Friday, February 15, 2008

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.

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