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Friday, August 28, 2009

Deconstructing the Hired Truck Scandal: An Introduction

To understand the Hired Truck Scandal, I go back to something that Charles Krauthammer said about scandals in general. He said that the difference between a scandal that captures the public's imagination and one that gets ignored is simplicity. Krauthammer was making the thesis in the context of the scandal surrounding the bribery of William Jefferson. By then, it had been reported that about $60000 in cash were found in Jefferson's freezer. It didn't take much imagination for the public to imagine how it got there. In contrast, Krauthammer used the example of the Whitewater scandal. At this center of this scandal was a very complicated real estate deal and from there it wasn't clear who did what if anything. That didn't capture the public's imagination because instead it lead to nothing more than confusion.

The Hired Truck Scandal involves elements of both. On the surface, this scandal had everything for a titillated public. There were bags of money, run down trucks, the mafia, and all sorts of corrupt politicians and power brokers. Beyond the surface however, there was a complicated web of corruption that, if totally unravelled, would also have unravelled most if not all of the structure of corruption in the city of Chicago. Yet, after several months of a breathless public and insatiable press the scandal wound down. It took down several very powerful and important people with it, but ultimately, what we know about this scandal only scratches the surface. Worse yet, those held accountable only scratch the surface of those involved.

The Hired Truck Scandal grew out of the city's use of Hired Trucks to do little or no work. The trucking companies often used former cons and others of dubious background. As such, their drivers could be paid significantly less than most truck drivers. The corrupt power structure in the city saw a boon for everyone. Because the truckers were paid dirt, $7 an hour or so, these trucks became cash cows. As such, power brokers began taking bribes in order to secure city jobs for these companies.

The scandal grew and became even worse. Often, the city would secure a plethora of trucks for city jobs when their use was unnecessary. Trucks were used for menial tasks like picking up pencils and other simple supplies so that the trucks could be kept busy. In reality, often trucks were hired entirely so that city money could be dished out to the companies and then the principles would turn around give politicians their cuts. It was the classic shell game.

The whole thing would have very possibly never been discovered without the courage of average citizens who just happened to work as plumbers and other laborers on these jobs. Several started to notice that the trucks were just sitting there doing nothing. They also noticed that the trucks were rundown. They complained to their superiors and even to their union representatives. Like most whistle blowers, for the most part, rather than superiors investigating the corruption, it was the whistle blowers that were retaliated against.

Eventually, largely due to the reporting of Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun Times, the Hired Truck Scandal exploded in the Chicago media. It was so scintillating that it received all sorts of national media attention. It represented a sort of turning point in the way that many Chicagoans viewed its Mayor, Richard M. Daley. While the scandal never reached him directly, it was unmistakeable just how many top aides were implicated. The most notorious was likely Robert Sorich, who was Daley's patronage chief. Another was Donald Tomczak, the city's water chief, and very powerful political power broker. Tomczak admitted to taking $400,000 in bribes. Several other folks were implicated but the scandal never reached Daley directly. Though, later it was revealed that many of these trucking companies contributed to the campaigns of Daley and his allies.

At some point though, the twists and turns of the scandal became too complicated and the public, and apparently prosecutors, lost interest. Taken together, this scandal, if unravelled entirely, would also unravel most if not all of Daley's corrupt political machine. It's a machine in which politically astute allies of Mayor Daley are rewarded with cushy city positions. Then, those positions are used to line their own pockets and the pockets of their friends and anyone else that can benefit the mayor and his friends. That's why the Hired Truck Scandal happened. Daley rewarded folks like Tomczak with city jobs and then Tomczak used his position to line his pocket and as such steal millions from the tax payers.

Because the scandal had its day and fizzled out, it only took down some but left the structure in place. For instance, Donald Tomczak was instrumental in electing the current White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel to his first elected position. This is common knowledge and political insiders and junkies point this out, but it clearly didn't stop Emanuel from continuing his own rise in the world of politics.

What's much more troubling is how many folks with a lot to answer for continue in positions of power, and a good wage, within the city or surrounding government. For instance, there's John D'Amico. He's currently a State Senator in the Illinios Senate. He was also an assistant foreman on one of the jobs, the Jardine Plant, implicated in the Hired Truck Scandal. Then, there's Michael Tierney, another foreman on one of the jobs implicated, who continues to be employed by the city in another capacity. Then, there's Alderman Pat Levar, of the 45th ward. He was seen at the Sunnyside Plant, another one implicated in the corruption, while the scheme was unfolding. When news of the scandal broke, he stopped showing up. He continues his role as alderman today. The most troubling unanswered question is the corruption surrounding Angelo Torres. Torres was both a major player in the city government and in his free time a gang banger. It's still unclear how a gang banger was able to accumulate so much power within the structure of the city of Chicag. Torres was eventually convicted of shakedowns in relation to the Hired Truck Scandal.

I could go on and on, but that would require a book not a blog post. What is clear is that a scandal this large wasn't just a few rogue politicians and power brokers but the result of an entire city structure. The sheer magnitude of the scandal is evidence enough. More evidence can be found in the way that whistle blowers like Pat McDonough, who was fired as the case exploded. In McDonough's case against the city, he alleges systemic violations of Shakman decrees. Shakman was designed to make sure that city and county jobs did not go to folks based on political connections. Yet, according to the suit, McDonough alleges that the city systemically violates the decree and thus hiring and firing in the city winds up all too often being political. All of these issues remain unanswered today. Meanwhile, the Daley administration has been hit with several more scandals since the Hired Truck Scandal and of course, the city is on the verge of hosting the Olympics in 2016, which would give Daley access to far more power than he's ever had before. The kind of clout, influence and corruption in Hired Truck would be exponentially expanded by the Olympics if Daley's administration administers the Olympics the way they administered Hired Truck. So, I hope to use the next several months to unravel Hired Truck and unpeel as many of the layers of corruption as possible as it leads to the heart of the city's corruption.


Patrick McDonough said...

I enjoyed this article, it is well written. I hope you dig further into the hired truck scandal. Many more profited off the backs of taxpayers than the ones in the newspapers. Patrick McDonough your review was posted on chicago clout.

Controversial said...

A very enjoyable article and very well sumerised considering the entire ins and outs of this scandal, as you rightly say would lead to novel (worth considering).
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Fine article. And where did you get your job Pat? Care to elaborate ?Your uncle the Judge perhaps?
And your Dad?

You are a self serving creep who pretends to be an "advocate".
You are a cartoon character.

mike volpe said...

That last comment is typical of what happens to whistle blowers. First, an A for courage. You come on and attack Pat anonymously. Second, McDonough is beside the point. It's beyond any and all doubt that there was a scandal. It's also beyond doubt that McDonough faced serious repercussions after blowing the whistle. So, it seems as though if he is self serving he sure chose a difficult path.

Robert j Starbuck said...

city worker, CDOT-1995-present.Labor Foreman 2001-2003.To much stress Dr's note to stop being foreman.full time from 1997 & career service,local 76,lol..out of the blue i was laidoff in nov.04 Went on unemploment for the frist time in my life,luckie i guess.later i was told it was a "mistake" by Mr cheeks of cdot..Called back in May 15,1905..I was hurt on the job may 31st,and ever since then i been to HELL and back,I know they added trucks to my work sheets,and there still screwing ME & FAMILY.stoped paying me 7/15/09,now going to trial so my lawyer can get more $....Robert j.Starbuck.312-910-2547

Anonymous said...

Everyone that knows Patrick McDonough knows he loves his City of Chicago. For decades he has given lots of money to st. ita's church in andersonville. He works very hard under difficult circumstances. McDonough never made a single penny helping people that got into a jam at work. Thanks for the nice article. I do not want to leave a name becuase of the harrassment at work.

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