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The Watchdogs: Convicted but still on the city payroll

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Chicago, the city that works, is also the city that keeps on paying city employees long after they’re convicted of corruption.

Nine former city employees were paid a total of $383,205 after they pleaded guilty or were found guilty in corruption cases, records show.

Seven of them were convicted in Operation Crooked Code, an investigation by federal authorities and the city inspector general’s office, for taking bribes from developers and construction contractors.

Two others — Patrick Slattery and John Resa — were convicted in an investigation of illegal City Hall hiring.

Among the employees convicted in Crooked Code: city zoning inspector Michael L. Reese. A jury found Reese, 39, guilty of criminal charges in a bribery scheme on Sept. 15, 2009.

Reese remained on the city payroll, though he wasn’t allowed to go back to work as a zoning inspector.

Instead, he was assigned “clerical duties” for 11 months while awaiting the start of his 51-month prison sentence.

He collected a total of $85,215 in city paychecks — including a cost-of-living raise — between Sept. 16, 2009, the day after his felony conviction, and Aug. 16, 2010, the day before he was supposed to report to prison, records show.

Some city workers caught up in corruption probes didn’t get to keep drawing a paycheck. Angelo Torres, for one — the former head of the city’s now-defunct Hired Truck Program who went to prison for taking bribes. Another: Robert Sorich, Mayor Daley’s former patronage chief, who was convicted in the City Hall hiring case. Torres and Sorich were booted off the city payroll — both long before being convicted.

That’s because Torres and Sorich were political appointees, who serve at the will of the mayor, says Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city’s law department. That’s different from “career-service employees” like Reese.

“Career-service employees must be served with specific charges identifying the basis for the termination before they are taken off the payroll,” Hoyle says.

Being charged with a crime isn’t necessarily enough, she says. Nor, even, is being convicted of a crime, under city ordinances. Only when a career-service employee gets sentenced does the city have a clear path to fire them, according to Hoyle.

The city has tried to fire career-service employees before they are convicted, Hoyle says. But those employees often fight to keep their jobs, appealing to the city’s Human Resources Board.

And the board — made up of three mayoral appointees: the Rev. Lucius Hall, attorney Enrico Mirabelli and former labor boss Don A. Turner — often orders the city to take back those employees until after they have been sentenced for their crimes.

“We monitor the criminal cases and move as quickly as possible following the sentencing to resolve the cases before the HR Board,” says Hoyle.

City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson says the situation amounts to “an unacceptable squandering of taxpayer money.”

Ferguson sayscity employees should be fired as soon as they’re convicted of crimes, rather than after they’re sentenced.

In a letter to Ferguson in November, Mara Georges, the city’s corporation counsel, concurred: “We in the law department agree with you on this point. Unfortunately, the HR Board does not.”

It would be up to the mayor and the City Council to change the law.

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