Morgan Murphy Jr. dies; ex-congressman had failed casino dreams

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Morgan Murphy Jr. served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. | Provided

Morgan Murphy Jr. fought international drug trafficking during five terms in the U.S. House before investing in several business ventures that garnered negative attention and litigation.

Among them was an attempt he spearheaded to build a casino just over the border in Wisconsin that soured when gaming regulators learned of Murphy’s past business dealings with a corrupt union leader who had a history of mob ties.

Murphy, 83, died Friday at Mercy Hospital in Chicago.

“He was ahead of his time in a lot of his thinking in advocating for gun bans,” said Murphy’s daughter, Michelle, a top aide to Ald. Ed Burke (14th).

“And long before Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, he was advocating for prevention when it came to illegal drugs and fought hard to end heroin imports because it was effecting our troops in Vietnam so badly.”

After leaving the U.S. House in 1981, Murphy formed Nii-Jii Entertainment, which partnered with the Menominee tribe to build that casino in Kenosha, Wis., in the late 1990s. But Murphy’s previous connection with corrupt union boss John Serpico helped upend the deal.

Serpico, ousted from his top spot in the Laborers International Union of North America in 1995 because of alleged mob ties, was later found guilty of using his influence over a group of unions to deposit union money in crooked banks in return for getting personal loans under favorable conditions.

One of the loans was for a real estate deal with Murphy to buy property on the Near West Side.

In 2005 Murphy lost a civil lawsuit brought by fellow investors in the casino who claimed his failure to disclose previous ties to Serpico soured the deal. His son, attorney Morgan Murphy III —  also an investor in the casino — was named in the suit.

Murphy, along with other friends and relatives of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, was also one of the original investors who landed a lucrative sweetheart deal to run the Park Grill in Millennium Park.

A Sun-Times editorial called the deal “a classic case of how money and clout grab the inside track in Chicago, seemingly for the benefit of a small group of people who all know each other, doing the rest of us no favors.”

Under the deal, awarded in 2002, The Park Grill not only pays no property taxes, it enjoys a 20-year contract, with two five-year renewal options, and gets free water, natural gas and garbage collection.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration filed a lawsuit seeking to have the deal declared invalid, but a Cook County Judge upheld the deal last year.

Murphy was born into a well-connected family. His father, Morgan Murphy Sr., who died in 1979, was a former ComEd chairman as well as president of the Chicago Police Board.

Ald. Burke, a friend of the former congressman, released a statement this week applauding Murphy’s work while in office to combat the drug trade.

“One of the things that people ought to remember was his warning of more than forty years ago about the threat of international drug trafficking which he fought to combat,” Burke said in the statement.

“Congressman Murphy went all around the world in an effort to undercover the links between international drug cartels and the governments that were supporting them,” the statement continued.

“Most often, using his own vacation time, Congressman Murphy trekked to countries such as Thailand, Laos, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and western Europe. At home he lectured school children on the dangers of drug abuse and addiction. He truly cared about exposing the source of this horrible epidemic which ravages lives and destroys the future.”

Beginning in 2004, Murphy served for about 10 years in an appointed position on the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals.

“He was a generous man with his time with his career always willing to help people,” Michelle Murphy said. “He was a consummate public servant.”

Murphy was also a former board chairman at Mercy Hospital on the near South Side, where his other daughter, Connie, currently works as public relations director.

Murphy served as a 1st lieutenant in the Marine Corps from 1955 to 1957 and was a graduate of Northwestern University and DePaul University School of Law.

In addition to his three children, Murphy is survived by five grandchildren.

Visitation will be Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at Old St. Pat’s Church, followed by a funeral Mass at 5:30 p.m.

Interment will be private.

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