Madigan joins long list of Chicago politicians recorded by federal wiretaps

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Ald. Mathias “Paddy” Bauler (center) celebrates his 66th birthday in 1956 with allies and supporters. The last of the “saloonkeeper aldermen,” Bauler was never charged with any wrongdoing, but he uttered what is perhaps the granddaddy of all classic questionable quotes from Chicago pols.

Joe Kordick/Sun-Times archives

Disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich had a “f——— golden” opportunity to fill a U.S. Senate seat. 

Ex-City Treasurer Miriam Santos had potential political donors whom she argued should “belly up” with campaign contributions. 

And now, former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan allegedly had a host of cronies who “made out like bandits.”

All three politicians also unwittingly wound up with federal investigators listening in. 

Prosecutors this week released a transcript of Madigan’s embarrassing quip from a wiretapped phone line that authorities say underscores the alleged scheme the Southwest Side Democrat orchestrated to land his associates jobs, contracts and money from ComEd in exchange for his help passing legislation favorable to the utility.

“Some of these guys have made out like bandits,” Madigan allegedly marveled during a conversation with a confidant. 

Madigan has pleaded not guilty to corruption charges, but no matter how his trial goes next year, the eyebrow-raising quote will surely end up on the ever-growing playlist of words spoken by Illinois officials that they’d probably love to take back. 

Then Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, (top) and then Gov. Rod Blagojevich (bottom) attend the lllinois State Fair in Springfield in 2007.

Seth Perlman/AP file

Blagojevich could take up a whole side of such an ignominious greatest hits album. Prosecutors relied on thousands of his recorded phone calls to secure a 14-year prison sentence for auctioning off Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, among other missteps. 

“I’ve got this f——- thing and it’s f——- golden, and I’m not giving it up for f—-n’ nothing,” Blagojevich told a consultant during a scarcely veiled discussion of questionable political horse trading. 

Blagojevich, whose sentence was commuted by former President Donald Trump in 2020, mused bluntly over whether Obama would give him a plum Cabinet post, or if the governor could take the Washington seat himself: “I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”

He put it more plainly another time: “I want to make money.”

The tapes also revealed a different side of the affable Elvis fanatic, who lamented his poor approval ratings despite legislation he championed to lower transit costs for seniors:

“I f——- busted my ass and … gave your grandmother a free ride … and what do I get for that? Only 13% of you all out there think I’m doing a good job. So f—- all of you.”

‘Belly up’ remark sets low bar

The feds didn’t tap the phone line of Santos, a once rising star who won her third and final term as Chicago treasurer in 1999 while facing indictments for mail fraud and attempted extortion. 

But federal agents were able to listen back to a 1998 conversation she had with a broker for a company that recorded all calls as a routine practice — and prosecutors used that to convince a jury she tried to bully them into giving $10,000 to the state Democratic Party. 

Former Chicago Treasurer Miriam Santos is all smiles as she gets in the car with her family, who picked her up at the Pekin Federal Prison Camp in 2000, after a federal appeals court ruled that her extortion and mail fraud conviction was marred by an “avalanche of errors.”

Peoria Journal Star, Fred Zwicky/AP-file

“I don’t understand why the firm is so recalcitrant to help out the people that helped them,” Santos said on the tape.

“But this is not a choice; you know I’m tired of it … When they sat in here and asked for my time and asked for my help and asked for my business, I was there. Now it’s time for people to belly up.”

Santos’ conviction was later overturned, but she pleaded guilty to a count of mail fraud in lieu of a new trial. 

Former Ald. Dick Simpson, a longtime political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said quotes such as those from Blagojevich and Santos — among many others throughout state history — reveal a widespread “contempt for the voters in the Democratic process.”

Simpson, who co-authored a book on “Corrupt Illinois,” declined to comment on the quote attributed to Madigan because he’s expected to testify at the ex-speaker’s trial as an expert witness. 

“Nearly all these lines come from machine politicians,” Simpson said. “When they think they aren’t being taped or heard, they think they’re above the law. And that’s when we see them taking advantage of power and clout.”

‘Tuna’ and ‘cheddar?’

The feds say that’s what outgoing indicted Ald. Ed Burke (14th) was doing during a 2017 conversation with former Ald. Danny Solis, who was wearing a wire for the government. 

“So did we land the, uh, tuna?” Burke asked, referring to a developer he allegedly targeted for legal work at his firm in exchange for shepherding their project through his finance committee. “The cash register has not rung yet.”

Burke has pleaded not guilty to bribery, extortion and racketeering charges. 

Ald. Edward M. Burke shown on a visit to City Hall in 2019.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times file

Solis found himself cooperating as a mole for the feds after they allegedly caught him in the middle of his own misdeeds on a wiretap. 

“They should be smart enough to figure out how they can give me a contribution, you know, not necessarily connecting with them, so I’m just going to tell them,” Solis said of a developer seeking approval for a project in his 25th Ward.  

Solis, whose cooperation has been hailed as “truly extraordinary” by the feds, has pleaded not guilty to a bribery charge. 

Former state Rep. Derrick Smith leaves a sentencing hearing at the Federal Building in 2015.

Brian Jackson/Sun-Times-file

A campaign aide wore a wire on ex-state Rep. Derrick Smith, who wasn’t looking for cheese when inquiring about a business owner seeking support for a project in his West SIde district: “​How she going to get the cheddar to us?” 

Smith got a five-month prison sentence for taking a $7,000 bribe

‘Hogs’ vs. ‘pigs’

Ex-Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno waxed poetic, Chicago style, while talking with an informant wired up in 2010 to catch Moreno taking a $5,000 bribe to grease the wheels for a project in Cicero. 

“I don’t want to be a hog, I just want to be a pig. Hogs get slaughtered, pigs get fat,” said Moreno, who ended up with an 11-year sentence. 

No one needed a wire for another controversial county commissioner prone to porcine precepts.

“I’m the hog with the big nuts,” William Beavers famously said.

The quote first surfaced in a lawsuit that Beavers denounced even as he confirmed the quote.

That’s not what got the former 7th Ward alderman in trouble though — he got a six-month sentence in 2013 for skipping his taxes and spending campaign cash at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.

Cook County Commissioner William Beavers in the Cook County Board Chambers in 2012.

John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times-file

Yet another quotable Chicago crook with a taste for gambling delivered her lines via hundreds of regrettably frank emails in 2012 and 2013. 

“I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit,“ ex-Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett typed with a smiley emoticon. 

She was talking about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks she got for steering millions in no-bid contracts to former employers. Byrd-Bennett received a 4 1/2-year sentence. 

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pictured in 2015.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times-file

And no play list of classic questionable quotes would be complete without perhaps the granddaddy of them all — from an era when you didn’t need a wiretap to know what was on a pol’s mind. 

Legendary North Side political boss Mathias “Paddy” Bauler wasn’t worried about the feds when he shouted for joy and danced a jig when Richard J. Daley was first elected mayor in 1955, keeping the Chicago Machine intact. 

A relative and a fellow City Council member embrace Ald. Mathias “Paddy” Bauler after he won reelection in 1959.

Chicago Sun-Time archives

”Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet,” Bauler gleefully declared to a reporter. ​​

The last of the “saloonkeeper” aldermen, Bauler was known for openly talked about what most others considered his ethical lapses, which included paying people for votes.

“We’d line ‘em up and pass out the bucks,” Bauler told a Sun-Times reporter in 1955. “There’d be trouble if we ran out of bucks, but we never did.”

Bauler died in 1977, ten years after a long political career in which he mostly avoided any legal trouble. 

“A lot of Chicago’s most corrupt leaders didn’t go to jail,” Simpson said. “But they probably should have.”

Contributing: Jon Seidel and Lauren FitzPatrick

Feeds,News,Region: Chicago,Chi ST

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January 12, 2023 at 05:28PM

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