YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Chicago Official Resigns Amid Payroll Scandal

June 04, 2005|John Beckham | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — The city water commissioner and nine employees, including an in-law of Mayor Richard M. Daley's brother, were removed from their jobs Friday after an alleged payroll scam was uncovered at a filtration plant.

Water Management Commissioner Richard Rice resigned after investigators reported that the employees had inflated their work hours by clocking in for one another on an electronic timecard system. Rice was not accused of wrongdoing, but left under pressure from city leaders, who said they had lost confidence in him.

The nine employees were charged with theft and official misconduct and face formal discharge proceedings. The most prominent among them is John Briatta, the chief equipment dispatcher for Water Management and a brother-in-law of Cook County Commissioner John P. Daley.

"It doesn't matter who you are or who you know. If you are cheating the taxpayers, you will be terminated and prosecuted," said Ron Huberman, the mayor's chief of staff, at a news conference Friday.

In a statement, John Daley said that "this unfortunate incident has caused considerable distress for my family. My brother-in-law has apologized to my wife for the difficulty this matter has caused."

The nine workers were stationed at the water department's 24-hour "leak desk," taking calls about water line repairs and dispatching emergency crews when necessary. For at least two months, Huberman said in a statement, they arranged to have someone else swipe their identification cards through a card reader, which allowed them to arrive late or leave early without a reduction in pay.

The water commission got word of the scam through an anonymous tipster, said Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for Chicago's Department of Law. The city is trying to determine how much money the workers fraudulently collected, and will demand restitution, Hoyle said.

"The investigation isn't over. The water department is going to do a more thorough audit of a longer period of time. This is just a snapshot. We don't know yet if more people will be involved," she said.

The water department flap is the latest in what has been called a "culture of corruption" in the Daley administration. A federal investigation of a city trucking program that reportedly outsourced hauling contracts to private companies that did little or no work has led to a series of convictions of former city workers. And in February, Daley fired a cousin who failed to disclose that his mother-in-law had profited from the tainted program.

"None of this has touched [Daley] personally," said Paul Green, director of policy studies at Roosevelt University in Chicago. But "it's like a bloody nose, not a bad one, but it keeps bleeding. No one can survive this daily.... The bad news keeps lingering."

Los Angeles Times Articles