Bus driver chauffeured celebrities while collecting CTA disability checks
BY TINA SFONDELES AND DAVE MCKINNEY Staff Reporters October 4, 2012 8:01PM
Warning: Graphic language
Updated: November 6, 2012 6:33AM
CTA bus driver Derronald “Ron” Ward had a heart attack in 2010, stopped working and started receiving disability payments.
But while off work, Ward continued his side job moonlighting as a celebrity tour bus driver — even chauffeuring rapper Diddy and other big-time clients — as part of a second career he now readily fesses up to.
“If they need a bus, they will call me personally,” Ward says of clients like Ray J, Brandy and Chris Brown, who he refers to as “friends.” “ … Puffy and 2 Chainz, they have readjusted their whole schedule until I become free.”
But state officials on Thursday announced a less friendly action.
State Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza released a report accusing Ward of violating the CTA’s outside employment rules, making false statements to his supervisors about his outside gig and breaking state ethics laws by not cooperating with his investigation.
The CTA says Ward was fired in May when he failed to provide the required paperwork to continue a disability leave. Meza’s report recommends Ward never be rehired by the transit agency.
Ward, 41, who lives in Matteson, began working for the CTA in 1993. The CTA says he signed a “secondary employment survey” at the time in which he was asked whether he anticipated having a second job in addition to the CTA. The CTA has to know so it “can ensure that its employees are able to best perform their job functions and meet their responsibilities,” officials said. Ward answered “no” and signed the form.
On Thursday, Ward said he couldn’t recall signing the form. “It has been so many years. I don’t remember that.”
Meza’s report could only show that he may have been doing the side job as far back as 2007, which was the date of a Cook County Circuit court order contained in his personnel file that indicated Ward was “employed as a driver for a rapper tour.”
But Ward admitted to the Chicago Sun-Times that he has been driving celebrities since 2000. And it all began with a chance encounter with Tyler Perry in 1998 while subbing for a limousine driver.
The two clicked, and Perry helped him find a driving job for celebrity clients: “He made a phone call and the next thing you know, every door you can ever imagine opened,” Ward said.
Since then he’s driven Janet Jackson, New Addition, Queen Latifah, Chris Brown and the Wu Tang Clan, among others.
Ward says he suffered a heart attack in 2010 and quickly went on disability from his CTA job. He admits now he extended his disability while taking on driving gigs with celebrities.
He didn’t return to work in September 2010, when he was supposed to, and pushed off his return date until last November.
The CTA says the transit agency paid Ward approximately $5,000 in short-term disability pay over 26 weeks. No long-term disability payments were issued after last November.
But Ward said the disability checks weren’t enough and he had to make his side job a career.
“They cut me off from benefits. I had no money at all coming in, nothing,” Ward said. “They denied me from social security benefits. The CTA could no longer do anything for me. … I had to do what I had to do.”
A review of Ward’s cellphone records between August 2010 and February 2010 found more than 2,900 calls between his cellphone and Nashville, Tenn., tour bus company Tour Bus Leasing.
And a tip to Meza’s office led to a YouTube video titled “Ron’s Bus.” It features Ward talking about his job as a celebrity bus tour driver. He says he’s driven a “million miles in the United States and Canada.”
A spokesman for Meza’s office declined to comment on whether the case had been forwarded to law enforcement authorities. The report indicates investigators didn’t see merit in turning over the case.
The CTA says it’s not planning to try and get the short-term disability payments back from Ward because of his medical condition.
Meanwhile, Ward will soon begin his newest gig as Chris Brown’s tour driver.
“I am truly blessed,” Ward says. “I am able to drive only big name artists. Never drove anything like up and coming artists. All big names. I’ve been truly blessed.”