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County watchdog: Homeland security chief improperly hired brother-in-law

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County’s former homeland security chief, David Ramos, skirted hiring rules in order to tap his brother-in-law for a job, the county’s watchdog revealed in a report issued late Tuesday.

A probe of the homeland security operations in 2009 and 2010 also revealed that one of Ramos’ managers hired a contractor as part of a federal disaster relief grant tied to the 2008 flooding. The manager then turned around and suggested that the contractor hire workers off a “clout list” — 31 names of friends and relatives of county employees — to do the work, according to county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard.

Ramos, hired under former Board President Todd Stroger, left as Toni Preckwinkle was taking the reins in late 2010. And the unnamed manager also is gone. But in a strongly worded report Blanchard said neither should be rehired by the county “due to their unethical conduct.”

Attempts to reach Ramos were unsuccessful.

In his quarterly report on investigations his office handled, Blanchard also reported:

¦ During the final months of the Stroger administration, two county highway department workers — both political hires — were shuffled into jobs that had previously been handled by one employee. In addition, they were assigned government take-home cars — even though they didn’t qualify — and collected overtime pay, even though political hires aren’t permitted to. The two, whose names weren’t provided in the report, have since been assigned to duties in the highway department to “justify their full-time status” and lost their take-home cars.

¦ A county highway department boss was leaning on underlings to participate in his “Payday Club.” Employees would fork over $40 to the boss each payday, and for a small administrative fee, the boss would operate as a bank of sorts. Staffers then could collect a “lump sum” during the holidays or some other date. The boss resigned in the face of the probe, Blanchard told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. An underling was facing termination for lying about “Payday Club,” but he wound up being fired for another offense, Blanchard said, without elaborating.

¦ A Cook County forest preserve employee was hauling metal — in a government truck — to scrap dealers and keeping the proceeds. In just six months the employee, who resigned when confronted with the allegation, collected $4,000; but he admitted doing it over the course of several years. The probe also revealed a practice of forest preserve staff collecting metal around the property, taking it to scrap yards and selling it to pay for cookouts and holiday parties.

¦ A Cook County Hospital surgeon received $90,000 in salary and health benefits even though he was working full time at another practice. The probe revealed the surgeon had taken a leave of absence so he could return to the county if he elected to do so — advice an official in the surgery department gave him. The surgeon put in for a leave using accrued sick and vacation time while on leave, in violation of policy. In the end, he collected $76,776.14 in pay as well as $12,050.15 in family health coverage. He has quit the hospital and repaid the money, but the onus was put on human resources to ensure this wasn’t happening anywhere else.

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