The mayor of Justice was pondering whom to pick for a new village attorney last year when his local representative, House Speaker Michael Madigan, called with a name.
Madigan suggested Michael T. Del Galdo, describing him as an experienced lawyer and an expert on municipal finance who could help Justice in its ambitious development plans.
The mayor welcomed the suggestion as just one more indication of Madigan's support for the linchpin in those plans — a $10 million interchange on the Tri-State Tollway that village leaders hope will bring a wealth of new businesses, jobs and tax revenue.
"I am very happy the speaker has taken such an interest in our small village," Mayor Krzysztof "Kris" Wasowicz said in a recent interview. "He calls me every four to six weeks, and always a first question is about the tollway project."
Now the growing promise of tollway ramps is spurring new interest in the blue-collar town from some major developers — including two longtime clients of Madigan's private legal practice.
And Del Galdo's law firm, which got the job after Madigan's recommendation, is poised to advise the village on everything from shaping incentive packages for developers to deciding which law firms get contracts to help finance the projects.
It is not the first such confluence of public and private interests for Madigan, whose high-profile role as Springfield's premier power politician typically overshadows the quiet clout he wields at the smallest of village halls.
As speaker, he is the last stop in the suburban clamor for state resources. As the state's top Democrat, he cultivates a network of loyal public officials. And as a name partner in Madigan & Getzendanner, Chicago's pre-eminent real estate tax law firm, he earns a living representing the biggest players in local commercial development.
Madigan maintains there is no connection or conflict in his many roles.
Del Galdo, whose firm took over as village legal counsel in October 2009, said he's had no contact with Madigan about Justice and has had no dealings with developers who are Madigan clients.
"I understand how it might look," said Del Galdo, 37. "But when you have been involved in government as long as I have, and I presume as long as Madigan has, you develop all kinds of relationships that periodically overlap. I know you are trying to connect all the dots, but I can assure you all this is purely a coincidence."
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker called the mayor "because Mr. Del Galdo asked him to make the call." Brown declined to say how Madigan knows Del Galdo.
He emphasized that Madigan's personal code of conduct precludes the speaker from having any involvement in development in the village, "so, no, that did not happen."
The Tribune earlier this year detailed how Madigan recommended a new village attorney for Oak Lawn, where law firms with connections to the speaker stand to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in bond fees from a water-main project he backed in Springfield.
In Justice, the development plans could be years away.
But even as the development effort gains steam, FBI agents have come to town asking questions about how Del Galdo's law firm won the village contract.
Del Galdo said he has enjoyed a steady rise as an attorney for suburban governments, and he acknowledged some of them, such as Cicero and Melrose Park, have come under scrutiny by federal corruption investigators. Neither he nor his firm has been accused of any wrongdoing.
He called the federal inquiry in Justice "completely absurd" and suggested it was "sour grapes" from political infighting at Village Hall.
Former Justice Trustee Mike Murray said he approached the FBI about Del Galdo after resigning from the Village Board in a residency dispute earlier this year. Murray said he told agents about Del Galdo making campaign contributions to village officials and about the call from Madigan to the mayor.
Del Galdo said his firm issued the opinion that prompted Murray's ouster. "Somehow he blames me for it, I guess," Del Galdo said.
Mayor Wasowicz acknowledged he also was interviewed by the FBI, and Del Galdo told the Tribune he was aware agents asked the mayor about Madigan's recommendation.
"If the speaker made that call, I am flattered," Del Galdo said. "But it certainly had no bearing on me being hired. I know a lot of politicians, Michael Madigan included, but he has never asked me to do anything for his law firm. He has never asked me to call anyone, never asked me for anything."
There's an unusual wrinkle about that call from Madigan, involving a village trustee — Kinga Bartoszek — who is working to put together a proposed development involving a Madigan client.
The call was preceded, the mayor said, by one from Sebastian Jachymiak, a local towing contractor who lives with Bartoszek. She's a one-time Wasowicz political ally.
Jachymiak told Wasowicz to prepare for an important call, the mayor said, and five minutes later, Madigan phoned to suggest the Del Galdo group.
"He said I know this guy and he's very good" on development financing, the mayor recalled Madigan saying. "He didn't tell us to do it, but he recommended them."
Wasowicz thought it was odd that Jachymiak set up the call, since the mayor has regular contact with the speaker. But he said he appreciated Madigan's input.
"When I got elected, the speaker took an interest in me," Wasowicz said. "You know, we are in his district, so I am his constituent."
Bartoszek and Jachymiak did not return messages.
Campaign records show that three weeks after the Village Board and the mayor hired Del Galdo in late 2009, the attorney started writing campaign checks. Bartoszek received $1,000 from the Del Galdo Law Group and $500 from a Cicero towing company owned by Del Galdo's father-in-law. A couple of months later, Del Galdo also gave $1,500 to the mayor's campaign fund.
Del Galdo said he made the donations because he supports Justice and the two were the only two village officials holding campaign fundraisers at that time.
A review of campaign contribution records shows Del Galdo and lawyers affiliated with his firm have contributed more than $170,000 to various political campaigns since 1998, the bulk of which went to the political campaigns of Cicero Town President Larry Dominick and Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico, two of his firm's longest-standing clients.
Del Galdo came under scrutiny in 2006 after the Tribune reported that the company owned by his father-in-law won the Cicero towing contract despite having never before been in the towing business.
In 2008, the year before Del Galdo was hired in Justice, Madigan pledged his support for the Justice tollway interchange at a breakfast meeting at Village Hall along with U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski and a half-dozen mayors from surrounding towns.
Madigan "indicated he might have spoken to someone in the governor's office some time ago about that project," said Brown, who declined to provide details. The governor appoints tollway board members.
The village also formed a special incentive zone — called a tax increment financing district — encompassing more than 10 acres surrounding the proposed interchange. The village is working to create an adjacent development district that together would generate more than $55 million to lure developers and pay for other aspects of the project.
Among the developers already expressing an interest are two clients of Madigan's law firm.
In April, Inland Real Estate Group took over the marketing contract for one parcel of blighted land at the end of the proposed tollway ramp.
Inland, based in Oak Brook, is one of the region's largest developers of strip shopping malls and commercial real estate developments. It is also one of the largest suburban clients of Madigan & Getzendanner.
According to Madigan's financial disclosures, he has a certificate of limited partnership in Inland Appreciation Fund, a member of the Inland group of companies. Madigan won't say what his holdings in the company are worth, and state law does not require him to do so.
Inland Group spokesman Matt Tramel said Madigan had no role in the company winning the listing contract.
Another Madigan-connected developer is trying to broker a deal to lease up to 15 acres of undeveloped Catholic cemetery land at 79th Street and Roberts Road. David P. Bossy, a prominent developer of retail shopping centers throughout the Midwest and a longtime client of Madigan's property tax appeal law firm, said he is in the earliest phase of developing a shopping center on the parcel.
Bossy said his Mid-America Development Partners is teaming with another company, The Daly Group, and has sent a letter of intent to lease the property. He said Bartoszek, the village trustee, has talked with his associates, "but none of those conversation involved me."
Bossy said the fact his real estate firms have used Madigan & Getzendanner "has nothing to do with anything." He said he has never spoken with Madigan about the plan.
The project is not dependent on the tollway interchange, "but it would make it better, yes," Bossy said.
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