Are Feds Sniffing CPS Custodial Contract To Make Insiders Squirm?

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Before Hooker — an African-American power broker — got tapped to run the CHA board by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, he was ComEd’s executive vice president of legislative and external affairs. In July, Hooker was implicated (but not charged) in a federal deferred-prosecution agreementthat found ComEd gave jobs and money to support the will of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan for legislative favors.

But back in 2017, Hooker’s name wasn’t included in conversations about a federal investigation. At Yolk, Ringo told me Hooker placed a call to his former boss at ComEd, Chicago Board of Education President Frank M. Clark.

Before Emanuel appointed Clark to run the CPS board, Clark — an African-American businessman with strong ties to the Illinois Democratic Party — was best known as ComEd’s longtime chief executive. In July, the FBI served Madigan with a subpoena seeking information about Clark, who was still in charge at ComEd in 2011 when the feds say the bribery scheme began.

But on the morning of Jan. 17, 2017, without a cloud of FBI suspicion hanging over his head, Clark controlled the appointed school board responsible for finalizing contracts — including the $80 million deal set to launch Ringo’s fledgling company.

"Hooker called Clark and basically said, ‘Hey, this is a decent guy,’" Ringo told me. Then, Hooker clicked off the speakerphone and "his whole body language changed," Ringo said. After the call, Ringo said Hooker had questions on singular topic: "Who do you know?"

After that meeting, the aspiring Detroit businessman confirmed he was the ultimate Chicago cliché — an unwanted nobody, nobody sent.

"I’m going to be straight up with you. What I heard was people higher up than [CPS officials] were saying, ‘Whose n—– is this? ‘Cause I don’t know him. Whose man is this?’" Ringo said. "It was told to me just like that."

On Jan. 23, 2017, five days after breakfast with Hooker, Ringo got a letter from CPS that said: "After further review, we will not be recommending reward of a contract to Ringo LGC."

‘Connections’

It seems from the series of affidavits, subpoenas, indictments and guilty pleas that the FBI’s public corruption investigation is out to prove what’s been widely accepted as true in Illinois: A tangled web of corrupt quid pro quos connects Democratic power brokers and high-powered lobbyists in Chicago’s City Council, state and suburban governments, the largest school district in the state and, quite possibly, Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

Soto, the indicted public schools chief of staff, is neither a powerful boss nor a lobbyist. But his high-level job at CPS and his work as a political consultant aligned with the City Council Latino Caucus has put him in contact with both.

Soto’s former co-workers told me the news of the felony charges against Soto came as a surprise but weren’t exactly shocking considering he often told people about his "connections to very powerful Latinos."

In 2016, Soto, then CPS operations chief, was on the committee charged with reviewing the $1 billion worth of custodial bids. He also was an ambitious bureaucrat with ties to federal mole and former Ald. Danny Solis, then a member of the City Council Latino Caucus, several sources said.

The reasons that’s an important detail is Solis wore a wire for the feds that remains a centerpiece of the corruption probe that so far has led to:

The feds say Soto committed a felony by not telling investigators the truth when they asked him about leaking secret details about the bid to "Individual B," a lobbyist who worked for "Individual A," who was registered to lobby on behalf of "Company A," according to the charging document.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman declined to identify the lobbyists being investigated.

What can be gleaned from top city sources, a review of public records and the letter CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson wrote to staff after Soto’s indictment, however, is that people involved in the custodial contract deal also have ties to targets, cooperating witnesses and others associated with the federal corruption probe.

Top city sources told Patch there were four finalist companies for the custodial work contracts in 2016 — SodexoMagic, Aramark, Ringo LGC and GCA Services.

Ringo told me he naively didn’t hire a lobbyist to push his company’s bid.

"I didn’t know I needed one," he said. "I thought if you had the best presentation and you had the best experience from a knowledge standpoint that you would be rewarded."

Public records show only one firm hired a lobbyist that, as Jackson put in her memo, "has not represented current or former CPS vendors."

Theodore Brunsvold, of Illinois Governmental Consulting Group, was registered to lobby on GCA Services’ behalf, city records show.

Brunsvold, son of the late state Rep. Joel Brunsvold, is well-known by insiders as one of the most prolific and influential lobbyists in Illinois.

Brunsvold’s firm also has held contractual agreements with a collection of insiders either implicated or involved in the federal government’s public corruption probe, according to a report on state government lobbying. Those include former Ald. Michael Zalewski’s lobbying firm, Z Consulting Group, and unregistered lobbyist Roberto Caldero, who plied Solis the federal mole with Viagra and arranged sexual liaisons at massage parlors, according to published reports.

Between April 2016 and Dec. 31, 2018, Brunsvold lobbied former Mayor Emanuel’s office 10 times, and met with aldermen 12 times, on behalf of GCA Services, according to city records of lobbyist activity.

Brunsvold, who has been neither identified as a target of a federal probe nor charged with a crime, did not return messages seeking comment about his lobbying work for GCA Services that never resulted in a CPS contract.

Source: Chicago Data Portal

‘They Got Ringo’d’

Ringo says it makes sense to him that the FBI has expressed interest in CPS custodial contracts because the school system has twice killed contract offers shortly before scheduled votes by the Clark-led board of education.

The Detroit businessman says he remains baffled that it wasn’t until after CPS officials wrapped up a monthslong vetting process and informed him on Dec. 2, 2016, of their intention to draft a contract for board for approval that he started receiving "strange requests" from the school system.

For instance, Ringo said, CPS officials asked him to sign affidavits swearing his company wasn’t owned by his former employer and bid competitor, SodexoMagic, and that he never had any business dealings with former schools chief Barbara Byrd Bennett, who had recently resigned amid a federal corruption probe, because he once posed for a picture with her.

On Dec. 29, CPS officials also started to raise questions about his partner and primary financial backer, LGC owner Avinash Raschmale, who had testified as a government witness in the federal corruption case that landed Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in prison. Ringo LGC’s financier complied with a CPS request to provide a $12 million line of credit to prove the joint venture could "secure contract performance." Ringo said Raschmale met with CPS officials and explained that he was never charged with a crime and cooperated with the feds after being pressured to pay bribes by the now-convicted mayor of Detroit.

"After the evaluation committee prepped the board on our bid … that’s when the bull—- came. It was almost like: How does he have this money? … And that’s a question that comes from higher than the evaluation committee," Ringo said.

A high-level source familiar with the contract negotiations told Patch concerns about Raschmale’s involvement in Ringo LGC were first raised by Board of Education President Clark’s office.

Ringo’s attempts to appeal CPS’ decision to rescind the contract offer the African American-led firm with the lowest bid were rebuffed by CPS officials. The school system sent Ringo a letter saying the school system has "wide ranging discretion" and the decision was not the "product of fraud, unfair dealing or favoritism."

"After I cried, I had to laugh," Ringo said. "Here’s Chicago telling us that Detroit is too corrupt for them."

Since then, Ringo LGC ceased operation, and Ringo was forced to file for bankruptcy protection.

CPS put out a new request for proposals on the work that wasn’t awarded to Ringo’s company. And in June 2018, SodexoMagic and GCA Services (with Brunsvold as its lobbyist) emerged as the school system’s pick to win the contracted work, only to renege on the offer from GCA minutes before a scheduled vote by board of education, which was still led by Clark.

The Sun-Times reported that CPS officials struck the offer from the June 27, 2018, meeting agenda because of issues related to the "handling of sexual abuse" allegations dating back to 2000 by GCA Services, and its new parent company AMB Industries, and "wouldn’t say why they recommended GCA in the first place."

At the same meeting, though, the board voted unanimously to approve a three-year, $168.6 million contract with SodexoMagic — a company owned by NBA Hall of Famer Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and represented by the lobbying firm of former two-time Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico.

After hearing the news about the fate of the GCA Services contract, Ringo — the nobody, nobody sent — chuckled while reflecting on the irony of it all: "I almost want to send GCA a case of beer. They got Ringo’d."

Looking back, Ringo says he still wonders how things might have been different if he could afford the $500-an-hour rate to take the advice of people who told him that when it comes to lobbyists in Chicago, "Chico is the guy to have."

So I told him: The feds might’ve knocked on your door by now.


Mark Konkol, recipient of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, wrote and produced the Peabody Award-winning series, "Time: The Kalief Browder Story." He was a producer, writer and narrator for the "Chicagoland" docu-series on CNN, and a consulting producer on the Showtime documentary, "16 Shots.

More from Mark Konkol:

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via La Grange, IL Patch

September 7, 2020 at 04:21PM

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