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County had rejected hired truck firm

Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by TIM NOVAK AND STEVE WARMBIR

When GNA Trucking asked for special woman-owned status to get a leg up on government contracts with Chicago and Cook County, the city had no problem with it.

Cook County officials, though, had some tough questions during their own review.

Such as how the two owners -- Nicki Cannatello and her daughter, Gina -- could run a trucking company when they both had full-time jobs with the county.

Or why wasn't Gina getting any compensation from GNA if she actually owned half the company, as claimed?

Or where the two female owners were when county investigators made two inspection calls early in the morning at GNA?

With the same basic information in front of them six years ago, county officials saw a firm that didn't qualify for special status, while the city saw a company run by two women who deserved an advantage in getting contracts.

Federal prosecutors see it the county's way.

Last month, they charged Nicki Cannatello's husband, John Cannatello, with actually running GNA and using the women as a sham front to reap government work improperly. GNA made more than $6 million from the city since 1998. Nicki Cannatello has not been charged with any wrongdoing and had no comment Monday.

Her husband, an 11th Ward native with ties to Mayor Daley's family, also allegedly tried to give two hired truck officials $100 each in cash in greeting cards in December 1997, about a year before GNA was applying for special status.

John Cannatello is among 17 people charged in the quickly developing federal investigation of the Hired Truck Program. The investigation took off last year after the Sun-Times wrote a three-day series uncovering waste and corruption in the program.

Leslie Hightower, a spokeswoman for the city's procurement department, which handles applications for firms that want special status, said "the city took proper action against GNA three times last year."

GNA's woman-owned status was not renewed, they were not readmitted to the Hired Truck Program under tougher standards in July, nor was another city contract with the firm extended, Hightower said.

Six years ago, when county officials reviewed GNA's paperwork for special status, they found problems.

There was no proof of a financial contribution from either woman to show they owned the firm.

No mention of daughter on taxes

GNA's tax returns from 1995 to 1997 show Nicki Cannatello as 100 percent owner and don't even mention her daughter.

The county also noted in a 1999 letter rejecting the firm's application that since both women worked for the county, "it is highly unlikely that they are operating a fleet of six to eight trucks without actually being on the property to oversee operations."

The man the feds say was actually running the firm, John Cannatello, had another job as well.

Cannatello worked as a Cook County forest preserve regional superintendent. Cannatello got the job after he became the first suburban committeeman to support John Stroger's bid to be Cook County Board president a decade ago.

So while Cannatello, his wife and daughter had jobs under Stroger, they couldn't get special status for the family business.



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