A high-ranking Cook County official from a prominent Democratic family retired late last year after the county's chief internal watchdog recommended he be fired for coercing government workers into donating to the campaign of then-County Board President Todd Stroger.
James D'Amico, the brother of a state lawmaker and nephew of an alderman, conceded he was the subject of a county inspector general's probe but denied the fundraising allegations.
"I was investigated so many times, it was kind of ridiculous," D'Amico said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "That's one of the reasons I retired in the first place."
"You're under a microscope in government," he added. "I'm glad I got my 30 years and got the hell out of there."
Inspector General Patrick Blanchard's latest quarterly report lists a case involving a former county official who in 2010 raised campaign cash at work "and directed other ranking staff members to solicit political contributions from subordinate employees within the Department of Facilities Management."
The county official also put together a network of dozens of county employees "through which he coerced ... political contributions from (other county) employees at various locations in Cook County," Blanchard's report states.
Although the report did not identify the county official, a source familiar with the investigation said it was D'Amico, who retired from his $133,000-a-year post as director of facilities management Nov. 1 after Blanchard recommended he be fired. The source said D'Amico was raising money for Stroger, who at the time was fighting for his political life after a single term filled with patronage controversies and other scandals.
Stroger did not return a call seeking comment. D'Amico said he became a target of employees unhappy with his efforts to reduce the size of the workforce, curtail overtime and track employees on the job.
D'Amico landed a full-time job at the county right out of high school in 1984, county records show. He rose through the ranks under a succession of County Board presidents, and in May 2008 Stroger made him the top county facilities management executive. Over the years, many elected county officials praised D'Amico's management skills.
D'Amico, 47, is fully vested in the county pension plan, having served more than 30 years, although he can't start drawing retirement checks until he turns 50.
The D'Amicos are a prominent Chicago Democratic family that has seen its share of scandal. Brother John D'Amico is a state representative on the Northwest Side and an assistant superintendent in the city water department. Aunt Margaret Laurino is 39th Ward alderman.
The father of John and James D'Amico was a city Streets and Sanitation Department deputy commissioner who along with his wife was sent to a federal penitentiary in the mid-1990s for their role in a ghost-payrolling scam. A grandfather, former Ald. Anthony Laurino, the father of the current Ald. Laurino, died while under indictment in the same scheme.
James D'Amico ran the alleged county political contribution scheme in violation of county ethics and personnel rules, according to the inspector general's report. The campaign money couldn't save Stroger, who finished last in the 2010 Democratic primary that was won by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Stroger collected more than $17,000 in campaign donations from county workers in his failed bid to retain office, the Tribune has reported.
D'Amico kept his job under Preckwinkle but decided to retire late last year after the inspector general's firing recommendation.
"Shortly after taking office I introduced new rules that required all employees working under the office of the president to take ethics training on an annual basis," said Preckwinkle, who in late 2010 vowed not to take contributions from county employees.