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May 2007 story: Ex-convict finally ousted at UIC

This story was originally published on May 9, 2007

With campus security in the spotlight after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the chancellor of the University of Illinois at Chicago last month reminded students and staff that “we all need to look out for each other.”

But since 1999, some UIC bosses have been looking the other way while employing a man who was convicted of attempted murder and is now on probation because police found more than a dozen guns — two of them loaded — in his basement.

Thomas J. Morano , 52, lied about his 1977 conviction for shooting a man in the chest and leaving him partially paralyzed when UIC hired him to work in the campus garage on March 4, 1996. Almost a year later, campus officials learned that he had served almost nine years in prison for the crime.

But Morano wasn’t fired. He was allowed to resign — and then was rehired at UIC on July 12, 1999. UIC promoted him to garage foreman, earning $62,000 a year, on Dec. 18, 2005. Less than a month later, Chicago Police went to Morano’s house on a tip and hauled him in on felony weapons possession charges.

He remained on the job even after UIC learned of the gun conviction. Until last week.

Prompted by inquiries from the Chicago Sun-Times, UIC Chancellor Sylvia Manning ordered Morano off campus as of 5 p.m. Friday and placed him on paid leave. The university now intends to fire him after concluding that rehiring Morano was “a mistake” that “should not have happened,” UIC Associate Chancellor Mark Rosati said.

But UIC officials have no plans to investigate or hold accountable any administrators who allowed him to return. Rosati declined to identify who else was responsible for Morano’s return to the campus in 1999.

“I prefer not to disclose them; I’m not sure it would be constructive,” Rosati said. “I don’t know all of the people involved, but the names that I have heard are people who are dedicated 100 percent . . . to the safety and well-being of our community and our students — and who make hundreds of decisions a week.”

Rosati did not explain how the university found out that Morano had lied on his original job application or how Morano avoided being fired in 1997. Rosati emphasized that Morano was never accused of doing anything wrong around students or staff.

Still, the head of a prominent Chicago crimefighting group says UIC administrators need to be held accountable for allowing Morano to work on campus. “People who manage taxpayers’ dollars have to be held to even higher standards and have to exhibit concern for the safety of the people on their property,” said Jim Wagner, president of the Chicago Crime Commission. “And having an individual with this background employed in any capacity in an environment like that should be totally unacceptable.”

Morano refused repeated interview requests. Konstantinos K. Markakos — an attorney who represented Morano last year in the gun case, for which Morano got 15 months’ probation — said his client isn’t talking for fear of jeopardizing his probation and hurting his battle to save his UIC job.

Markakos said Morano wasn’t told exactly why he was being placed on leave. He said Morano is being unfairly targeted because of the gun crime last year.

“The truth is, I don’t think they have the right to fire him,” said Markakos, who isn’t representing Morano in his UIC case.

UIC gave Morano a “last warning” memo in November after getting “a tip” about the gun case, Rosati said.

Since then, Morano has kept his nose clean, Markakos said. “If they were aware that he got probation and gave him this last chance, how can they pull it away from him?”

Rosati insisted that Manning, the UIC chancellor, was unaware of Morano’s criminal past until the Sun-Times contacted UIC on April 18. That prompted her to seek more information about him and initiate discharge proceedings.

Besides his job at UIC, Morano is president of Christiano Motors, a used car dealership at 3272 S. Archer.

His criminal past began in a road-rage incident on the Stevenson Expy. on Feb. 22, 1975. Morano shot Albert Suma in the chest when Suma confronted him about damage to his car after Morano, driving a black Cadillac, prevented him from leaving the expressway, according to court records. The shooting left Suma paralyzed from the chest down. After being released in 1986, Morano was sentenced to probation in 1988 for improperly registering a truck. In 1992, he was accused of possessing a stolen van, but the charges were dropped.

On Jan. 5, 2006, acting on a tip from an informant who had been in Morano’s home near Chinatown, police seized 14 guns from two safes in his basement, including two loaded handguns. Morano gave a statement to police that the guns were his.

As that case was unfolding, Morano was arrested on May 15 and accused of shooting a gun at a man outside his auto dealership. A misdemeanor aggravated assault charge was dropped a week later. On June 28, Morano was sentenced to 15 months’ probation after pleading guilty in the gun case. Cook County prosecutors sought prison time, but Markakos argued that Judge Fred Suria should be lenient.

Some of the guns, Markakos argued, were registered to his wife. An alleged Uzi machine-gun turned out to be a fake.

Just because he had access to his wife’s gun collection doesn’t mean he was violating the law, Markakos said. “You’re making an assumption where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Contributing: Steve Warmbir

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