Federal grand jury subpoenas Finance Committee

Chicago Tribune on August 15, 2012 released the following:

“Seeks 6 years of records on disability payments

By John Byrne and Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune reporters

A federal grand jury has demanded that a City Council committee led by a powerful alderman turn over records related to a program that last year alone paid out $115 million to disabled city workers, according to documents obtained by the Tribune.

Prosecutors sent subpoenas to the Finance Committee long led by Ald. Edward Burke, 14th. The Aug. 3 request asks for access to a host of records related to the “duty disability” program.

The subpoenas were issued about one week after city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, a former federal prosecutor, announced that Burke’s committee had rebuffed his attempts to obtain many of the same records.

The U.S. attorney’s office and the city inspector general’s office previously conducted joint investigations, most notably Operation Crooked Code, which led to the convictions of more than a dozen city workers and private contractors involved in a bribery scandal in the city’s Zoning and Building departments.

The Finance Committee runs the workers’ compensation program for the city’s workforce, excluding sworn police and fire personnel injured in the line of duty, committee spokesman Donal Quinlan said. The committee provided a copy of the subpoenas to the Tribune on Tuesday in response to a request made under the state’s open records law.

“The Committee on Finance acknowledges receiving the subpoenas and … we are cooperating 100 percent with the U.S. attorney’s office,” Quinlan said in a written statement. “We will have no further comment.”

The subpoenas demand access to the duty disability program’s database and a host of other records, including injury records, medical assessments and claim investigation records dating to January 2006. They also call on the committee to turn over records showing the duties of staff members who run the program.

Six years ago, the U.S. attorney’s office subpoenaed similar records, but that probe has not resulted in any charges.

Ferguson had spent months trying to get access to the database, but committee staff turned down the request, saying the records fell outside Ferguson’s jurisdiction. Instead, Quinlan said Tuesday that Burke had agreed to give the information to the council’s newly hired watchdog, Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan.

But Khan runs a fledgling one-man office that has funding of $260,000 this year, compared with Ferguson, who has an authorized staff of 67 and a budget of $5.8 million. The powers of Khan’s office also are more limited.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel previously had declined to weigh in on the tussle between Burke and Ferguson over the records. On Tuesday, before the subpoenas were released, Emanuel said he supports strong oversight of the payments because cracking down on disability fraud could save the city millions of dollars each year.

“As it relates specifically to workers’ comp, I was very clear when we introduced our budget that we can take $15 million of cost out of that because of abuse that goes on, and waste,” Emanuel said.

But he did not directly address a question about whether Khan’s office has enough muscle to provide that. “There should be constant oversight of what happens in that system,” he said at an unrelated news conference. “And so I’m not particular about whether it’s that IG, meaning the legislative IG.”

Ferguson was unavailable Tuesday to comment on the Khan development, and his spokesman declined to comment on the federal subpoenas.

Aldermen created Khan’s office in 2010 as they sought to fend off a move by then-Mayor Richard Daley to give Ferguson the power to investigate the City Council. Several aldermen said then that the city inspector general, appointed by the mayor, could not be truly independent.

Critics contend that Khan’s office is a sham because he must clear considerable hurdles before he can open an official investigation. Among them is approval from the city Board of Ethics, which has not issued a finding of aldermanic wrongdoing in more than 24 years.

Khan does not have his own investigators, instead relying on those who work for the Board of Ethics. Asked Tuesday whether he can handle an audit of the disability program, Khan said he hopes to get funding from the City Council to hire more people next year.

“The discussion is always about whether I have enough resources or manpower to do it,” said Khan, who plans to begin his audit in September.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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