted by the U.S. Attorney's Office. . . . I also looked right into her teary eyes, and told her, "Kathleen, I'm going to prison."

With that, she broke down, and began to cry. She asked what she and the kids would do without me.

• • • •

The night before the hearing, I was extremely anxious because I knew I would have to face Judge [Charles] Norgle and answer some questions he would ask me after I entered my guilty plea. Of course, the only way, I felt, to handle my anxiety was to drink. . . .

After I entered the guilty plea, Judge Norgle asked me if I had made my decision freely, and without duress, if I had discussed the matter with my attorney, and if I understood that I had just pled guilty to one count of bribery. He also asked me, if, within the last twenty-four hours, I had taken any alcohol or drugs. I answered yes. He then wanted to know what I had taken, and how much. I answered, about four beers up until 11 p.m., and one Lorezopan and Lexapro that morning, for my anxiety. . . .

Before the proceedings ended, Judge Norgle asked me when I had resigned as Chicago clerk. I told him February 6, 2006.

He then asked me if I thought I had done a good job as city clerk.

I quickly answered that I thought I had. Then, Norgle asked, "Until now?" I answered, "Yes, your Honor, until now."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Daley: Laski has 'a lot of personal problems'

February 14, 2008
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter/
Convicted former City Clerk Jim Laski has “a lot of personal problems” and he’s making wild post-prison allegations in a desperate attempt to sell his self-published book, Mayor Daley said today.

Responding for the first time to Laski’s claim that Daley has a “selective memory” and “knows more than he says he does” about the Hired Truck scandal, the mayor made a thinly-veiled reference to Laski’s well-publicized bout with drinking and drugs.

A sentencing report said the former clerk had been drinking nine beers a night before his conviction and that he took 10 medications a day to control panic attacks and related stomach disorders.

Earlier this week, Laski himself acknowledged drinking as many as 14 beers a-day — and popping two valiums — before he went cold turkey shortly before going off to a federal prison in West Virginia.

“Jim Laski’s had a lot of personal problems in his life and challenges. I know his family. [He should] just get on with his wife, get on with his family and handle his own situation. I’m not gonna [respond] to his personal challenges…He had a lot of personal challenges even today. He should get on with his life,” Daley said.

When a reporter noted that Laski was challenging the mayor’s credibility, Daley said, “Everybody does it. You do it every day.”

The mayor was asked point-blank whether Laski was “lying” when he claimed to have worked through Daley’s top lieutenants to get Hired Truck business for the lifelong friend who betrayed him.

“He says everything. He’ll say everything in a book about me. Nobody else. That’s how it is,” Daley said, claiming Laski is “definitely” trying to sell the book by making allegations against the mayor.

Daley appointed Laski to fill an aldermanic vacancy in the 23rd ward, only to have Laski become a constant thorn in the mayor’s side.

Laski lead a 1992 City Council rebellion against successive property tax increases proposed by the mayor. Three years later, he blew the lid on millions in unpaid water bills and parking tickets owed by city employees.

That’s apparently why the mayor believes it defies credibility for Laski to suggest that a whispering Daley had asked Laski during a private meeting in the mayor’s office whether he had “heard anything from the guys down the street,” meaning federal prosecutors.

“Maybe I said four words to him,” over the years, the mayor said.

A livid Laski said he had numerous private meetings with the mayor and challenged Daley to “have his secretary pull the records.”

“When is he gonna have the guts to stand up and tell the truth? It’s typical Daley. Blame somebody else. He’ll never take responsibility for anything. He throws out these slanderous statements about people and he’s just blatantly lying. Maybe he better take a look at himself in the mirror,” Laski said.

“Now he’s gonna say I had personal problems and challenges and impugn my credibility because I openly admitted that I drank too much and took pills and try to say I’m crazy or something? Don’t insult my intelligence and don’t insult the people of Chicago’s intelligence. His feathers are ruffled. Somebody called him on something and he doesn’t like it. He’s the mayor. He’s not God. Take responsibility.”

Laski, 54, plead guilty in 2006 to accepting $48,000 in bribes in exchange for steering Hired Truck business to lifelong friend Mick Jones. He also admitted that he coached a witness to lie to a grand jury.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week, Laski said he brokered Hired Trucks through the “buffers” who insulated the mayor from blame: former Ald. Patrick Huels (11th); former Intergovernmental Affairs Director Victor Reyes and the mayor’s former patronage chief Robert Sorich.

Laski also told the Sun-Times he was in First Deputy Water Commissioner Donald Tomczak’s office at the Jardine Water Filtration plant on numerous occasions when Reyes and Sorich called to tell Tomczak where to send his political army of city workers.

Daley has said he cannot identify the city officials who gave Tomczak his marching orders. The mayor has also condemned Tomczak’s notorious tactics: shaking down truckers for campaign contributions and using jobs, promotions, pay raises and overtime to reward political foot soldiers.

Laski described Daley as a “paranoid,” one-way-street of a politician who “blows hot and cold” with other elected officials and is “always thinking somebody’s out to get him, somebody’s out to run against him.”

“He never trusted anybody,” the former clerk said.
Disgraced ex-city clerk takes on Mayor Daley
Laski on Mayor: 'He knows more than he says'

February 12, 2008
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter/
Convicted former City Clerk Jim Laski said Monday he worked through Mayor Daley's top lieutenants to get Hired Truck business for the lifelong friend who betrayed him and, therefore, believes the mayor knows a lot more about the scandal than he has publicly admitted.

Free after spending eleven months in a West Virginia federal prison and six months at a Chicago halfway house, Laski is pointing fingers at the mayor in a tell-all book and in-depth interview.

Laski said he started brokering Hired Trucks in 1995 through Ald. Patrick Huels (11th), the mayor's City Council floor leader, then switched to Intergovernmental Affairs Director Victor Reyes after an unrelated scandal forced Huels' resignation. When Reyes left, the mayor's patronage chief Robert Sorich became Laski's go-to guy. He also dealt with First Deputy Water Commissioner Donald Tomczak.

Laski described Huels, Reyes and Sorich as "buffers" who gave Daley deniability and insulated the mayor from blame.

But, when a whispering Daley asked Laski during a meeting in the mayor's office whether he had "heard anything from the guys down the street," meaning federal prosecutors, it became clear to the clerk that the mayor knew more than he was letting on.

Motives questioned
The meeting took place after the Chicago Sun-Times blew the lid off the Hired Truck scandal, but before Laski had been publicly implicated.

"I went to Victor. I was on the phone in my house with Sorich about trucks. I wasn't hiding anything. . . .

"It was no secret. I'm not saying Daley knew anything about that. All I'm telling you is . . . he knows more than he says he does," Laski said.

"When I was trying to get a job for my oldest daughter, Victor Reyes told me, 'When it comes to family or something high-profile, you've got to see the mayor personally.' You go see the mayor on certain things, then he tells people he has a selective memory."

Laski said he was in Tomczak's office at the Jardine Water Filtration plant on numerous occasions when Reyes and Sorich called to tell Tomczak where to send his political army of city workers.

Daley has said he cannot identify the city officials who gave Tomczak his marching orders. The mayor has also condemned Tomczak's notorious tactics: shaking down truckers for campaign contributions and using jobs, promotions, pay raises and overtime to reward political foot soldiers.

Laski described Daley as a "paranoid," one-way-street of a politician who "blows hot and cold" with other elected officials and is "always thinking somebody's out to get him, somebody's out to run against him."

"He never trusted anybody," the clerk said.

Mayoral press secretary Jacquelyn Heard countered:

"What is the motivation for saying these things now? And where is the proof?" She added, "I know it takes intrigue, scandal and/or controversy to sell books. And I wholeheartedly believe that's what Mr. Laski is trying to do."

Laski, 54, pleaded guilty in 2006 to accepting $48,000 in bribes in exchange for steering Hired Truck business to lifelong friend Mike Jones. He also admitted that he coached a witness to lie to a grand jury. Laski's self-published book is titled My Fall From Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls.

On Monday, Laski gave an exclusive interview to the Chicago Sun-Times in the same Southwest home where Mick Jones and his wife, Traci, wore a wire and a hidden camera to incriminate him.

"If I didn't take the money from Mick Jones, it wouldn't have mattered how many wires he wore. I made a mistake. I put friendship before my family and my job. It's my own fault. It was my stupidity. . . . [But], it ripped my heart out," Laski said, his voice rising.

"To come over on the day my dad died. To come over on my birthday and on the day I went for a colonoscopy -- when my wife opened up the door, Mick and Traci Jones almost knocked her over. They charged down the stairs wired up. . . . I mean, this was a well-orchestrated plan."

Also implicates Bill Lipinski
As for the infamous phrase "Go Cubs," which he used to signal a witness to lie to the grand jury about his dealings with Tomczak, Laski, a die-hard Sox fan, said it wasn't his idea.

"It didn't come from me. . . . It came from the FBI and Mick Jones. Tell Laski to say, 'Go Cubs' so that'll be the friggin' cue and one of the things we can nail him on. [U.S. Attorney Patrick] Fitzgerald was standing there at the press conference with a smirk on his face saying, 'Laski said Go Cubs,' " Laski said.

The former clerk also implicated former Congressman Bill Lipinski, Laski's mentor-turned-nemesis, even more deeply in the ghost payrolling that went on during Laski's days as 23rd Ward alderman.

Laski said he hired a handful of employees at the congressmen's direction who did remodeling work at Lipinski's home and congressional office.

Laski was Lipiniski's former chief-of-staff and succeeded Lipinski as alderman. But he was kicked out of Lipinski's 23rd Ward Regular Democratic Organization after leading City Council rebellions against consecutive property tax increases proposed by Daley.

Lipinski, Reyes and Huels could not be reached for comment.
Listen up!

February 10, 2008
BY MICHAEL SNEED Sun-Times Columnist
Mayor Daley . . . grab the Excedrin!

Former City Clerk Jim Laski, who was sent to federal prison on corruption charges stemming from the Hired Truck scandal, is about to take you on a bumpy ride.

• • Translation: Laski, now free, has written a book, My Fall from Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls, in which he has some unkind words to say about Mayor Daley.

• • To wit: In the 419-page self-published book, Laski compares Daley to Capt. Queeg, the mentally unbalanced ship's captain in Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny.

• • Daley schmooze: In his book, Laski claims Daley invited him into his private City Hall conference room and asked if he'd heard "from anybody down the street." -- Hizzoner's reference to the feds -- during a probe of alleged time-sheet fraud at City Hall.

• • The upshot: When Laski said, "No!" Daley offered to give him some advice.

• • Quoth Laski: "He spoke quietly as if we were being bugged. He told me, in a very serious tone of voice, that, in order to survive in this business, I had to have a buffer.

"At that point, he reminded me of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, when he warned me that everyone would be trying to get me, especially the press.

"He basically told me that I needed someone to protect me, and that where the buck would stop, everything would end there with that person.

"In my opinion, Daley was forever surrounding himself with his own personal buffers.

"Even today, I still hear the Mayor, over and over, pleading ignorance about the latest Chicago political scandal.

"I was in government service for about twenty-seven years, sixteen of those as an elected official, and, in my opinion, the mayor knows everything that goes on in City Hall."

• • The back shot: For more information, go to the Author House Web site, authorhouse .com, and to Laski's Web site,