Chicago Investigation Finds That Obama’s Staff Were Hired Under Nepotism Cartel As Unqualified Insider Boobs

Watchdog details how top Democrats under got state jobs for friends, family, Obama schemers

A new report issued Monday by a court-appointed watchdog charged with looking into patronage hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation details how top Democrats clouted relatives and friends into positions under former Gov. Pat Quinn, even as many of those hired had little or no experience.

House Speaker Mike Madigan‘s office successfully pushed a former bricklayer for a job that included “maintaining relationships” with minority road contractors, though the man eventually resigned after being arrested for allegedly “physically assaulting” a then-state lawmaker. Cicero Rep. Lisa Hernandez sent in the resume of a bank manager who was put on the state payroll to inspect roads. And a daughter of 30th Ward Chicago Ald. Ariel Reboyras ended up in another state job after complaints at a different agency.

The final findings are the result of an inquiry that began in 2014 after a federal judge assigned a lawyer to dig into hiring at the agency — an order that came just two weeks before Election Day, as Quinn went on to lose to Republican Bruce Rauner. The judge’s move followed an earlier report that year by then-state Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza, which found improper hiring began under ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich but accelerated under Quinn.

At issue were hundreds of people hired into “staff assistant” positions after administration officials bypassed strict personnel rules aimed at preventing politics from influencing state hiring. Meza stopped short of placing the blame on Quinn’s office, saying his investigation was “unable to conclude” that top officials in the administration knew of the illegal hiring. Chicago attorney Michael Shakman, who has battled patronage hiring in court for decades, said the state investigation wasn’t enough, and pushed for court oversight.

On Monday, court monitor Noelle Brennan was more definitive, saying Quinn’s office “played a key role in the staff assistant abuse at IDOT.”

Brennan described a system in which Quinn officials routinely sent resumes of “low-level and often unqualified candidates sponsored by the governor’s office and/or other elected officials” to employees in charge of hiring at IDOT and other state agencies. Quinn’s office then pressured agencies to hire those people, aggressively following up on requests and at times specifically ordering an agency to “find a position” for a particular candidate, the watchdog concluded.

The investigation found that politically connected candidates were pushed through the hiring process with “little or no regard” for actual hiring need, or whether the candidate was qualified for the job. Many of the sponsored hires ended up performing duties that had nothing to do with the position for which they were hired. As a result, qualified candidates who were not suggested by Quinn’s office were “sometimes denied employment, despite the requesting department’s request to hire them.”

The report does not address whether Quinn had direct knowledge of the hiring practices, but it said that several of his top aides were involved in tracking resumes and sending large batches to agencies that included suggestions to “flag” and “prioritize” certain people.

Then-deputy chief of staff Ryan Croke created a resume database that could be accessed by others, including a candidate’s background, such as “intern,” “election judge” and “waiter/valet.” Meanwhile, IDOT kept internal documents known as “Lavin Lists,” at the request of chief of staff Jack Lavin, which detailed proposed hires and “were generally updated and circulated multiple times per month.”

The court monitor wrote that during their interviews, Croke and Lavin said names were merely sent along for consideration and that agencies had the discretion to reject candidates. They said they never applied pressure or forced a specific candidate on an agency.

Brennan said that considering the evidence, it was “not credible” that Quinn’s office did not know about the improper hiring.

She cited numerous examples of Quinn’s office directing agencies to conduct interviews and expressing frustration when interviews were not quickly scheduled. The court monitor said transportation employees testified that it was “difficult to refuse” candidates sent by Quinn’s office. Her report also noted the “cryptic” way Quinn aides communicated when sending resumes via email. Messages often included no accompanying text beyond “as discussed” or “see attached,” according to the report.

One exchange between Croke and other Quinn aides had the subject line “Desperately seeking employment.” One participant asked, “do you know who/where this person came from?” Croke responded: “Yes — call for details.”

Quinn did not respond to requests for comment. Contacted Monday by the Chicago Tribune, Croke, who later became chief of staff, said he had to “respectfully disagree” with the report’s conclusions.

“Gov. Quinn took his oath of office seriously,” Croke said. “He wanted for everybody working for him to do the right thing all the time. And that’s what I tried to do every day as chief of staff. When you are managing a government the size of the state of Illinois, it is inevitable that people will make mistakes. And those mistakes have to be corrected. And they were.”

Among the examples of questionable hiring described in the report is a candidate hired after Madigan’s office contacted IDOT directly about a position. The former bricklayer was hired in 2009 for a job in which he would monitor complaints about minority hiring and was responsible for “maintaining relationships” with minority and underserved road builders. In 2014, the man was “allowed to resign” after he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a lawmaker, the report states, but the now-former legislator said Monday that the assault allegation was not true.

A Madigan spokesman said he could not offer a detailed response on Monday, citing the need to review the report and related documents. Spokesman Steve Brown instead sent a memo that was distributed to House lawmakers in 2014 regarding rules about lawmakers making employment recommendations to government agencies. It notes that “elected officials, like any other citizens, have a First Amendment right to make recommendations in support of candidates seeking government employment.”

In December 2010, Rep. Hernandez sent a resume to Quinn’s office on behalf of a bank teller, the report states. The next month, Quinn’s office forwarded that resume to IDOT hiring personnel. Quinn’s office followed up on the hire at least twice before the man was hired on as a temporary “emergency” hire for 60 days. His duties included inspecting roads. The governor’s office successfully pushed for his temporary hire to be extended three more times before he was hired full time to help develop agency policies. The report concluded that “his work as a temporary IDOT employee did not qualify him” for that position.

Hernandez, who worked for Quinn when he was lieutenant governor, said she frequently made hiring recommendations to the governor’s office in an effort to increase the number of Latino workers in state government.

“Where they go, that’s up to the governor’s office,” Hernandez said. “I hand over good, qualified people. And that’s really the bottom line.”

Also hired by Quinn’s administration was the daughter of Ald. Reboyras. The Associated Press reported in 2011 that Allyson Reboyras was hired for a $37,570 post at the Liquor Control Commission under Quinn.

According to Brennan’s report, Quinn’s office twice sent a letter to IDOT asking if Reboyras’ daughter had been interviewed for a job there. It also states that “after complaints from her superiors” at liquor control, the administration tried to find her another job. She landed at the Illinois Racing Board.

Ald. Reboyras said he never reached out to Quinn for any help getting a job for his daughter and that he doesn’t recall ever recommending his daughter for a state job with anyone else in the Quinn administration.

Another high-ranking official whose name appeared in the report was Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino, who is under federal scrutiny for his campaign fund expenses.

In one case cited, the report said Mautino, a former state lawmaker, helped secure a staff assistant position at IDOT for a person who once worked as a warehouse supervisor for Mautino Distributing Co., a beer distributor in Mautino’s family that focuses on regional brands. The state lawmaker had severed his own ties from the company in 1993.

On Monday, Mautino said the man was an Iraq War veteran and had known the family for years.

“Very rarely did I give recommendations to anyone unless I knew them or their families personally,” Mautino told the Tribune. “I was very selective in allowing my name to be used or giving a letter of reference for them. They had to fit the job.”

Patronage hiring has a long and rich history in Illinois. The watchdog’s report cited two major state inspector general investigations the Tribune revealed years ago, one of which ended up being used against the now-imprisoned Blagojevich during his Illinois House impeachment proceedings.

A September 2004 report by Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott, then the state’s executive inspector general, issued a searing confidential rebuke that called Blagojevich’s patronage office “the real machine driving hiring” in the Illinois Department of Employment Security. The investigation concluded that the “governor’s office improperly exercised a great deal, if not all, control over the hiring” at that agency since shortly after Blagojevich took office in early 2003.

Scott maintained the Blagojevich administration subverted state laws that gave veterans a preference in hiring and a ban on political considerations for most state jobs. She said the Blagojevich administration’s effort reflected “not merely an ignorance of the law, but complete and utter contempt for the law.”

Though Quinn crafted a persona as a political outsider, he was long involved in patronage.

After serving as an organizer for Democrat Dan Walker’s successful 1972 campaign for governor, Quinn joined Walker’s staff, where his duties included dishing out patronage as a liaison to state lawmakers.

Later, Quinn left the Illinois Industrial Commission after lawmakers launched an investigation into whether Walker had been hiding the payroll costs of governor’s office workers on state boards and commissions to make it look like the governor’s payroll had dropped.

Although Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner sought to fire most of the patronage workers hired under Quinn, including eliminating the “staff assistant” position, 42 of the employees cited in the report remain on the state payroll. Many cannot be fired under union rules, but a Rauner spokesman said Monday that the administration plans to go to court this week in an effort to prevent the collective bargaining contract from protecting workers who are hired improperly.

While Brennan commended Rauner for taking steps to root out patronage, she said more must be done to put in place permanent changes. Brennan will continue to oversee hiring at IDOT until otherwise instructed by the court.

Ray Long and Hal Dardick reported from Chicago.

mcgarcia@chicagotribune.com

rlong@chicagotribune.com

hdardick@chicagotribune.com

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