Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ban on phones stirs up courts
* Those with cell phones in criminal courtroom face jail time or fine.

June 29, 2009

By Ruth Ann Krause, Post-Tribune correspondent
A recent ban on cell phones in the criminal courts at the Lake County Government Center delayed testimony in an attempted murder trial after one of the jurors refused to give up the device and was arrested.

Lake Superior Court Judges Salvador Vasquez, Clarence Murray, Diane Ross Boswell and Thomas Stefaniak Jr., who preside over criminal division cases, signed an order two weeks ago banning cell phones, but visitors continue to bring their phones to the building.

Lake County Commissioners are also looking into the issue.

County Attorney John Dull said at the commissioners' request he sent Boswell, senior judge of the criminal division, a letter seeking clarification.

The order signed by the judges prohibits members of the general public from bringing cell phones into the courts building, but Dull pointed out the administration building and courts building are connected by a hallway. Someone could enter the administration building with a cell phone and walk into the courts building. In addition, there are civil courtrooms and other offices in the courts building.

Visitors in possession of a cell phone in a criminal courtroom could be held in contempt and be jailed or fined, according to the judges' order.

Last Monday, court security officers arrested a juror selected for an attempted murder case in Boswell's courtroom. The juror became upset after being told he couldn't bring his phone into court and was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Afterward, Boswell spent about an hour questioning the remaining 12 jurors and one alternate about whether the ruckus over the cell phone ban in court would affect their deliberations in the attempted murder case of Marlon Stringfellow.

During questioning by Boswell, several jurors said they were allowed to bring their cell phones, which typically are placed with other metal objects in a plastic bin and examined by court security officers while the visitor walks through a metal detector.

Since the courtroom ban went into effect, security officers ask visitors where they're going in the building. Those who say they're going to court are instructed to return their phones to the car.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Daley to put taxpayers on hook for Olympic financial losses
June 17, 2009
Mayor Daley finally sounds ready to give the International Olympic Committee the financial guarantee it is seeking.

The mayor told reporters in Switzerland that he’ll sign a host city contract with the committee putting taxpayers on the hook for any financial losses if the city wins the summer 2016 games — even as some aldermen grumbled Daley is exceeding his authority.

Daley and an entourage of Chicago Olympics boosters are in the lakeside city of Lausanne, making their pitch for the games on the committee’s home turf.

Back in Chicago, mayoral press secretary Jacquelyn Heard stressed that Chicago 2016 has come up with a series of guarantees and private funding formulas for the proposed $4.8 billion game plan, so taxpayers won’t be footing the bill.

“Obviously the mayor understands that neither he nor Chicago 2016 can go to taxpayers and essentially expect them to guarantee or be responsible for long- or short-term Olympic financing,” Heard said today. "When he said he was prepared to sign the host city contract, it was with knowledge that Chicago will only sign it under the new approach that does not require us to go to the taxpayers beyond what we already promised."

She's referring to today's announcement that an added $500 million in insurance will be part of a $2.5 billion safety net for the Chicago games.

The net already includes: a $450 million “rainy day fund;” as much as $375 million in IOC cancellation insurance; an additional $500 million in insurance coverage, a state guarantee of $250 million and a “last-resort” $500 million guarantee of taxpayer money from the city of Chicago.

Daley initially vowed that not a dime of taxpayer dollars would be spent on the 2016 games, but after the last election — and a prod by the United States Olympic Committee to “put some skin in the game” — the City Council approved the financing.

Daley insisted at the time: “If everything fails — an earthquake, tornado, everything comes down — this is your insurance policy.”

Lori Healey, President of Chicago 2016 issued a written statement from Switzerland saying the new insurance “will further reduce risk to the City of Chicago and its taxpayers.”

“This new development will ensure that at the required time — two days prior to the October 2nd decision — the Mayor of Chicago will be able to sign the host city agreement,” she saidt. “The cost of this solution will be funded entirely by Chicago 2016."

Chicago 2016 officials say they're heartened by IOC president Jacques Rogues repeat of an earlier assurance that Chicago's financial guarantees are strong.

Mike Moran, a sports consultant formerly with the United States Olympic Committee , says the mayor signing this document doesn’t necessarily mean Chicago can’t work out something with the IOC to make sure city isn’t on the line for losses.

That’s what happened when Moran worked on the successful bid for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

“We had $25 million in guarantees (in largely privately dollars) against a shortfall and Mayor Tom Bradley signed it,” Moran said of the traditional host city contract calling for L.A., in this case, to cover any losses. “But there was a quiet nod by the IOC, that if there was an overrun the city wouldn’t be liable for it.”

The money issue arose as Chicago, along with competing cities Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, made brief, closed-door presentations today before 93 IOC members — about 10 shy of the full Olympic committee that will decide in October which city will host the 2016 games.

Chicago was first at bat today, using the start of the 45-minute presentation to talk about how its $4.8 billion game plan would be financed. Chicago is the only finalist city in the pack not to have 100 percent government guarantees, standard for American cities because the federal government traditionally doesn’t pony up for guarantee money for the Olympic games.

Pat Ryan, head of the Chicago 2016 effort, said in a news conference in Switzerland today that he believes the Chicago’s plan to layer guarantees with private and corporate donations is the best financial approach in these recessionary times.

“We believe that it’s responsible [in] changing times. And it’s very important because it spreads the risk among public and private sources. We also believe this combination of public and private guarantees [that] could be as much as $2 billion is not only better for host city taxpayers, but we believe also offers stronger protection for the Games than government can do alone.”

With another layer of insurance protection, Daley intends to sign the host-city contract — without returning to the City Council for authorization, Heard said.

“We are not exceeding the authority granted by the City Council. We remain within the financial boundaries they set” when they approved the $500 million Olympic guarantee, she said.

Several aldermen strongly disagreed. They argued that Daley has “no authority” to sign the host-city contract without Council approval.

“This is a big deal. He’s planning to sign an agreement that puts the city on the hook for an unlimited amount of money,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

“Let them come before the City Council and explain to us why this is a safe bet for taxpayers. They can tell us they have insurance. They can make all the arguments they want to make. But, as elected representatives closest to the votes, we need to have a say in this. This is something that recent events have made all too clear. We need to exercise our authority as a check and balance on the mayor’s office.”

After the fiasco caused by Daley’s $1.15 billion decision to lease Chicago’s 36,000 parking meters, aldermen can’t afford to sit back, according to Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

“They made guarantees, and none of those guarantees have come true on the parking meter deal. I don’t think the Council will buy his guarantee of, ‘Don’t worry. There’s multiple layers of guarantees here,’” Waguespack said.

“The Council needs to be part of this process. The mayor’s office and 2016 needs to show us what those guarantees are and what taxpayers are on the hook for ... .I have no information right now that proves to me these backstops are genuine.”
Aldermen want answers regarding Vanecko deal
June 17, 2009

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter/fspielman@suntimes.com
Chicago aldermen on Tuesday demanded to know why the city has paid nearly $500,000 to lease space at a South Side industrial site co-owned by Mayor Daley's nephew without City Council approval required for city leases.

As chairman of the City Council's Committee on Housing and Real Estate, Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) should have signed off on the lease at 3348 S. Pulaski.

But, the Daley administration's decision to make it a month-to-month lease -- and continue that temporary arrangement since November, 2007 -- denied Suarez' committee and the full City Council the right to approve the deal.

"Things have to be done the right way. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. You can't skirt" the rules, Suarez said.

"Why didn't we get a long-term contract? I want to know what their justification is for giving them a month-to-month lease. You could do month-to-month for a while," but not for 15 months.

Unless the city can prove it needed flexibility to get out of the lease quickly, it appears that the month-to-month lease was designed to get around the City Council, said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

"It would seem to me that someone was trying to hide something," Moore said.

He added, "One of the reasons we have these meetings is so the public and ... media can know who's getting these leases. It begs the question why, in this particular case, it was done in what appears to be a secretive fashion. We are owed an explanation."

Anthony Pascente a spokesman for the city's Department of General Services, did not return repeated phone calls on the lease.

Despite weeks of questions from the Chicago Sun-Times, City Hall yet to produce a lease document or invoices to justify the monthly payments, at a rate of $3.83-per-square foot for 70,565 square feet of space, 20 percent of the warehouse.

Nor have city officials provided an explanation for the month-to-month arrangement with mayoral nephew Robert Vanecko and his partners, developer Allison Davis and Davis' son Jared.

The Sun-Times reported earlier this month that Vanecko and Davis used $4.2 million of the $68 million they manage for five city employee pension funds to help buy the mostly vacant warehouse and surrounding land.

On Sunday, the newspaper disclosed that the lease was linked to the demise of Chicago's scandal-plagued Hired Truck program.

The Department of Water Management says it needed a place to park dozens of dump trucks leased by the city to replace Hired Trucks.

In October, 2006, they found the ideal spot in the massive industrial property on Pulaski Road, just north of the Stevenson Expy.

After parking the trucks outside for a year, they decided to move them inside the warehouse on the 15-acre site.

As they negotiated a lease for that building, it changed hands, officials said. And City Hall insisted it had no idea that the new owners of the building included an investment company co-owned by the mayor's nephew.

Last week, Vanecko abruptly announced that he would "end his involvement with DV Urban Realty Partners, both as a general partner and as an investor," effective July 1. He cited a desire to minimize "unwarranted distractions.

He bowed out two weeks after a federal grand jury issued subpoenas seeking details of why the pension funds invested with Vanecko's start-up firm three years ago.
Democratic ward boss Cullerton's husband charged after cocaine allegedly falls out of his pocket
June 17, 2009

BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN Criminal Courts Reporter
The husband of a Democratic ward boss was hit with drug charges after a small packet of cocaine fell out of his pocket at the downtown County Building and a coworker spotted it, authorities said.

Cameras captured the cocaine falling from Kevin O'Brien's back pocket Tuesday. He admitted it was his, sheriff's spokesman Steve Patterson said.

O'Brien has worked for the county assessor's office for over 20 years, office spokesman Eric Herman said. He has been placed on administrative leave.

O'Brien is married to P.J. Cullerton, Democratic committeeman of the Northwest Side's 38th Ward, a source said.

P.J. Cullerton is the scion of a political dynasty with power stretching back just before the Chicago Fire of 1871. Family members sat on the City Council for 107 years in what became known as "The Cullerton seat."

Cullerton's father, Thomas, who died in 1993, was the last. Other family members include P. J. "Parky" Cullerton, who was elected county assessor in 1958, and state Sen. John Cullerton, who was named Senate president last year.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Busboy-turned-county worker collected salary while he was jailed

June 15, 2009

BY MARK J. KONKOL Staff Reporter
If a guy's got clout in Cook County, getting tossed in the hoosegow could be like a paid vacation.

Tony Cole, the busboy- turned-patronage worker at the center of a county hiring scandal, apparently had that kind of clout in the finance department, according to payroll records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

County president Todd Stroger's cousin, former chief financial officer Donna Dunnings, gave her former secretary paid time off that he did not earn for workdays he was locked in county jail. Dunnings also signed time cards that claimed Cole worked weekends that he did not show up at the office, county records show.

Cole got his county job after a night pouring Stroger icewater at a River North steakhouse. Stroger later fired Cole for lying about his criminal past on a job application.

Dunnings -- whom Stroger fired over her dealings with Cole without giving specifics -- signed off on three "excused" absences with pay for Cole during his stint in county jail between Nov. 19 and Nov. 21 for violating orders of protection against an ex-girlfriend, according to Cole's time records.

On Nov. 21, Dunnings used her personal credit cards to bail out Cole, who said he promised to pay her back as soon as he got paid.

Dunnings also signed off on time cards that report Cole worked 14 hours the weekend of Nov. 22.

But security records kept by the sheriff's department said Cole was in the county building at 118 N. Clark for only four hours and 20 minutes that weekend.

Dunnings bailed Cole out of jail a second time Jan. 23 -- the same day Cole got comp day off "per D. Dunnings," records show.

On Jan. 25, the Sunday after Cole was released from jail, Dunnings signed a time card that reported Cole worked four hours. But Cole did not sign in at the county building that day, sheriff's department records show.

Dunnings would not comment on the excused absences, but said Cole earned the comp days off by working extra hours.

When told county time sheets did not show evidence that Cole worked enough extra hours to warrant receiving that much comp time, Dunnings said a "time keeper" kept track of comp time hours and she just signed off on the time sheets.

A county source close to the situation said Cole was the office time keeper.

Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins said he's not sure if Cole was assigned to keep his own time records, but the county does not condone giving employees excused absences with pay that are not due them.

"The county does not have a policy to pay money to employees for pay they have not earned," Mullins said.

The Sun-Times obtained Cole's time records through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Stroger administration, however, has refused to release other county records requested by the paper because an "investigating body" directed the county in writing not to release the information, Stroger's special counsel Laura Lechowicz Felicione said.

Sources have confirmed that the Cook County state's attorney's office financial crimes unit has launched a probe into the Dunnings- Cole controversy.

Cole, who remains in county jail and is due in domestic violence court today, said an assistant states attorney in the financial crimes division visited him in jail and he received a grand jury subpoena.

Cole also told the Sun-Times an FBI agent -- confirmed as an investigator from the Chicago field office -- has visited him in jail several times and as recently as last week to ask questions about Dunnings and Stroger and any information Cole might have about county corruption
City's lease with Vanecko's company has Hired Truck link
INDOOR PARKING | City says it didn't know of Vanecko's interest in warehouse

June 13, 2009

Chicago water officials wanted a place to park dozens of dump trucks they'd been leasing since the collapse of the city's scandalous Hired Truck Program.

They found the spot in October 2006 -- a massive industrial property on Pulaski Road, just north of the Stevenson Expy.

For a year, they parked dump trucks outside. Then, city officials decided they wanted to move the trucks indoors to a warehouse on the 15-acre site.

As they negotiated a lease for that building, it changed hands, city officials say. And they say they had no idea the new owners included an investment company co-owned by Mayor Daley's nephew, whose firm manages $68 million for five city pension funds.

Some of that pension money -- $4.2 million -- was used to buy the warehouse in November 2007. And Chicago taxpayers have since paid nearly $500,000 to lease it.

The property is at the center of the latest scandal confronting Daley, whose nephew Robert Vanecko resigned from his pension-investment company Tuesday, two weeks after a federal grand jury issued subpoenas seeking details of why the pension funds invested with Vanecko's start-up firm three years ago.

City officials have yet to respond to a Chicago Sun-Times request for copies of lease documents. But they are now offering an explanation for how they came to lease a huge garage at 3348 S. Pulaski for the city Water Management Department.

And it ties back into the biggest scandal Daley has faced during his 20 years as mayor: the Hired Truck Program, which the city got rid of after a Sun-Times investigation found the city spent millions of dollars hiring dump trucks that were often paid to do nothing.

"In 2006, the City of Chicago's Hired Truck Program was dismantled, and the city needed to purchase 50 20-ton trucks to work with water and sewer construction crews," said water department spokesman Tom LaPorte. "To meet this demand, an additional 45 trucks were also leased. This significant addition of equipment meant adequate parking locations needed to be found.''

The city wanted to park the trucks near Reliable Asphalt Corporation, a supplier of construction materials, at 3741 S. Pulaski. Reliable is owned by Michael Vondra, who is referred to in the original criminal complaint filed against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Vondra wanted unspecified help from the governor on a business venture, according to prosecutors, who said Blagojevich, in turn, wanted $100,000 in campaign contributions. Vondra, who hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, never raised the money.

City officials hoped to park the trucks on property Reliable leases from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, but Reliable turned the city down, LaPorte said. So city officials set their sights on the Pulaski warehouse.

On Oct. 10, 2006, the city signed a month-to-month lease to park trucks at 3348 S. Pulaski. That included city-owned trucks and also trucks leased from Steve's Equipment Services under multimillion-dollar contracts struck after the Hired Truck Program was scrapped. At first, the trucks were parked outside the massive, 320,000-square-foot warehouse, LaPorte said.

Then, city officials decided they wanted to move the trucks inside and began negotiating a long-term lease with owner Michael Lazar.

"In the midst of the negotiations, Mr. Lazar sold his interest in the building,'' LaPorte said.

On Nov. 14, 2007, the city signed a month-to-month lease with Lazar to move its trucks inside the warehouse.

On Nov. 27, 2007, Lazar sold the building to Sydney Pulaski LLC for $10.5 million. The deal included the $4.2 million in city pension money managed by DV Urban Realty Partners, co-owned by the mayor's nephew and his partners, Allison S. Davis and his son Jared Davis.

City officials have said they didn't know Vanecko was involved. Vanecko has never taken part in the ongoing negotiations for a long-term lease, they also said.

On Dec. 1, 2007, the city began parking its trucks inside the warehouse, LaPorte said.

The city says it moved into the warehouse after Vanecko's group bought the property. Vanecko's firm said last week that the city already had its trucks in the warehouse before it bought the property.

The city has paid a total of $480,408 in rent to Sydney Pulaski.

The city had paid $50,026 in rent to Lazar's company.

The terms of the indoor lease remained the same after Lazar sold the building to Vanecko's group, according to city officials and Vanecko's company. The city is paying $3.83 per square foot for 70,565 square feet -- about 20 percent of the warehouse.

Another tenant is Bus & Truck of Chicago, a city contractor that got a three-year, $4.3 million deal last September from the city's Fleet Management Department to repair city vehicles. The city has paid the company more than $345,000 since 2006.

City officials are still negotiating a five-year lease for the warehouse, but they are also looking at other places to park the trucks, LaPorte said.

Vanecko's partners apparently wouldn't mind if the city found another location.

"What we knew is [city officials] were looking for larger space, so our assumption was that they would move out," Allison Davis said in an interview last week on WTTW-Channel 11's "Chicago Tonight." "And we were marketing the space to other buyers. They repeatedly came back to us and wanted to lease the space, and we said no, this is not appropriate, and this will only cause us grief and problems.

"While it's a very attractive lease, it's a problem,'' Davis said. "I don't need a problem."