Cardinal Growth — the Chicago venture capital firm seized by the federal government after bankrolling companies tied to former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s son — had many wealthy investors, including Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for governor.
As a result, Rauner and 33 other investors found themselves in the cross hairs of federal prosecutors seeking to recover $21.4 million in government loans Cardinal Growth got from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Cardinal invested those loans in companies including Municipal Sewer Services, which was handed no-bid deals from City Hall while Daley’s son and a nephew were among its undisclosed owners.
Under the threat of a lawsuit two years ago, Rauner agreed to pay the feds $50,000 — the final payment of $200,000 he promised to invest in Cardinal Growth a decade earlier, according to his campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf.
“Bruce fulfilled the receiver’s request and was not among the seven remaining [investors] that the SBA sued for refusing to honor capital commitments,” Schrimpf said by email in response to questions. “Bruce was a passive investor and played no role in the fund. Bruce lost all his money.”
Asked whether Rauner ever received money when Cardinal sold a profitable company, Schrimpf, in another email, said: “This question prompted a little more digging on our end — and we discovered that while Bruce lost the majority of his money in Cardinal, he did not lose ALL his money, which is what I think I originally had told you. . . Still trying to find records of specific disbursements but frankly not sure those are still available.”
The SBA is still trying to recover the tax dollars it lent Cardinal Growth, which the firm invested in companies across the United States. Some lost money. Some were successful, among them Concourse Communications, which got a City Hall contract in September 2005 to install Wi-Fi at O’Hare and Midway airports.
Nine months after it got the city deal, Cardinal sold Concourse for $45 million — a 33 percent profit. It’s unclear whether Rauner or other investors got any of the money. After the sale, Cardinal paid Daley’s son Patrick Daley $708,999.
SBA spokeswoman Tiffani Shea Clement said: “The case is still pending. All of the major assets/companies have been sold except one. The receivers have collected millions of dollars on behalf of Cardinal. There are more than 30 parties remaining that have filed claims against Cardinal.”
Two associates of the Daley family — Robert J. Bobb, a former federal prosecutor, and Joseph McInerney, an accountant — created Cardinal Growth in 2000, seeking money from investors to buy and turn around distressed companies to sell at a profit.
Rauner was among the early investors, pledging $200,000 for an ownership stake in Cardinal Growth of less than 2 percent.
According to Schrimpf: “Some acquaintances of Bruce’s knew Bob Bobb, a former U.S. attorney, and encouraged Bruce to invest. A number of Chicago-area business folks invested in Cardinal, and Bruce had heard about it from a few of them.
“He met with [Bobb and McInerney] briefly before investing in the fund and did not subsequently interact with them.”
Bobb and McInerney leveraged the private investments to borrow money from the SBA, which had certified Cardinal Growth as a small business investment company. Under that program, the SBA agreed to lend Cardinal $2 for every $1 it raised privately. Over the next decade, Cardinal Growth borrowed $51 million.
In April 2003, it agreed to bankroll Municipal Sewer Services, which had been created to take over city of Chicago sewer-inspection and cleaning contracts when the original contractor, Kenny Industrial Services, went bankrupt. Using SBA funds and money from private investors, Municipal Sewer Services bought Kenny’s equipment and took over the contracts. It then landed $4 million in no-bid contract extensions from Daley’s purchasing department.
Municipal Sewer Services filed documents with the city showing the company was owned by Bobb, McInerney and Anthony Duffy. It left out two other owners — Daley’s son and his nephew Robert G. Vanecko — who together had invested $65,000 in the company in 2003.
The son and nephew had sold their stakes in the company by the end of 2004, three years before the Sun-Times revealed their hidden stake, prompting an investigation by the city’s inspector general and the FBI.
MSS ended up going out of business.
A federal grand jury indicted Duffy for lying to the FBI about Daley’s son and nephew. It also indicted Jesse Brunt, one of the company’s subcontractors, for his role in a minority-contracting scam that cost taxpayers $8.8 million. Both men pleaded guilty and are serving prison terms. No one else was charged.
“Bruce believes companies should follow the law,” Schrimpf said. “MSS apparently did not follow the law and was appropriately held accountable for that.”
Cardinal also invested money it obtained from private and federal sources in Concourse Communications, which got a 10-year contract from City Hall in 2005 to install Wi-Fi service at the airports. Nine months after the contract was signed, Cardinal sold Concourse to Boingo Wireless.
Daley’s son collected $708,999 for helping find investors for the Wi-Fi deal. They included Blair Hull, a multimillionaire commodities trader who was then running for the U.S. Senate and hoping to win the mayor’s endorsement.
Patrick Daley had started out at Cardinal Growth in 2002 as an unpaid intern, while working on his master’s degree in business administration at the University of Chicago. In all, he made more than $1.2 million on his deals with Cardinal Growth before it was seized by the federal government in June 2011.
Rauner had been a major financial backer of former Mayor Daley, contributing $50,000 to Daley’s campaign fund in 2003 and $150,000 in 2006.
In the spring of 2010, Daley appointed Rauner to the interim board of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the government agency that owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier.
So how does Rauner feel about losing money on Cardinal Growth while Patrick Daley made more than $1.2 million?
Schrimpf: “Bruce invested in Cardinal years before Patrick Daley apparently got involved but regrets ever investing one penny with Cardinal.”