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  1. By Dan Mihalopoulos, Laurie Cohen and Todd Lighty. Tribune staff reporter John McCormick contributed to this report
    Published July 17, 2005

    When Jason Martin needed a job, the 22-year-old college dropout turned to a lifelong family friend–his alderman, Brian Doherty.

    Doherty said he went to a top political strategist in Mayor Richard Daley’s office, Timothy Degnan, and to a leader of a powerful union that controls some of the city’s best-paying blue-collar jobs.

    Sure enough, Martin–who had hung campaign signs for Doherty–landed a city job operating heavy machinery as a hoisting engineer, a position coveted for its high pay and generous overtime.

    “I assisted him, yes,” said Doherty, a Republican representing the 41st Ward. “I’ve assisted 500 young people in getting jobs. I’m proud of it.”

    Last November, Martin’s 10-year career with the city ended when he was charged with accepting bribes from a company that he helped win work in the city’s Hired Truck Program.

    According to documents obtained by the Tribune, federal authorities were interested not only in what Martin knew about bribes but also how he and others got their city jobs and whether they paid for them.

    Martin is just one in a list of politically connected hoisting engineers accused of corruption, ranging from ghost payrolling to heroin dealing. The negative publicity is drawing attention to the city’s hoisting engineers, members of the clout-heavy International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.

    Many of them also belong to some of the city’s most influential political groups, including the pro-Daley Hispanic Democratic Organization and the Daley family’s 11th Ward Democratic Organization, according to a Tribune analysis of public records.

    Federal court decrees in place for more than 20 years are supposed to keep politics out of City Hall hiring. But prosecutors have alleged that some city officials ensnared in the Hired Truck scandal built political armies by trading jobs, raises and promotions for campaign help.

    And now, as part of their expanding investigation of City Hall corruption, federal authorities are homing in on the connections between political work and public jobs for city employees such as hoisting engineers.

    Agents have taken resumes, job applications, hand-written index cards with names and job titles and a typed list of employees that included their Social Security numbers and ethnicity from the city’s Water Management Department, according to documents obtained by the Tribune.

    Agents also hauled off personnel records from the mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which aldermen have long identified as the place to get city jobs that are supposed to be filled without political influence.

    When they interviewed Martin, federal agents asked if he had ever paid anyone for his job. Martin replied that he was never forced to “drop”–pay for work–but he “suspected that it happened, like when an employee got a good spot.”

    Martin also told agents that he had “heard that city workers have gotten jobs and raises after doing political work,” according to the documents.

    Although they number barely 300 among City Hall’s 38,000 full-time employees, hoisting engineers have figured frequently in the recent procession of public workers accused of misconduct.

    First came John “Quarters” Boyle, who operated a grinding machine on a city road crew and was indicted for taking bribes from companies in the Hired Truck Program. Boyle was a member of the Coalition for Better Government, which puts workers on the streets for candidates favored by Daley. He has pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax fraud.

    Then there was John Whirity, a member of the Daley family’s 11th Ward Democratic Organization. He was fired from his job as a foreman of hoisting engineers because an underling allegedly punched him in for work when he played hooky.

    And another hoisting engineer, George Prado, was recently accused of running the local branch of a Colombian heroin ring. Prado is on a list of those who register voters for the Hispanic Democratic Organization and made campaign donations to HDO co-founder, state Sen. Antonio “Tony” Munoz.

    Although HDO officials have denied that Prado had anything to do with the group, his attorney, Joseph R. Lopez, said Prado worked for HDO. Prado had long been friends with Munoz’s brother Martin, another city hoisting engineer, Lopez said.

    Tony Munoz, one of the top beneficiaries of campaign donations from Hired Truck contractors, is cooperating with the federal investigation into City Hall corruption. Tony Munoz did not respond to requests for comment.

    Clout’s reward: Big payday

    By Dan Mihalopoulos, Laurie Cohen and Todd Lighty. Tribune staff reporter John McCormick contributed to this report
    Published July 17, 2005

    “[Hoisting engineers] make a lot of money,” said Dave Schulz, a former city budget director and deputy public works commissioner. “That’s why guys with clout get these jobs.”

    Jason Martin, who pleaded guilty in March, acknowledged that he introduced Boyle to a trucking company owner who paid them bribes to get city work.

    Doherty said he has known Martin, now 33, since childhood, when both their families lived on the West Side. Martin’s brother is a political supporter of Doherty and owns a bar, the Emerald Isle, near Doherty’s ward office on Northwest Highway.

    “The Martins are a big Irish family. We’re a big Irish family,” Doherty said in an interview last week. Doherty recalled speaking to Degnan, who was then in charge of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

    Degnan denied knowing Martin. Asked if Doherty spoke to him about helping Martin land a city job, Degnan said, “I doubt it.”

    “Did he get a job politically? Yes,” said Martin’s attorney, Joseph V. Roddy. “Did someone help him? Sure. But everyone is helped by someone. Once he got the job … he was a hard worker.”

    When he was fired, Martin was making $32.55 an hour operating an asphalt grinder for the city’s Transportation Department. In 2003, his last full year with the city, he was paid $85,676, including more than $17,278 in overtime.

    For overtime, hoisting engineers receive double their normal hourly pay, which is between $30 and $37.85 an hour. Most city workers are paid only 1 1/2 times their regular rate for overtime hours.

    Working on any one of nine holidays entitles hoisting engineers to 2 1/2 times their regular pay.

    Moreover, some hoisting engineers are guaranteed as much as 1 1/2 hours of overtime each day for “grease time”–preparing their machines at the start of the day and cleaning them at the end.

    Martin received a 10-day suspension in 2003 for leaving work early when he should have been cleaning his machine, according to city records.

    Thirty-one hoisting engineers made at least $10,000 in overtime during the first 3 1/2 months of this year, more than any other category of city workers.

    Martin Munoz, the brother of HDO’s co-founder, received more than $15,000 in overtime as a hoisting engineer for the city’s Water Management Department.

    Antonio Rosado, whose sister is married to Gustavo Reyes, a brother of HDO leader and former top Daley aide Victor Reyes, made $11,000 in overtime during that period as a Water Management hoisting engineer. Gustavo Reyes previously worked as a hoisting engineer for the city Transportation Department.

    At least 24 city hoisting engineers have ties to HDO. Like Prado, they are on a list of individuals who are sponsored by the group to register voters.

    In all, about 60 Chicago hoisting engineers register voters for political organizations in the city.

    Among high-ranking hoisters are Thomas Ferro of the 11th Ward Democrats and Marsha Alexander, who belongs to the New 17th Ward Democratic Organization, previously led by Chicago Housing Authority chief Terry Peterson.

    Ferro said he has been a Democratic volunteer in his Bridgeport neighborhood for 50 of his 62 years, but he said his political work was unrelated to his city job.

    Another foreman of hoisting engineers, Robert P. Degnan, is Timothy Degnan’s nephew.

    Martin Munoz, Rosado, Alexander and Robert Degnan declined comment. Gustavo Reyes could not be reached.
    Clout’s reward: Big payday

    By Dan Mihalopoulos, Laurie Cohen and Todd Lighty. Tribune staff reporter John McCormick contributed to this report
    Published July 17, 2005

    Local 150, with 20,000 members in three states, has historically favored Republicans. Union President William Dugan has been appointed to several state agency boards by Republican governors.

    But the union also has been generous to Democrats. Daley has received $100,000 in campaign contributions from the union since 1990.

    Now Local 150’s clout is being put to the test as the hoisting engineers and other building trade unions are close to ending two years of tense talks for a new contract with the city. Because of the city’s budget crunch, the Daley administration wants the unions to agree to reduced overtime and other concessions, said union negotiator James McNally.

    McNally said big overtime checks for city hoisting engineers in the first months of this year were due to their work helping clear snow and ice from streets. He said the city has slashed overtime for hoisting engineers and other workers in recent years.

    Mike Duffee, a labor negotiator for City Hall, said the city’s pay and overtime rules for hoisting engineers mirror what Local 150 members get from private companies. Although it is difficult to compare city jobs with those in the private sector, several Chicago-area construction firm executives said their agreements with the union call for less generous overtime pay than the city’s contract.

    City hoisting engineers also are guaranteed year-round employment, while union members who work for private companies are subject to layoffs when construction projects end.

    Dick Laner, a labor lawyer who represented the city in negotiations in the 1980s, said hoisting engineers historically could all but dictate their terms to the city because of their importance to construction work.

    “They could get whatever they wanted from the city because getting shut down would be a disaster,” Laner said.

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