Racist emails scandal moves beyond Chicago as Illinois opens investigation into state employee’s role

State officials are investigating a longtime employee whose personal email address is a source of racist, sexist and anti-gay emails at the center of the Chicago water department’s burgeoning scandal, including a fake “Chicago Safari” tour making light of the shootings of children in black and Hispanic neighborhoods

The state began a review into Frank Capuzi — an investigator with the Workers’ Compensation Commission and son of a former Republican state lawmaker — following Tribune inquiries into offensive emails forwarded from his address to a water department boss and others.

The state’s actions mark the first time the email scandal has created fresh headaches for another government body.

“The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission is currently investigating the highly offensive and inexcusable email messages from one of its employees,” said commission spokesman Ben Noble. “After a complete and thorough administrative review, the commission will determine what actions may be appropriate.”

Capuzi hung up on a reporter and did not respond to follow-up emails sent to his work and personal addresses. He has worked for the state since 1975 and makes more than $114,000 per year.

Capuzi, 62, was a longtime GOP committeeman on the West Side, having won the 26th Ward post as recently as 2008 and the 27th Ward at least as far back as the early 1980s, according to records from the Chicago Board of Elections.

The “Chicago Safari” email was among at least four of the most offensive ones that circulated among water department bosses that came from Capuzi’s personal address.

The city redacted the address in the messages released via open records requests. The Tribune through interviews and sources, confirmed it was Capuzi’s personal AOL address. It is the same email address Capuzi listed in the past as a contact for his political work.

Even though Capuzi didn’t use his government email address, Chad Fornoff, executive director of the state Executive Ethics Commission, said that this type of matter should be referred to the executive inspector general for investigation into whether any violations of state law, rules or policies have occurred, including conduct unbecoming a state employee.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration’s code of personal conduct states, in part, that employees should conduct themselves “with integrity and in a manner that reflects favorably upon the state.” That code, a union bargaining agreement and the state ethics law are all part of the review, the commission said.

The Rauner administration confirmed that the Workers’ Compensation Commission had launched an investigation. The commission is a quasi-independent body with members appointed by the governor and currently has six Republicans and four Democrats. “The administration was not previously aware of these emails, and the language used is inappropriate and unacceptable,” said Rauner’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick.

The revelation of how the offensive messages found their way into the water department comes amid the city inspector general’s ongoing investigation into the sharing of racist, sexist and anti-gay emails among city water workers and their bosses.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s findings have led to five high-level water department bosses being ousted, including Commissioner Barrett Murphy; his deputy, William Bresnahan; and Paul Hansen, a district superintendent and the son of former Democratic Ald. Bernie Hansen (44th). The Tribune reported earlier this week that a private contract employee was caught up in the scandal and has been blocked from working on city projects.

The Tribune, under a public records request, had obtained nearly 1,300 emails from the water department, including several emails forwarded from Capuzi to Hansen.

The Tribune found that at least four offensive emails shared with Hansen and others came from Capuzi’s address. The email threads include the names as “Frank Capuzi,” “Frank” and “F. Capuzi.”

A July 2013 email with the subject line “Chicago Safari Tickets” states that if “you didn’t book a Chicago safari adventure,” for the Independence Day weekend, “you missed” the shootings of a 5-year-old boy and two others in West Pullman; the shooting of a 7-year-old boy in Chatham; and the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy in Humboldt Park.

“We guarantee that you will see at least one kill and five crime scenes per three day tour. You’ll also see lots and lots of animals in their natural habitat. Call and book your Chicago Safari today,” the email reads. An image shows four white people in safari gear taking pictures of several black people trying to break into a car.

The emails states that safari guests will stay in a hotel with triple deadbolt locks and window bars, but the safari guides cannot “guarantee Bell Hops won’t run off with your luggage.” The safari promises the rooms will be “99% free of drug needles and crack pipes.”

The Tribune on Friday obtained the Chicago safari email, uncovered as part of the inspector general’s investigation, through a public records request.

Another titled “Watermelon Protection” was sent to Hansen in July 2014 and included an image that depicted a scarecrow, dressed in a white KKK robe and pointed hood, amid a watermelon patch.

Hansen, in turn, forwarded the email to Murphy. “I don’t understand,” Hansen wrote in the email to Murphy.

There is a March 2014 email received by “F Capuzi” then forwarded by “Frank” to Hansen with the subject line “The World’s Shortest Essay — Gotta Love the Texas School Systems.”

The email contained a joke that spares few in its offensiveness. It refers to an essay contest held for Texas teens that had to include elements of religion, royalty, racism, disability and homosexuality. The “winning” essay read: “My God,” cried the Queen, “That one-legged nigger is a queer.”

In turn, Hansen forwarded the email to Bresnahan and two other water department bosses.

Paul Hansen was a supervisor in the water department who allegedly used his city email to negotiate firearms deals. (July 18, 2017)
An April 2017 email forwarded from Capuzi’s address announces that “Today is Heterosexual Male Pride Day!” It makes that declaration after showing a series of photographs of steaks grilling, a row of beer taps and a naked woman.

The body of the email states: “To all of my friends who are tired of taking a BACK SEAT to gays, lesbians, homosexuals, trans genders, women soldiers, bra burners, female boy scouts, women libbers, tree huggers, and eco-commie-environ-freaks, the looney left, Greens, social justice warriors and worse of all — those fucking Democrats!”

Hansen could not be reached for comment. Capuzi’s boss, Robert Ruiz, said he did not know about the emails and declined to comment further.

Paul Finamore, a Chicago area businessman and longtime friend of Capuzi, was listed as receiving some of the emails and said he was appalled at the content when shown the watermelon protection and the shortest essay emails.

“Oh, my God,” Finamore said after he reviewed the emails at the Tribune’s request. “I don’t remember seeing anything of this, to tell you the truth.”

Finamore, the chief executive officer of Hairline Creations Inc., said Capuzi was a groomsman for his 1989 wedding party and that the two had hunted together.

“This man is a racist,” Finamore said. “You’ve got to know this guy. He’s a good, good guy.”

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Seeking Chicago Employees Who Have Workers’ Compensation Horror Stories

Mayor Emanuel’s Workers’ Comp Unjustly Denying Disability Pay and Benefits

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “We are aggressively pursuing $15 million in savings from workers’ comp.” Emanuel added, “I know that it (workers’ compensation) needs reforms.” Emanuel did not tell the public how his administration is saving $15 million a year in workers’ compensation, nor has he provided details of his workers’ compensation reforms. Since Emanuel won’t tell you about his dirty secrets and dirty dealings, I will. Emanuel is saving tax dollars by taking money away from a significant number of city workers who are deserving of their disability pay and benefits. Emanuel’s saving plan is to deny as many city employees of their disability pay and benefits as possible, regardless of whether cutting off city employees’ disability pay and benefits is justified or not. Emanuel’s workers’ compensation department is now operating like greedy health insurance companies. The goal is to deny both legitimate and illegitimate claims for the sake of reducing expenses and increasing the bottom line.Rushing mending city workers into lower paying jobs is another way Emanuel’s administration is meeting its goal of saving $15 million a year. The city is involuntarily forcing injured or ill city workers into job retraining without giving city workers enough time to fully recuperate and return to their old jobs. The city doesn’t consult or inform employees of their vocational retraining; instead the city sends injured employees to a contractor who performs job retraining on behalf of the city. Job retraining for injured workers sounds great, but when the city does it without first consulting employees or providing them with informed consent, it smacks of manipulation and deceit.

The most damning evidence of Emanuel unjustly denying disability pay and benefits are his own words. Emanuel said, “We are aggressively pursuing $15 million in savings from workers’ comp.” Emanuel made a priori decision that his administration was going on the offensive to cut $15 million without first determining where or how he could save money. Once Emanuel made the decision to cut $15 million, his hatchet men and women started to deny some city employees’ of their legitimate disability claims.

Emanuel has a reputation for being an obnoxious and aggressive politician, but usually he doesn’t come out and directly say he is planning an attack like he did with city employees’ receiving workers’ compensation. Emanuel purposely prefaced his actions with the word “aggressively” in his statement, “We are aggressively pursuing $15 million in savings from workers’ comp.” The word aggressively means, “Likely to attack or confront. or pursuing one’s aim’s forcefully.” Emanuel used his authority as mayor to forcefully save $15 million from workers’ comp regardless if it was justified or legal.

The way Emanuel proposed and spent Chicago’s yearly budget also led to the unjust denial of workers’ comp claims. Emanuel creates his budget the year before the city actually spends the money. For example, Emanuel submitted his 2016 budget to the Chicago City Council in 2015. When Emanuel decided to cut $15 million from workers comp, Chicago’s Workers Compensation Division was then forced to deny $15 million in claims so as not to exceed its allotment of money in Emanuel’s budget. Legitimate workers’ comp claims were in jeopardy the moment Emanuel reduced the Workers’ Compensation Division’s budget.

Past and Present Workers’ Compensation Investigations

Federal agents have investigated Chicago workers’ compensation two times before. The last time a federal grand jury subpoenaed six years of workers’ compensation records was in 2012. The previous federal investigation occurred in 2006 when the feds were looking for a connection between the Chicago “clout list” and workers’ compensation claims. FBI agents originally discovered the clout list on the City Hall computer of Robert Sorich, who was an aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley. About 60 city employees either plead guilty or were convicted in Chicago’s hiring and job rigging scheme. Almost one in five names on the clout list received workers’ compensation benefits.

Emanuel himself was implicated in Chicago’s hiring and election rigging scheme at two federal court trials. Federal Court witness Donald Tomczak testified that his patronage army consisting of 225 city employees campaigned to elect Emanuel to the U.S. Congress. Another federal court witness said Emanuel went out for beers with the illicit patronage workers after they campaigned for him. Emanuel’s assertion that he wants to clean up workers’ compensation is ridiculous given his previous involvement in its corruption.

Alderman and City Council Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke is the sole person in charge of processing and settling workers’ compensation claims. Burke is the man who greases and fuels the Chicago machine. At age 24 Burke took over as ward committeeman when his father died in 1968. The following year he became an alderman. Burke has held his two positions as committeeman and alderman for nearly 50 years. Burke has close to $15 million dollars in campaign funds for two jobs that pay a combined $110,000.00 a year. Many of Burke’s campaign contributions are from city contractors, city employees, lobbyists, or other people who have business with the city. Burke used his political connections and organization to get his brother Daniel elected and reelected as a state rep since 1991. Burke’s wife Anne went from law school to an Illinois Supreme Court Justice in 13 years on the strength of husband’s political muscle.

Having Alderman Burke in charge of workers’ compensation and guarding taxpayers money is like having the fox guard the hen house. In 2006 Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff blamed Burke for city patronage employees exploiting workers’ compensation. There is a major problem of having Mr. Chicago politics running workers’ compensation. Burke in a position to reward the machine’s precinct workers with workers’ compensation when necessary and punish those who dare to challenge the Chicago machine. If another alderman and Burke ally such as Alderman Patrick O’Conner goes to Burke and says keep my precinct caption on workers’ compensation, you can count on Burke keeping O’Conner’s precinct captain on workers’ compensation for as long as O’Conner wants. When it comes election time, O’Conner will return the favor by supplying campaign contributions and precinct workers to help Burke’s wife and brother get reelected to the Illinois Supreme Court and Illinois House of Representatives.

In 20012 Alderman Burke denied Chicago’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson access and oversight of workers’ compensation claims. The Inspector General’s authority to investigate workers’ compensation hovered over today’s city council meeting (Feb..10, 2016) like a plague. The city council voted 25 to 23 to reduce the power and scope of the inspector general. Burke and the rest of his old guard used their influence to protect themselves and workers’ compensation from the prying eyes of the IG. Burke is truly untouchable but for all the wrong reasons.

I have been a thorn in the machine’s side. My website is one example of how I stick it to the machine when I should. I’m also CAN cable TV show producer. I have hosted many cable shows which have exposed Chicago corruption. The machine is using my unfortunate injuries to get me fired from my city job as a plumber. Had I been one of the machine’s good fellas, my workers’ compensation would continue without question. I also have a wife and five children to support.

Help Yourself, Help Me

It’s virtually impossible for one of us to take on the machine’s corrupt policies and practices. If we join together and tell our stories, we may have a chance to right the wrongs that have been done to us. If you are a City of Chicago employee who has been unjustly denied workers’ compensation or benefits, please contact me at [email protected] . I will keep your information strictly confidential unless I have your permission to share your information with attorneys, investigators, or other recognized agencies or authorities.

Links:

http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/793847/rahm-determined-to-save-15-million-from-workers-comp-under-fed-scrutiny

http://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/7/71/1316321/council-poised-approve-watered-inspector-general-ordinance