FBI files expose secret life of ex-Metra boss Pagano: Brown

Written By By MARK BROWN Posted: 05/05/2014, 08:42am

When Phil Pagano killed himself by stepping in front of a Metra train in May 2010, it already had been more than two years since the commuter rail agency boss last posted on his blog, golfmytimeaway.blogspot.com.

But Pagano’s anonymous musings on everything from books to golf courses to the meaning of life are still preserved there in their original form, offering yet more proof of the Internet as a time capsule that bestows immortality in ways we do not anticipate.

“Life Is Short — Smell the Roses” is a particularly haunting entry from Pagano, whose suicide amid scandal at age 60 took place as the veteran transit executive was coming under the scrutiny of the FBI.

“For me, several events which occurred these past twelve months caused me to change my personality and become someone who I was not,” Pagano wrote without offering much by way of explanation or context.

The existence of Pagano’s blog was made public this week when the Better Government Association posted on its website another remnant of Pagano’s tenure at Metra — portions of his FBI files made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

The FBI documents mention the blog and provide new clues about the source of the money troubles that may have led Pagano to borrow excessively from his Metra retirement accounts and then finally forge the Metra chairwoman’s signatures to authorize payments to himself that he was not owed.

As earlier evidence had hinted, the answer in large part appears to be the married Pagano’s penchant for fooling around with other women. The FBI counted “at least four” Pagano girlfriends.

“It is now believed that Pagano was using the embezzled funds to pay for the multiple affairs,” a 2011 Justice Department memo concluded.

The FBI files contain interviews with three separate women who say they met Pagano through eHarmony.com and maintained romantic relationships with him in which they hooked up regularly, spoke daily by telephone, corresponded by email and took vacations together.

After his death, Pagano’s wife filed for bankruptcy and alleged he had been supporting two other households outside the couple’s Crystal Lake home.

The women all told the FBI that Pagano had been very generous with them, insisting on paying for everything when they were together, but they denied he was supporting them.

One of the women said Pagano did give her money when she was having financial troubles; he told her he had withdrawn it from his retirement account.

That same woman told the FBI he carried on the affair during weekdays. The woman asked Pagano how he could be away from work like that, and Pagano “responded that he was the boss and could do what he wanted.”

According to the FBI interviews, Pagano initially told all the women he was single.

The women eventually became aware of their rivals through the usual means: snooping through his computer, email and other slip-ups. But Pagano managed to keep up a relationship with most of them even after they found out about his infidelity.

Another of the women, described by Pagano on his blog as his “partner in life,” lived in Milwaukee. Pagano often met her for weekends at the swanky American Club Resort in Kohler, where she says on her own blog that he liked to shampoo her hair in the oversize bathtubs.

Sorry, too much information. But on at least one occasion, Pagano billed such a stay on his Metra credit card, then later paid up after someone at Metra questioned the expense.

According to the FBI, Pagano told one Metra employee he needed the money withdrawn from his retirement accounts to invest in a family member’s “cheese theme franchise restaurant,” whatever that is.

He told another Metra official his father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which that official understood to be the reason he needed the money.

One of the women told the FBI she didn’t know why Pagano needed the money but theorized another woman may have been blackmailing him. The woman who received some of his retirement money explicitly denied she was blackmailing him.

When Pagano stepped in front of that train four years ago now, he no doubt imagined that he might keep a lot of this information from ever coming to light.

Instead you can read it for yourself at www.bettergov.org under the FBI files. But no need to rush. Along with his blog, it will be there forever.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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