January 23, 2004
BY BY TIM NOVAK AND
STEVE WARMBIR Staff Reporters
With no more than a handshake, Mayor Daley's
administration spends nearly $40 million a year hiring hundreds of
trucks -- primarily dump trucks -- that often do little or no work, a
Sun-Times investigation has found.
The city has a list of about 165 favorite truck companies to send to
city work sites. Some owners have political clout, some are mob figures
or their relatives.
Many do nothing but work for the city's Hired Truck Program, and often
their operations are run out of the owners' homes. Six of every 10
aren't listed in the phone book.
While the Sun-Times watched this hired truck in West Humboldt Park,
it went to McDonald's and Jewel, and eventually hauled a small load.
But many are listed on campaign reports showing they contribute money
to the mayor and other politicians -- in all more than $800,000 since
Over the last five years, more than 25 percent of the Hired Truck
money has been spent on firms operating out of the 11th Ward, the
mayor's political power base. The money spent on Hired Trucks has soared
in recent years under Daley, increasing from 1999 to 2000 by more than
30 percent, to $40 million.
Trucking firm owners say it's easy money. Typically, they're paid $40
an hour or more for drivers and trucks, often splotched with rust.
Recently, the city was hiring a dump truck built in 1955.
"You put in your eight hours a day, but you just sit on the job,"
said Jesse Brunt of Brunt Brothers Transfer. "There's no fuel cost, no
wear and tear on the trucks."
At most, said Brunt, a 25-year veteran of the program, "you might
have to haul a load or two."
Indeed, when Sun-Times reporters spent three days visiting two city
work sites, they saw multiple dump trucks from private firms do nothing.
City workers say it's common to have the trucks show up when they are
not needed. Yet, these trucks are hired day after day, at taxpayer
"If anybody's going to sit around and do nothing, it ought to be a city
worker,'' grumbled one city sewer worker over the growing number of
private trucks the city hires.
WHERE THE MONEY GOES
The Daley family's 11th Ward had by far the highest number of
trucking firms benefitting from the City of Chicago's Hired Truck
||No. of Firms
(1999 to Oct. 2003)
Getting paid to do little or nothing comes with a price, says another
trucking firm owner, a 20-year veteran of the program who requested
anonymity. It costs him about $1,500 a year in bribes to several city
employees to keep his trucks active in the no-bid program, the owner
"You put it in the Christmas cards," he said, referring to cash
bribes. "Don't let anybody see it. You gotta do what you gotta do."
Once, the owner said, he decided to cut one city employee off his
Christmas list. The response was swift.
"You know, just right after Christmas, I lost one truck" from the
program, he said. "I only made that mistake once."
Besides being paid to do nothing, most trucking companies in the
program pay their drivers much less than the city pays its union
drivers. "It's just pure patronage," said one critic, a Teamsters
official. "The whole program is a scam."
Daley's budget director, William Abolt, who is responsible for the
program, acknowledged the problems identified by the Sun-Times and said
he wasn't surprised by them.
"We're paying more than we need," said Abolt, without saying how
much. "We are paying for trucks that we aren't using or we aren't fully
"There is a tendency to overdo things. We tend to send more resources
than not. That's the reality of a political system.
"It is far from a perfect system."
Abolt, who's been budget director since August 2002, acknowledged the
city has known about the waste for years. In 1997, an audit raised many
of the issues Abolt says he's trying to fix.
"Sometimes we tend to make work for companies because this is the
only job they've got," he said.
He admitted there is "a lot of potential for abuse" and said the city
has been working since last year to correct the problems by establishing
a better paper trail to keep track of program spending. He said he has
met resistance among some city employees to provide such data.
In one form or another, the city's Hired Truck Program has been
around for more than 50 years. These days, the mayor's budget department
decides who gets into the program, where there's no competitive bidding.
For five years, the man overseeing the program for the department was
Angelo Torres. He was moved to a different city job two months ago,
after Sun-Times reporters asked about the program.
Torres let his father-in-law's one-truck firm into the program.
Approval came 16 days after the company, Four Queens Inc., was legally
Abolt said the matter has been referred to a city department for
Under Torres, two mob figures, since sentenced to prison, got their
trucking firms into the program.
Three city departments -- Sewer and Water, Streets and Sanitation,
and Transportation -- decide how many trucks they need and pick which
get the no-bid business. Rather than solicit bids, the city spreads it
around, which is highly unusual.
"There's no contract," said Charles Sawyer, brother of ex-Mayor
Eugene Sawyer and the owner of Jim's Cartage and Garage, which has two
trucks in the program. "You show up for work every day until such time
as somebody tells you not to show up anymore."
The Sun-Times requested copies of all bills submitted by six
companies in the program for 2003. City officials could not produce
bills from two of them.
The city inspector general has gotten many complaints over the years
about trucks doing little or no work.
The biggest scandal for the program came in 1997, when the Department
of Fleet Management was accused of giving about half of the trucking
business to Michael Tadin, who has made millions off city work and is a
longtime political supporter of the mayor.
Tadin was accused of double-billing the city, allegations never
proven. The city reacted by placing the Hired Truck Program in the
mayor's Office of Budget and Management, and spreading the trucking
business to more firms. Tadin's two companies, with their fleet of
sparkling blue-and-white trucks, still get more work than anyone else --
$1.5 million for the first 10 months of 2003.
It's difficult to get thrown out of the program. Take John Gavin, who
was suspended for a year in 2000 for passing $100 to a city employee
working in the Hired Truck Program.
Gavin admits passing $100 but said his intention was misunderstood.
"It was for lunch for her and her niece or nephew," Gavin said.
The city employee reported she told Gavin she had already eaten
lunch, when he stuffed a $100 bill in her hand. While Gavin was
suspended, though, his son's trucking firm's business with the Hired
Truck Program more than doubled. Gavin said the firms are separate.
Like the Gavins, many families own more than one firm in the program.
A few families dominate.
Tadin, for instance, has two firms in the program, and his
78-year-old aunt has one, too. Relatives of the late Ald. Fred Roti, who
was the mob's representative at City Hall, have several companies in the
In the end, clout can get firms into the program. And that means
other firms lose out. Brunt, a trucking firm owner who went from four
trucks to one in the program, said clout is king.
"If you got connections," he said, "you get what you want."
Contributing: Art Golab
TOP EARNING FIRMS IN CHICAGO'S HIRED TRUCK PROGRAM
||Total revenue in millions
(1999 to Oct. 2003)
||Michael A. Tadin, political supporter of Mayor
|Daley Fresno Transport Inc.
||Patricia and Paula Bogolin
|Ignoffo Trucking Co.
||Michael A. Tadin
|GNA Trucking Inc.
||Nicki and Gina Cannatello, wife and daughter of former Palos
Township Democratic committeeman
|BBD Trucking Co. Inc.
||Sharon and Richard Williams
|Miffy Co. Inc.
||Mary Roti, relative of late Ald. Fred Roti
||Donald Andrich, nephew of mob boss
|L.R. & C. Truckline
||Commelie Peters and family