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Duff pleads guilty in contract fraud

January 10, 2005

BY MIKE ROBINSON ASSOCIATED PRESS

A contractor whose family has bankrolled Mayor Richard M. Daley's campaigns pleaded guilty Monday to defrauding the city through a series of janitorial contracts worth $100 million.

"I admit I obtained money from the city through fraudulently obtained contracts," James Duff said in pleading guilty.

But while Duff pleaded to all 33 counts of the indictment against him, he denied many of the specific allegations in the indictment. Prosecutors claimed he swindled the city out of $100 million, but Duff contended that the city lost no money because all of the janitorial work promised under the contracts was performed.

Duff, 46, is part of a family that has been closer to Daley than any other defendants charged in recent corruption cases. They have raised thousands of dollars for the mayor's campaign fund and socialized with him at Christmas parties and other events.

Duff, his 76-year-old mother, Patricia, and five others are accused of getting city contracts that were reserved for businesses controlled by women and minorities. In fact, prosecutors say, the businesses that received the contracts were controlled by James Duff.

His Windy City Maintenance Co. and other firms that he allegedly controlled provided janitorial services at O'Hare International Airport, the Harold Washington Library Center and other city-owned buildings.

Prosecutors had urged U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo not to allow Duff's plea, saying he wasn't going far enough.

"Taken to its extreme, a defendant charged, for example, with engaging in a scheme to defraud a bank of millions of dollars cannot be found guilty because he is willing merely to admit that while in the bank he defrauded a teller of paperclips," prosecutors said in court papers. "It is this sort of legerdemain that Duff now attempts and this court must not countenance."

But Bucklo pushed ahead with a four-hour hearing in which she went over the specifics of the charges point by point with Duff, who acknowledged guilt but still disputed many of the details.

Duff ended up pleading guilty to all 33 charges of racketeering, mail fraud, wire fraud, tax fraud and money laundering. The maximum sentence for the racketeering count alone is 20 years and a $1 million fine. A sentencing date has not been set.

The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment, spokesman Randall Samborn.

As he left the courthouse, Duff declined to comment other than to say, "I hope the Cubs win." Asked when he decided to change his plea to guilty, he said, "when I found out the Cubs weren't going to get Carlos Beltran."

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