Friday, July 07, 2006

Chicago Patronage Chief Goes Down

Chicago's Democratic Party machine, which has suffered from ethical shortcomings for generations, is facing the scrutiny of "Plamegate" prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Mayor Richard M. Daley's former patronage chief broke the law by rigging city hiring decisions to reward loyal workers in Chicago's Democratic political machine, a federal jury concluded Thursday in a sharp blow to the five-term mayor.

In convicting Robert Sorich and three other onetime city officials, the jury rejected the defense claim that political favoritism in Chicago is hardly a crime. Instead, the 12 jurors agreed unanimously with prosecutors that Daley's aides cheated qualified workers and the taxpayers who paid their salaries.

"At bottom, this case was about a scam," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro told reporters after the verdict, pointing to fraudulent job interviews, doctored documents and a far-reaching coverup. "This jury saw through their 'business-as-usual' defense."

Federal officials have signaled that the City Hall corruption investigation is not over.

"Stay tuned," more than one prosecutor has said in recent weeks. Daley, repeatedly mentioned in the Sorich trial by defense lawyers, has been interviewed by prosecutors but has not been charged...

The verdict is the second major victory against political corruption in three months for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, recruited in 2001 to challenge the machine politics for which the city and state are infamous. In April, jurors in the same Chicago federal courthouse convicted former governor George Ryan (R) of steering business to his friends and cash to his family, then lying to federal agents.

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