Unlicensed plumber’s sewer deal with Cicero has a funny smell
BY STEVE WARMBIR Staff Reporteremail@example.com November 7, 2011 12:12AM
Elvira and George Hunter, subjects of Cicero story for Monday.
Updated: October 7, 2013 10:31PM
An unlicensed plumber got more than $1.8 million in work from the Town of Cicero without ever submitting a bid or signing a contract. And while he was receiving that windfall, the plumber bought Cicero Town President Larry Dominick’s modest home for about $100,000 more than Dominick paid for it, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Plumber George Hunter — a convicted deadbeat dad — and Dominick have been good friends for well over a decade, with Hunter attending Dominick’s wedding in December 2006.
A Sun-Times investigation of that relationship — which included a review of thousands of pages of public records and previously secret court depositions — shows it has been a profitable friendship.
Hunter has hired at least six members of Dominick’s family to work for his sewer business, including during the period when the firm, most recently known as Superior Sewer Solution, was doing work for Cicero.
Those family members were two of Dominick’s sons, two nephews, one brother and a stepson.
Dominick helped out Hunter when he appointed Hunter’s wife, Elvira, to the Town of Cicero health board in 2007.
Elvira Hunter, who studied to be a travel agent, gets $10,480 a year to attend board meetings and receives free health insurance.
Larry Dominick, through Cicero Town Spokesman Ray Hanania, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Hanania defended the town’s use of Superior under the Dominick administration from 2005 to 2009, and said Dominick had no role in getting Hunter the work.
When asked why the town didn’t bid out the work, Hanania said: “The work was done as needed so there was no way to anticipate the expenditures.”
When asked why the town didn’t sign a contract with Superior, Hanania said: “The work was done as needed and gradually increased as the level of needed work . . . increased.”
Hanania said Dominick received a legal opinion at the time from outside counsel that his house sale to Hunter was “legal and appropriate.” Hanania did not respond to a request to produce a copy of the opinion.
Dominick’s relationship with Hunter may go deeper than buying a home.
Two of Dominick’s brothers, a former close friend of Dominick’s and an ex-employee of Hunter’s all testified in court depositions that Dominick and Hunter were partners in a sewer business in the 1990s — well before Superior got its lucrative town work. The two were friends when Dominick was a town cop, well before Dominick was elected town president in 2005.
The depositions arise from a lawsuit that Richard Dominick, Larry’s brother, filed against the town in 2009 after he lost his appointed position on a town board. Larry Dominick is estranged from Richard Dominick, and another brother, George Dominick.
Larry Dominick has denied ever having any financial interest in Hunter’s sewer business.
In a brief interview Sunday, Hunter, too, denied he and Dominick were ever partners.
But when asked if Dominick ever loaned him money for his sewer business in the 1990s, Hunter declined to answer, saying, “You’re getting too personal now.”
Hunter’s ex-wife, in an interview last week, recalled clearly Dominick’s role in the business in the mid-1990s, when she was still married to George Hunter.
“Larry was the boss,” Nancy Hunter said. Larry Dominick “was cashing all the checks, and he bought all the equipment.”
When Nancy Hunter would try to reach her husband by phone, she would call the Cicero home where Dominick lived with his mother at the time, she said. The sewer business often operated from the home, according to deposition testimony.
After they were divorced in the mid-1990s, Nancy Hunter recalled that George Hunter used his friend Dominick as an excuse not to pay child support.
“He said he couldn’t give me any money because he owed money to Larry,” she said.
George Hunter still owes Nancy Hunter more than $50,000 in child support. He pleaded guilty earlier this year in Michigan to not paying child support for years and awaits sentencing.
Jose Del Angel, who was once so close to Larry Dominick that Dominick is his child’s godfather, testified in his deposition that he saw Hunter hand Dominick cash numerous times in the 1990s.
“It was common knowledge that Larry Dominick and George Hunter were business partners,” Del Angel said in an interview last week, before declining to comment further. He and Dominick are no longer friends.
Dale Stone, who worked for Hunter’s sewer business in the 1990s, said it was clear to him that Hunter and Dominick were partners back then.
“Oh, everybody knew about it,” Stone said in his deposition.
Stone recalled often meeting at the Cicero house where Dominick lived and getting paid and storing equipment there.
While Hunter has denied being partners with Dominick, in other portions of his deposition, Hunter gave testimony that contradicts facts or his own prior statements.
Hunter, for instance, initially denied having any children with his ex-wife, Nancy Hunter — the woman he owes child support to — or that he employed Dominick’s family members, before correcting his testimony.
George Hunter also said in his deposition that he was sole proprietor of his businesses, but claimed on village documents he had a partner in Superior Sewer.
As much as Hunter attempted to distance himself from Dominick, Hunter’s current wife, Elvira Hunter, was even less illuminating in her deposition.
She refused to answer whether she and her husband were friends with Dominick.
She refused to answer whether Dominick appointed her to the town’s health board.
She refused to say what her husband did for a living.
She even refused to say whether her husband bought their Stickney home from Dominick.
“Now, the house in Stickney, did you purchase that from Larry Dominick,” an attorney asked her in her deposition.
“What does that have to do with the case, sir? I’m not going to answer that because it has nothing to do with the case,” she said.
George Hunter acknowledged the home purchase in his deposition, but would not say how much he paid for it, or offer an estimate.
In December 2007, Hunter paid about $230,000 for Dominick’s modest wood-paneled home in west suburban Stickney, records show. Dominick had bought the home for about $131,000 in 1999.
While home prices did appreciate significantly in Dominick’s neighborhood, Hunter appears to have gotten less than a good deal when he bought the house.
While Hunter paid $230,000 in 2007, a similar-sized, nicer, brick home less than a block away sold for $218,000 the year before. The Cook County assessor’s office says the brick home is now worth about $40,000 more than Hunter’s home. So Hunter appears to have paid significantly more money for a home that is worth less than another home just around the block.
When Hunter bought the house, it was his first such purchase. He obtained a mortgage with the help of Dominick’s sister, who is a real estate agent, as well as a Town of Cicero employee. Hunter obtained the mortgage even though he has not filed federal income taxes for several years, according to his deposition testimony.
Hunter’s home is now in foreclosure. It’s just one of his many financial problems, despite the $1.8 million he received from Cicero.
Hunter has had more than $300,000 in liens filed against him in 2008 and 2009 for unpaid federal taxes — in addition to the child support he still owes.
Out of the $1.8 million Superior Sewer received, more than $1 million was billed for what Hunter called repairing water meter rings. Those are the concrete pads that support metal caps, which look like little manhole covers. The caps cover water meters located in vaults below some Cicero homeowners’ front yards.
Hunter billed for more than 5,700 such repairs. Despite that activity, when asked about the work he did for Cicero in his deposition, Hunter never mentioned that work, instead talking about sewer rodding and gutter cleaning. Neither did Dominick.
The town undertook the water meter ring repairs after paying out $650,000 in a lawsuit filed by an individual hurt by an improperly installed ring, Hanania said.
“Many rings are repeatedly repaired, frequently damaged, and need to be repaired or replaced often,” Hanania said.
The town sent more than a dozen checks to Hunter for more than $50,000 apiece. That appears to run contrary to the town’s ordinance that requires work worth more than $50,000 to be bid out.
Hanania said each check was for many jobs that Superior did.
“Rather than issue multiple checks, they were aggregated in payments for town convenience,” Hanania said.
In his deposition, Hunter said he got the $1.8 million in work by simply walking into the town water department in about 2006, without an appointment, and telling the department head he would do the work for less than the town was paying. He said he never talked to Dominick about the job. The department head he spoke with has since died.
Hunter at first started doing work for the town without a license but received one later from Cicero, despite not signing an application.
In 2009, Cicero stopped using Hunter’s company, as part of a transition, which started in 2006, to do the work in-house, Hanania said. Last year, though, the town hired another outside company, Terry’s Sewer Service, to do sewer rodding on an emergency basis. Cicero, a flood-prone town, offers sewer rodding free to residents. This time, Cicero signed a contract with the company.
Hunter’s name appears nowhere on official company documents. But he is associated with it. In an interview with the Sun-Times, one homeowner identified Hunter’s picture as a worker with Terry’s Sewer Service. The homeowner, who asked to remain anonymous, used the company last year.
On the invoices that Terry’s Sewer Service submitted to the town, two phone numbers are at the top.
The first phone number may look familiar to town officials.
It’s George Hunter’s phone number, one he’s used for years.