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Payroll ‘ghost’ admits scheme: ex-alderman’s daughter received 3 phony jobs

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) broke his silence on the ghost payroll scandal Thursday and blamed a dead man for irregularities that federal investigators have found in Burke's City Council Finance Committee. | Sun-Times file photo

Marie A. D’Amico admitted Wednesday that she took in nearly $83,000 doing almost nothing in three local government jobs.

D’Amico, the daughter of former Ald. Anthony C. Laurino (39th), acknowledged in a plea agreement that “Individual A” – an unidentified person – “intervened” on her behalf for ghost payroll jobs at the Cook County clerk’s office from 1981 to ’85, the Sheriff’s Department from 1988 to ’90, and the City Council Finance Committee from 1991 to ’93.

While on the clerk’s payroll, she didn’t even learn of the office’s location, the agreement said.

Occasionally sobbing softly and dabbing her eyes and nose with a tissue, she pleaded guilty to expanded charges that included collecting a check as an investigator for the City Council’s Finance Committee.

“Thank you, your honor,” D’Amico said after U.S. District Judge George W. Lindberg accepted her plea and set sentencing for Dec. 13.

“I’m very, very sorry.”

Her activities first were revealed in a federal investigation of job-selling and test-rigging that took place between 1988 and 1992 under former Sheriff James O’Grady. He was not charged.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Levine would not identify “Individual A” but said that person did not work at any of the offices.

Federal authorities would not say whether charges will be filed against those who got her the jobs or helped her keep them.

D’Amico’s father served as alderman for the 39th Ward for 29 years before quitting June 22. The same day, another daughter, Margaret Laurino, was named by Mayor Daley to replace him. His son is state Rep William J. Laurino (D-Chicago).

A year ago, D’Amico, 53, of the 4800 block of North Kilbourn, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in connection with the sheriff’s position. Her sentencing was postponed, and the U.S. attorney’s office added the Finance Committee allegation Wednesday.

As part of her plea agreement, she also admitted collecting money at the ghost payroll post with the clerk’s office, although she was not charged with any offense.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the Finance Committee, said he knew nothing of the fraud.

“I am disappointed that this unfortunate incident took place. I was unaware that Ms. D’Amico was not performing the work for which she was hired and paid. Ms. D’Amico resigned . . . before the allegations were made known to me. . . . I have taken remedial action to prevent anything like this from happening again,” Burke said in a statement.

Stanley T. Kusper, county clerk at the time of D’Amico’s employment, could not be reached.

D’Amico earned $21,750 altogether as an investigator at the Finance Committee. She performed “a total of no more than 35 to 40 hours of work . . . during the entire period of her employment,” the plea agreement said.

Burke spokesman Dennis McSweeney said the Finance Committee has a staff of about two dozen, with five to 10 working at any time as investigators of small claims and workers compensation claims against the city.

The alderman knew D’Amico was on the committee’s payroll, McSweeney said. It was not unusual for investigators not to frequent the office because they spend most of their time in the field, McSweeney said.

The “remedial action” taken by Burke meant “that the people who were responsible in this area are no longer responsible for that,” McSweeney said.

At the Sheriff’s Department, the plea agreement said D’Amico did no work at all and received $24,268. At the clerk’s office, she got $36,714, the agreement said.

At both the Finance Committee and the sheriff’s office, unidentified employees forged her signature to time sheets, the plea said. It did not say how her time was handled at the clerk’s office or what positions she was supposed to have held at either the sheriff’s or clerk’s offices.

The Finance Committee allegation, which is theft from programs receiving federal funds, carries a maximum 10-year sentence. Mail fraud is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The U.S. attorney’s office also lodged ghost payroller charges against William J. Klaas, 54, of Itasca. He was accused of receiving $29,000 as a Cook County deputy sheriff from 1989 to ’90, while he did nothing there and worked full time with the Illinois Transportation Department.

Klaas is the elected Addison Township highway commissioner. In addition, he is the Republican committeeman for Addison Township and the vice chairman of the Addison Republican Committee.