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,