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Long wait for rigged-hiring city suspension

Annual Bike-The-Drive along lakeshore Drive.  cyclists are seen through bike wheel along Lake Shore Drive. Sunday 25 2012.

Annual Bike-The-Drive along lakeshore Drive. cyclists are seen through a bike wheel along Lake Shore Drive. Sunday, 25, 2012. | Scott Stewart~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: July 3, 2012 10:35AM

A high-ranking city official is finally facing the music six years after testifying under oath that he helped rig city hiring and promotions to benefit the Hispanic Democratic Organization and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.

Hugh Donlan, the $77,280-a-year personnel chief for the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Electricity, has been slapped with a 90-day suspension and started serving his time earlier this month.

Transportation Department spokesman Peter Scales said the disciplinary process was actually initiated in 2008 when aides to then-Mayor Richard M. Daley informed Donlan of the city’s intention to suspend him for 90 days.

“The disciplinary process was put on hold, and the suspension was not served due to his ongoing role as a witness in two criminal cases. Those two cases extended over a period of several years,” Scales said, referring to the trials of Daley’s former patronage chief Robert Sorich and ex-Streets and Sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez.

“When the new commissioner of CDOT became aware that the 2008 disciplinary process had not yet concluded, we re-initiated the disciplinary process again, serving Donlan with charges and again seeking a 90-day suspension.”

Under questioning, Scales acknowledged that it was Inspector General Joe Ferguson who kept the heat on Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein to punish Donlan.

Ferguson refused to comment. Sources said the inspector general also is pressuring Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take action against “a couple dozen” other city employees who have yet to pay any price for roles they admittedly played in the hiring scandal.

City officials also have come under pressure to punish other city officials from Noelle Brennan, who was appointed by a federal judge to monitor city hiring shortly after the hiring scandal in the Daley administration erupted in 2005. Brennan has asked the city to investigate and possibly discipline more than 20 officials who were identified as participants in the hiring fraud during the Sorich and Sanchez trials, court records show.

Weeks before Daley left office last year, and over the objections of city lawyers, Brennan won the right to investigate and recommend discipline against administration officials who were involved in the hiring scam that fueled Daley’s political machine.

“Since the Sorich trial, city employees have frequently called the monitor’s office to voice frustration and incredulity that employees who were directly implicated in the unlawful patronage practices were never reprimanded by the city,” Brennan wrote in court filings. “Some of the complainants continue to be supervised by the same supervisors who passed them over for promotions in favor of politically clouted and less qualified candidates.”

Six years ago, Donlan testified under oath that he rigged city hiring to make certain that job openings in the Department of Streets and Sanitation went only to clout-heavy candidates whose names Donlan received from Jack Drumgould, then personnel director for the department.

His testimony came during the federal corruption trial that culminated in the convictions of Sorich, who came from the Daley family’s 11th Ward power base, and three other city officials.

Testifying under a grant of immunity, Donlan acknowledged that the names passed on by Drumgould originated in the mayor’s office.

In fact, when jobs for general foreman were filled in 2004, Donlan said he made certain the highest ratings went to six people whose names originated in the mayor’s office, even though three of them were not qualified and one had been suspended twice for disciplinary problems.

Three years later, Donlan was back on the stand offering similar testimony — this time during the first trial of Sanchez, the Streets and San boss who also was a longtime leader of HDO’s branch on the Southeast Side.

Donlan said bright-eyed applicants who thought they stood a chance of getting hired by the Bureau of Electricity — which at the time was in the Streets and Sanitation Department ­— had false hope.

Interviewers were told not to even bother filling out rating forms, he said. If a rating form was filled out by mistake, “I’d put it in the garbage,” Donlan said then.

Sanchez was convicted in 2009, only to win a new trial because federal prosecutors failed to disclose the criminal background of a government witness. The verdict was the same the second time around and Sanchez was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He is currently locked up at the federal penitentiary in Marion, 300 miles south of Chicago, and is not scheduled to be released until July 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

After that trial, prosecutors made a statement that must have been music to Daley’s ears: The Sanchez conviction “represents the conclusion of the Hired Truck investigation” that branched out into city hiring. The investigation, spurred by stories in the Chicago-Sun Times, led to the indictment of 49 people, including 29 city employees. All were convicted except for one man who died.

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