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The Watchdogs: City Hall hired 139 ex-cons in two years

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

One of them smuggled cocaine from Jamaica about a decade ago. Another was a carjacker. A third was convicted in the shooting of two Chicago cops in the 1970s, hitting one of them in the face.

They are among 139 people who got hired by the City of Chicago over the past two years despite having been convicted of crimes. That’s according to a list of all of the city’s hires of ex-cons in 2009 and 2010 obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Mayor Daley has said ex-offenders deserve a second chance and has made that his policy at City Hall.

Those hired under that policy include one person convicted of a crime who’d been on the “clout list” that was made public during the trial of Daley’s former patronage chief, Robert Sorich. Sorich went to prison after being convicted in federal court in 2006 of overseeing an illegal hiring scheme that gave city jobs and promotions to people with clout.

“Of course I needed clout to get on,” acknowledged the ex-con, speaking only on the condition of anonymity.

He was first hired by the city in the 1990s and has been rehired every year since as a “seasonal” worker. He now drives a truck for the city Department of Aviation.

His political sponsor, according to the Sorich clout list, was former Ald. Isaac “Ike” Carothers (29th), now a convict himself, serving a 28-month term in federal prison after being convicted last year of corruption in a zoning case.

There’s no set formula for deciding whether to recommend an ex-offender be hired, according to the city policy. Job applicants aren’t asked whether they have a criminal record when they apply. Instead, they’re asked for that information and to submit their fingerprints for a background check only after they’ve been given a conditional job offer.

It’s up to the city’s Human Resources Department to then recommend whether an ex-offender should be hired, city officials say, taking into account factors including the nature of the crime, the number of offenses, the length of time since the last conviction and any evidence of rehabilitation. In 2009, for instance, the agency recommended against hiring 18 prospective employees with criminal records, according to the city.

The final decision, though, rests with the head of the department where the employee would work.

Officials balked at first when asked to provide the list of ex-cons hired by the city. They released that information only after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan determined that the records were a matter of public record and had to be released.

Tamardeize Dukes is among the ex-offenders on the list. She was hired despite a federal drug conviction. Dukes was sentenced to probation in 2003 for smuggling cocaine from Jamaica to Chicago in return for $2,500 from a trafficker.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), the head of the City Council’s Budget and Government Operations Committee, hired Dukes as a legislative aide in early 2009 because, she says: “I think everyone should have a second chance. I have hired quite a few of them [ex-offenders]. Some of them, I am quite proud of. I have had thugs who have become pillars of society, young people who went on to become college-educated. But it does not work with everybody.”

It didn’t with Dukes. She lasted in the job just two months before Austin decided she wasn’t qualified after all, and asked her to leave.

Austin says she didn’t know at the time she hired Dukes that, beside being an ex-con, she also was facing additional criminal charges. As a result of those, Dukes, now 34, was found guilty in January and again sentenced to probation, this time for being an accessory to a 2008 theft in which two other women stole cash, credit cards and a badge from the purse of a woman who turned out to be a deputy U.S. marshal who was shopping at a Target store at Golf Mill Shopping Center in Niles.

“I would have been skeptical of hiring her if I knew that, I think,” Austin says, adding that she also doesn’t want anyone who has a record for theft or financial crime working in her budget office.

Dukes is a former DuSable High School homecoming queen and athlete. She was making $2,600 a month from her job with Austin. She says she hopes she can get another chance to work for the city.

“I am just trying to get a job to provide for my kids,” she says. “I would take a pay cut to start over.”

Hiring ex-cons doesn’t sit well with Keith Bialoruski, who was among those laid off as City Hall cut back during the recession. He got laid off from his job as a city inspector, checking homes for unsafe levels of lead, at the end of 2009.

“I find it amazing they have money to hire these convicted felons,” says Bialoruski, “but they can lay off a perfectly honest building inspector like me.”

The ex-con who was convicted in the 1970s shooting of two police officers says he can see how some people might not like it that the city puts felons on the payroll.

“A lot of people feel they went to college, don’t have a record and are more entitled to a job,” says the man, who was convicted of attempted murder. “But I paid my debt to society. I am giving back to society, and I value my job with the city. My supervisors tell me I am an excellent employee. The city has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to educate me to do my job. I am truly grateful.”

He was 17 when an officer tried to question him and an older man after they were seen hanging around a gas station on the West Side in 1973. The officer got shot in the thigh in the ensuing confrontation, and a second officer was shot in the jaw. Both survived.

Court records and news accounts don’t say which of the suspects fired the shots.

After getting out of prison, the ex-offender went to work for the city as a taxicab inspector.

Then, he was convicted of aggravated battery in another case and sentenced to two more years behind bars in 1988.

“Prison actually made me a better person,” says the man, who’s now in his 50s. “I learned how to read. I got organized. I am a true case of being rehabilitated.”

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