Feds: Chicago mayor Daley corrupted city hall with hires

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Allegations include the hiring of a drunk and the recommendation of a dead man.

CHICAGO -- One was a drunk. Some were laughed at as "goofballs." One was declared the best-qualified candidate for a job on the city payroll -- even though he was dead.

All of them were recommended for city jobs or hired because they were politically connected and helped to get out the vote on Election Day, according to U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

"That's the world we want to end," Fitzgerald said Monday in announcing charges against two members of Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration accused of illegally doling out patronage jobs.

The allegations sent shock waves through city hall, already reeling from charges that trucking companies obtained city business in exchange for bribes and campaign donations.

The new charges strike at the heart of political power in Chicago -- the patronage system under which thousands of precinct workers who get out the vote are rewarded with jobs on the city payroll.

Those charged bring the scandal closer than ever to Daley, who has been mayor for the past 16 years and whose own father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, oversaw a political machine that dispensed patronage with ruthless efficiency.

Robert Sorich and Patrick Slattery are accused of participating in a plot that included sham interviews and the falsification of interview scores to ensure well-connected applicants got jobs. Fitzgerald said they were "part of a scheme involving massive fraud in the hiring process going back more than a decade."

Sorich, from his post in the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs, told officials in the departments of water management, streets and sanitation, transportation and aviation which applicants to hire, according to 78 pages of court papers. Prosecutors said Slattery carried out those instructions from his post at the Streets and Sanitation Department.

Sorich and Slattery, both 42, are residents of city's Bridgeport neighborhood, the Daley family's power base for decades. The mayor's brother, John Daley, a Cook County commissioner, is still the Democratic ward leader in the neighborhood.

Both Sorich and Slattery were charged with defrauding the city by violating a decades-old court order barring city officials from hiring employees for political reasons. The order, known as the Shakman Decree, was designed to weaken Chicago's traditional machine politics. One thousand of the city's 38,000 employees are exempt from the order.

Slattery's attorney said his client is innocent. Sorich's lawyer had no comment.

Both Sorich and Slattery were fired Monday. John Doerrer, the head of the mayor's Department of Intergovernmental Affairs, also has resigned, Daley press secretary Jacquelyne Heard said Tuesday.

Doerrer, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, said in his resignation letter submitted Monday that he was leaving because of the turmoil surrounding the department, Heard said.

"It is a valid point John raises -- that it will be hard for him to carry out his duties with this kind of thing going on under his watch," she said.

Heard said there was no indication that Doerrer was a target of the federal investigation.

No telephone listing was available for a John Doerrer in Chicago.

Heard said an aide in the department also was put on administrative leave Tuesday but she could not provide details.

Prosecutors say those who got hired were often unqualified, while the city passed over the best candidates for jobs as city drivers, inspectors or maintenance workers.

One unidentified cooperating witness quoted in court papers said a department head grumbled when a drunk was foisted on him. Sorich was quoted as saying: "Do the best you can with him."

Those with clout -- as political pull is known in Chicago -- were put on what City Hall insiders described laughingly as a "blessed list" of people to be hired. Some of those on the list were described by another unidentified cooperating witness as "goofballs."

One applicant for a job as a truck driver got a high rating on his interview. Agents discovered that at the time of the interview he was in Iraq. Court papers also said qualified candidates for one job were turned away in favor of a man who turned out to be dead.

Daley reacted to the charges Tuesday by promising to overhaul the hiring system. He has not been charged with wrongdoing.

"Test rigging, fabricated interviews or shredding of government documents have no place in this government," he said. But he also said it was "important to note that for more than 30 years, through six administrations, such violations have been treated as civil matters -- until now."

Fitzgerald is the same tough federal prosecutor who heads Washington's CIA leak investigation.

Daley said he knows the Sorich and Slattery families and called them "good people."

The charges so close to Daley himself generated excitement among City Hall watchers.

"I think we just arrived at critical mass yesterday," said Cindi Canary, executive director of the foundation-funded Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

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