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City job safe, despite felony convictions, after Quinn pardon

Juan Elias whose pardby Gov. PQuinn saved his city job. Elias is president 1st Ward First Ald. Joe Moreno's political

Juan Elias, whose pardon by Gov. Pat Quinn saved his city job. Elias is president of 1st Ward First, Ald. Joe Moreno's political organization.

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Updated: June 28, 2013 6:06AM

W hen Gov. Pat Quinn pardoned a politically connected city of Chicago health department official in late 2011, he didn’t just erase Juan Elias’ rap sheet, which included convictions for marijuana possession, burglary and vote fraud.

The pardon also kept Elias, who heads 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno’s political organization, safely in the $78,828-a-year city job that he got after failing to disclose on his job application that he had a criminal past.

Asked if he’d ever been convicted of “any crime,” Elias, 46, checked “no” on the 1990 job application, city records show.

That wasn’t true. Elias actually had two felony convictions at that time — one for a burglary, the other for an arrest with more than three pounds of marijuana, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last year.

Convicted felons are barred from some, though not all, city jobs. But applicants are required to disclose any criminal past.

Lying on a city job application about a criminal record — or failing to disclose one — is grounds for firing, according to city officials.

But Elias doesn’t need to worry.

“Mr. Elias has been a dedicated employee for 23 years . . . and his conviction record has been expunged through pardon by Gov. Quinn,” says Carolyn Mulaney, spokeswoman for the city’s human resources department. “Even if the city were inclined to take some sort of disciplinary action, it is improbable that it would be sustained upon challenge.”

Mulaney says the Emanuel administration didn’t know about Elias’ criminal background until reading about it in the Sun-Times last September.

Elias says his record came up years ago during the City Hall tenure of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. He says city officials confronted him about it at one point in the 1990s but let the matter drop because he’d been a good employee.

Elias works for the Chicago Department of Public Health as a regional communicable disease investigator, handling outreach to people with tuberculosis.

He also runs Moreno’s 1st Ward First political organization.

Elias’ first felony conviction came after his arrest for stealing tires and a radio from a car in 1984. He later was convicted in the marijuana case. And he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after being charged with felony vote fraud for mailing in a neighbor’s absentee ballot during a failed run for 26th Ward Democratic committeeman.

Elias says he knew that disclosing his record when he applied probably would hurt his chances of landing a city job.

But he says he’s a different person now, set to graduate later this year from Northeastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

When he applied for clemency, with the backing of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), then-1st Ward Ald. Manny Flores, who is now a Quinn administration official, and then-state Rep. and current City Clerk Susana Mendoza, Elias said he’d made himself “an extremely active and positive force in my community, my city and my country.”

Patrick Rehkamp and Robert Herguth work for the Better Government Association.

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