February 23, 2005


Gratitude is a fleeting commodity, quickly forgotten by the beneficiary. But, for the benefactor, the animosity fostered by ingratitude does not so rapidly dissipate.

For two disgruntled Chicago politicians, gratitude -- or the lack thereof -- is fueling a legal and political situation that could have a significant impact on the 2006 Illinois governor's race and on the 2007 Chicago mayoral contest.

Politician Number One is disgraced former city treasurer Miriam Santos, who was indicted by the U.S. attorney in 1999 on five counts of attempted extortion, five counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud and who was convicted on six counts. She appealed, had the conviction overturned after spending 112 days in jail, got her job back, was re-indicted, and pleaded guilty to one count of felony mail fraud. Now she's trying to rehabilitate herself by persuading the U.S. Department of Justice to agree to vacate her guilty plea.

Santos was once the favored protege of Rich Daley. When Daley was the state's attorney, he named her in 1983 as the deputy director of the child support enforcement division. In 1989, when county Treasurer Cecil Partee succeeded Daley as state's attorney after Daley was elected mayor, Daley appointed Santos as treasurer. Showing only fleeting gratitude, Santos soon embarked on her own course, and she was never reticent to embarrass the mayor. And, in the eyes of the Daley clan and their allies, who prize loyalty above all else, Santos became the "Irritating Ingrate."

According to sources close to Santos, she believes that the mayor and members of the Daley Administration "conspired" to bring about her political demise, and she is readying a barrage of lawsuits against the city and county seeking monetary damages, to be filed if her guilty plea is vacated. A vindicated Santos could have a major impact in the 2007 mayoral race, especially if she runs for mayor as the "reform" candidate.

Here, in a nutshell, is the Santos legal rehabilitation -- or "I didn't technically do it" -- theory: During her 1998 campaign for Illinois attorney general, Santos, on tape, demanded that Fuji Securities, a broker which held city investments, "belly up" with a contribution; she also terminated city deposits in other banks and investments. This, it was alleged, was because lobbyists for those entities would not contribute to her fund.

But what if those "lobbyists" weren't properly registered with the city Board of Ethics under the city's lobbyist registration ordinance? If they lobbied her to deposit funds with their clients, but weren't registered as lobbyists, then they violated the law. If they weren't registered lobbyists and Santos cut off their clients, then they can't claim that it was because they make a contribution. If they were acting illegally, Santos would have had a fiduciary duty to report that fact to the ethics board and to cease doing business with those firms.

On the eve of her 1999 trial, after the prosecution tendered its witness list, Santos' attorneys on March 18 sent a general subpoena to the ethics board to secure information, particularly the lobbyist registration list. The city Corporation Counsel's Office filed a motion to quash the subpoena, which was sustained. At trial, therefore, Santos could not attempt to impeach the witnesses by proving so-called "bad acts." Santos believes that the Daley Administration was engaged in an "active civil rights conspiracy" against her, designed to violate her due process and witness confrontation rights, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, she cites "Brady violations," which involves the suppression of mitigating and exculpatory evidence, and "Giglio violations," which involves the suppression of witness impeachment information. Since the trial court denied Santos the right to bring the lobbyist registration ordinance before the jury, Santos maintains that she was denied the right to secure evidence concerning its violation by witnesses. She believes that her initial conviction was in error and that her subsequent guilty plea was grounded on false belief and should be voided once the court allows that evidence to be presented.

Santos has obtained state "whistle blower" status, and she claims that she is owed a credit of more than $375,000 for divulging information on illegal lobbying. She claims that Paul Stepan, who lobbied her in the early 1990s on behalf of a client to get a loan from the city pension fund and the police and fire pension fund, wasn't registered. The fine for failure to register is $500 per day. All city lobbyist records prior to May 12, 1998, have been destroyed, as have all county lobbyist records prior to Jan. 1, 1998. That makes proof almost impossible.

In addition to her criminal trial, Santos also was sued in a civil action by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged bribery. But if the lobbyists weren't registered, then Santos can't be liable for breaching a fiduciary duty. On Sept. 23, 2004, the SEC filed a motion was filed to dismiss Santos as a party defendant in that action.

Now Santos must get the plea agreement vacated on the basis of what she believes to be the newly found exculpatory information in the post-trial review. If that occurs, the Daley Administration, already mired in the "Hired Truck" scandal, will find itself trying to explain why it vilified Miriam Santos.

Politician Number Two is veteran Northwest Side political operative Dominic Longo, who deems Governor Rod Blagojevich to be the "Incorrigible Ingrate." Longo is threatening to file a defamation lawsuit against the governor if he does not publicly apologize for his years-old statement that Longo would not be hired by the state or the governor's office because of his "character and work record."

Longo's name surfaced during the 2002 governor's race. The Republican nominee, Jim Ryan, claimed that Blagojevich had "used convicted criminals to get political work done" and directly referred to Longo, who was convicted of vote fraud in 1984. Blagojevich, who was trying to position himself as the reform candidate, then disavowed any ongoing association with Longo and pledged not to hire him.

Longo, who runs his own itinerant political organization called the Coalition for Better Government, can deploy scores of precinct workers, nearly all of whom are city or county workers, to political "hot spots" where politicians need aid. Among the past beneficiaries of Longo's flying precinct squad were Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), Daley, former state representative Bob Bugielski and Blagojevich. Longo also has been close to Alderman Bill Banks (36th)

In fact, concerning Blagojevich, Longo was present at the creation. In 1992 Mell decided that Blagojevich -- who Longo reportedly said was "a rinky-dink lawyer" who was married to Mell's daughter -- should be a state representative. Mell asked Longo to run the precinct operation in the 43rd Ward section of the 33rd District. Blagojevich upset incumbent Myron Kulas in the Democratic primary by a vote of 11,771-6,968. Longo won his ward for Blagojevich, helping him launch his political career.

By 1994, with then-U.S. Representative Dan Rostenkowski enmeshed in an ethics investigation, plans were being hatched to elevate Blagojevich to the U.S. House. According to Longo, Mell instructed him to negotiate a deal with Banks whereby John Fritchey, who is Banks' brother's son-in-law, would get Blagojevich's state House seat in 1996 if Banks would "cut" the 1994 candidacy of county Commissioner Marco Domico (a Democrat from Banks' 36th Ward) and let the Republican, Elmwood Park Mayor Pete Silvestri, win. The payback, according to Longo, was that Silvestri and Republican state Representative Skip Saviano would help Blagojevich win the congressional seat in 1996.

In 1996 Longo ran the 38th Ward for Blagojevich, delivering a huge majority, and Silvestri and Saviano did nothing to assist Republican Mike Flanagan, who had upset Rostenkowski in 1994. So Longo helped Blago go to Washington.

And in 2002, when Longo was involved in Bugielski's House race, he also pushed hard for Blagojevich on the Northwest Side. He claimed that he was "involved in initial meetings to plan" the governor's race. Blagojevich won the Democratic nomination for governor by just 25,469 votes statewide. So Longo helped Blago go to Springfield.

At a February press conference, Longo asserted that he "introduced" now-top Blagojevich fund raiser Chris Kelly to Blagojevich and said that the governor is "ungrateful, disloyal and disrespectful to (those) who helped elect him" and that he is "arrogant and driven by political power."

To prove a defamation action, Longo will have to show that the governor's statements were uttered with a "reckless disregard of truth or falsity," that Longo suffered monetary damages, and, since Longo is a public figure, that the governor's words rose to the level of "actual malice."

Longo has been on various city payrolls since 1972. He has been an assistant director of facility management at the Chicago Park District, an assistant commissioner of general services for the city, and the O'Hare Airport manager for the city Department of Aviation. In all those posts, he had the ability to persuade large numbers of patronage employees to undertake precinct work for his favored politicians.

Longo retired from his Chicago job in 2003, but he quickly latched onto a $59,000-a-year post as an aide to Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner M. Frank Avila. When he attains age 55, he will start drawing his city and park district pensions. So Longo's "actual damages" will be limited to speculative embarrassment and mental "pain and suffering," since he hasn't suffered any lost wages or substantial diminution of income.

So why is Longo pursuing his lawsuit? Quite simply: vengeance. The governor has "taken care" of many of his prior supporters, giving them state jobs or contracts, but Longo has been ostracized. As a civil tort action, defamation is difficult to prove. But as a political stratagem, a defamation action engenders a trove of publicity and opens the door to civil discovery -- meaning document production and depositions, which could potentially elicit some damaging information.

The Springfield consensus is that being sued by a so-called "vote fraud felon" will elevate the governor's stature. But there are a lot of other Longo-like Democratic workers who also deem the governor to be an ingrate, and the lawsuit will reinforce that image. Plus, the governor himself will be deposed, and lots of documents on state hiring practices will have to be produced. This lawsuit, if filed, will not be politically helpful to the governor.