Favoritism Trial Hurts Chicago Mayor
Friday, July 7, 2006
CHICAGO, July 6 -- Mayor Richard M. Daley's former patronage chief broke the law by rigging city hiring decisions to reward loyal workers in Chicago's Democratic political machine, a federal jury concluded Thursday in a sharp blow to the five-term mayor.
In convicting Robert Sorich and three other onetime city officials, the jury rejected the defense claim that political favoritism in Chicago is hardly a crime. Instead, the 12 jurors agreed unanimously with prosecutors that Daley's aides cheated qualified workers and the taxpayers who paid their salaries.
"At bottom, this case was about a scam," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro told reporters after the verdict, pointing to fraudulent job interviews, doctored documents and a far-reaching coverup. "This jury saw through their 'business-as-usual' defense."
Federal officials have signaled that the City Hall corruption investigation is not over.
"Stay tuned," more than one prosecutor has said in recent weeks. Daley, repeatedly mentioned in the Sorich trial by defense lawyers, has been interviewed by prosecutors but has not been charged.
Daley, who met with President Bush here Thursday, said he accepted the verdict but was "saddened" for the defendants, whom he knows to be "hardworking." He said city structures are being reformed but declined to take questions.
Defense attorney Thomas A. Durkin called the verdict "absurd" and described the case as "a criminal prosecution with an eye to unseat Mayor Daley."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick M. Collins, who led the prosecution team, said afterward that it was no virtue that the defendants chose silence and trial rather than telling investigators what they know.
The verdict is the second major victory against political corruption in three months for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, recruited in 2001 to challenge the machine politics for which the city and state are infamous. In April, jurors in the same Chicago federal courthouse convicted former governor George Ryan (R) of steering business to his friends and cash to his family, then lying to federal agents. Ryan, best known for commuting the death sentences of all 167 inmates on death row, is to be sentenced next month.
The six-week prosecution of Sorich and three other men from Daley's South Side power base opened a window onto the type of maneuvering that has long greased Chicago politics.
Prosecutors showed how campaign workers -- whose party loyalty typically outweighed their job skills -- were rewarded with such city positions as building inspector, carpenter, tree trimmer and bricklayer.
Large numbers of applicants who were more qualified were often tested, interviewed and passed over in favor of workers chosen by Sorich, who headed Daley's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. This kept happening despite a consent decree that barred political hiring for all but about 900 city employees.
"The fix was in," Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Ruder told the jury. "It was not about merit. It was about politics. It was about clout. It was about who you knew and whose palm you greased."
To cover their tracks, witnesses testified, the defendants falsified documents and held conversations where they believed they would not be overheard. Sorich ordered the destruction of hundreds of computer files, while defendant John Sullivan, who worked in the Streets and Sanitation Department, lied to the FBI.
The jury convicted Sorich, whose father was an official photographer for Daley's father, of two counts of mail fraud and acquitted him of two others. Sullivan was found guilty of one count of lying to federal agents.
Timothy McCarthy, a Sorich aide, was convicted of two mail fraud counts; Patrick Slattery, who married one of Daley's personal secretaries, was found guilty of one mail fraud count.
During the trial, one supervisor testified that he told Sorich that a favored job candidate from the 14th Ward was an alcoholic and that "people could get hurt." He said Sorich replied, "Work it out."