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Violent felon back on the job at the University of Illinois at Chicago

UIC garage foreman Thomas J. Morano  |  Sun-Times file photo

UIC garage foreman Thomas J. Morano | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: November 25, 2013 1:21PM

A questionable decision seven years ago by a politically connected University of Illinois at Chicago administrator has led to the reinstatement of a violent felon to a $73,985-a-year on-campus job.

Besides having to put Thomas J. Morano back on the payroll, the state university is on the hook for legal fees and back pay amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Fired six years ago, Morano, 59, went back to work June 3 as an auto mechanic foreman at a UIC garage.

He got his job back despite having been convicted of attempted murder for shooting a man in the chest, leaving him paralyzed. Records show he also lied about his criminal record on university job applications and claimed to be off work sick when he actually was locked up on felony gun charges for which he was later convicted.

Morano’s reinstatement followed an Illinois Appellate Court ruling last year that the university had to take him back because a UIC facilities executive made a “last-chance” deal with him in 2006 to let him keep his job, even after Morano’s second felony conviction.

If UIC’s Mark Donovan, who has since been promoted to a $236,134-a-year post as vice chancellor of administrative services, hadn’t made that deal, Morano’s 2007 firing in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times report about his past “may very well” have been upheld, the justices wrote.

UIC has spent $123,751 on its losing court battle to boot Morano, who is represented by his union, Teamsters Local 726. He is also due back pay — an additional 7 percent above what he would have made had he been working — of at least $395,000. The exact amount is still being calculated.

The appeals court noted it was “not reviewing the wisdom of Donovan’s decision to enter into a last-chance agreement with Morano on the university’s behalf after finding out Morano had pleaded guilty to unlawful weapons possession charges and used sick leave for a day he was in jail.”

It also wrote that, “prior to the Chicago Sun-Times investigation, Morano’s supervisors determined it was not necessary to terminate Morano. . . . Donovan was fully aware of all of Morano’s criminal conduct . . . Yet Donovan still believed the ‘last-chance agreement’ was the best course of action.”

Donovan wouldn’t comment. He plans to retire in January.

Morano’s only comment: “Justice has been served.”

Donovan, 59, is a son of John L. Donovan, Chicago’s streets and sanitation commissioner under Mayor Jane Byrne. John Donovan later made a failed bid for 45th Ward alderman before helping run Ald. William J.P. Banks’ 36th Ward Democratic Organization.

The younger Donovan, who has contributed about $4,000 to political candidates over the past three years, made headlines when Byrne hired him to run O’Hare Airport at age 27 even though he had no aviation background. Mayor Harold Washington fired him in 1983. He went to work at UIC the following year.

According to UIC and court records, Donovan and other UIC officials he’d consulted with about Morano knew the following:

◆ A black co-worker had accused Morano and another UIC employee of threatening him and using racial slurs in 1997, a year after Morano was first hired. The UIC police then ran a background check on Morano and discovered he hadn’t disclosed a 1977 conviction for attempted murder on his job application, which “specifically asked if he’d ever been convicted of a crime.” Morano also claimed to have worked for a gas station from 1977 to June 1982 “when, in fact, he was in prison.” Morano resigned in February 1997 rather than be fired.

◆ In 1998, he again applied for a job at UIC, admitting he had a criminal conviction. Asked to “describe the crime in full,” Morano said only that he’d been in “a traffic accident which turned into a fight [and] the other driver was hurt” — not that he’d shot the man, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down after their cars collided on the Stevenson Expressway. He didn’t get hired.

◆ In 1999, Morano “updated” his UIC application. This time, he said of his criminal conviction: “I was involved in a traffic altercation in which the other driver was injured.” UIC then rehired him and in December 2005 promoted him to garage foreman, “a security-sensitive position.”

◆ A month later, police seized 14 guns — two of them loaded — from Morano’s house. Morano told UIC he was out sick when he was “actually in police custody.” On June 28, 2006, he pleaded guilty to two felony weapons possession charges and got probation.

On Nov. 1, 2006, Donovan wrote Morano about “disciplinary action.” They met the next day and signed the deal giving Morano one last chance.

Then-UIC Chancellor Sylvia Manning, who didn’t know about the deal, later testified it was “an error in judgment on the part of Donovan because Morano posed a risk to the campus.” Morano was fired on June 1, 2007.

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