Daley's lips sealed on truck scandal

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Though 15 months have passed since the first arrests in City Hall's Hired Truck scandal, Mayor Richard Daley said Wednesday he still doesn't know who in his administration installed the corrupt Angelo Torres as head of the trucking program.

Describing himself as "hurt, embarrassed, disappointed" by broadening allegations of wrongdoing uncovered by federal prosecutors, Daley said as many as seven names of possible Torres sponsors have been floated around City Hall and the mayor's aides are seeking to identify if any of those--or someone else--is responsible.

Federal investigators are also looking into it, the mayor said at a news conference shortly before heading to Springfield to lobby lawmakers for more transit and school money and later to party with them.

Meanwhile, Daley responded to allegations that Water Management Department employees have been rewarded with promotions and pay increases for working on political campaigns by saying that any such practice is unacceptable and illegal and that he "has never been a party to that."

But the mayor dodged when asked if he was aware of favors being given employees in return for political work.

Torres, who was affiliated with the pro-Daley Hispanic Democratic Organization, resigned his post in late 2003, just a few weeks before he was arrested by federal agents. He pleaded guilty in March to shaking down at least 10 trucking companies for kickbacks.

The appropriate department head and someone from the mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs typically signs off on a promotion to a post that is exempt from the federal Shakman decree, which forbids political hiring and firing for most city jobs.

Those who signed Torres' papers did nothing improper, Daley said.

"There is nothing wrong with people signing their name," he said. "That is a normal procedure."

Of more interest, Daley said, was any political sponsorship in making the appointment to the sensitive and powerful Hired Truck job. But he would not reveal the names that have surfaced.

"A lot of people have mentioned four or five or six or seven different names, and no one is claiming it," he said. "It would be unfair to name several names. At this time, U.S. attorneys are looking into it."

Since Torres' arrest in January of 2004, reporters have asked Daley periodically whether he had found out who put him in charge of Hired Truck. The mayor always said "no" and, until Wednesday, gave no indication he was interested in finding out.

Victor Reyes, president of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, headed the Intergovernmental Affairs Office when Torres was promoted. Reyes has denied putting Torres into the job.

A spokesman for Reyes said earlier this week that he has not been questioned by investigators.

Federal agents have seized records from three city locations since last Friday, including the Intergovernmental Affairs Office.

"I understand that you're all here today because you have a lot of questions, most of which I cannot answer because the U.S. attorney's office has asked us not to discuss their ongoing investigation," Daley said at the beginning of a City Hall news conference. "But there are some questions I can answer, like `How do I feel?'

"I feel hurt, embarrassed, disappointed," the mayor continued, echoing remarks he has made at other times since the scandal broke. "Clearly, I'm not proud or pleased."

In a plea agreement on Monday, Gerald Wesolowski, a former Water Management official who admitted serving as a Hired Truck bagman, said that department employees who performed political work were rewarded with fatter paychecks by Donald Tomczak, formerly the department's No. 2 official. Political activity also took place on city time, Wesolowski said.

Wesolowski's plea agreement alleged that scores of workers controlled by Tomczak labored on political campaigns of Daley, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and others. It also asserted that the selection of which candidates to support "was determined by city officials and communicated to Tomczak."

Tomczak is charged only with accepting cash and gifts from trucking companies seeking city business.

Daley on Wednesday insisted that he did not know who issued Tomczak's political marching orders.

"There is an ongoing investigation, and to comment would jeopardize the investigation," he said. "I can't be answering these questions because, much of it, I don't know about it. I don't know any specific knowledge."

Daley was asked how it was possible that he wouldn't know who called Tomczak to support candidacies, including his own.

"Everybody supported my campaign," he shot back. "I will tell you that. Everyone knows that. I won last time by 80 percent."

Tomczak, who once ran afoul of Daley for supporting Jane Byrne for mayor, mended fences at the time of Daley's election as mayor in 1989.

Under Daley, Tomczak prospered, winning a promotion to the first deputy's post in what was then called the Water Department.

"I didn't want to be unfair," Daley said. "I didn't come back with vindictiveness when I was elected in 1989. When people wanted to promote him and help him, fine. He was in a Shakman-exempt position."

Meanwhile, city officials said Wednesday that they have booted Torres' younger brother from his job with the Department of Streets and Sanitation.

Larry Torres, a $24.62-an-hour laborer, was fired Monday after the city's inspector general investigated allegations of misconduct, said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city Law Department.

Larry Torres, 36, admitted coaxing a co-worker to swipe his identification card when he was not present for his city job, officials said. He had worked for the city for 16 years.

In Springfield, Daley met with more than 30 lawmakers from the Chicago delegation, who crammed into a small hearing room to listen to his plea that they go to bat for the financially pinched CTA and Chicago schools in coming budget talks. He was swarmed by lawmakers as they spilled out of the meeting, and even by a tourist seeking his autograph.

Not far behind Daley in the goodwill tour were Chicago restaurant owners, including perennial favorites from the Billy Goat Tavern. The mayor also met with top legislative leaders to lobby for city interests--although not, he emphasized, for a city casino.

Late in the afternoon, the mayor put politics aside as he headed over to the Taste of Springfield with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Blagojevich said the Downstate version of Taste of Chicago is a good chance for the city to win friends in the Capitol.

"I think it has an impact," Blagojevich said. Downstate lawmakers get the chance to "mix and mingle and realize that the city of Chicago is the economic engine of the state of Illinois and this is a good thing."