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Mihalopoulos: Convicted developer digs in with ‘Chicago Dirt’

Real estate developer Calvin Boender, indicted on four counts of fraud and other charges, leaves Dirksen Federal Building in 2009. (File Photo by John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times)

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Like almost every businessman caught in local corruption cases, wealthy property developer Calvin Boender left the federal courthouse without saying a word after his conviction for bribing a powerful alderman in 2010.

During his three years in prison, though, Boender churned out a 215-page book.

Most of Boender’s self-published “Chicago Dirt” focuses on how he reaped great riches in Bucktown and other fast-gentrifying neighborhoods. You have to wait for the last chapter, titled “Of Railroads and My Personal Derailment,” for a new take on one of the most notorious cases in Chicago’s long history of shady land deals.

OPINION

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Boender was convicted after paying for nearly $40,000 in home improvements for 29th Ward Ald. Isaac Carothers while he was pursuing official approval to build new houses at an old rail yard on 50 acres on the West Side.

Boender writes that he “felt perfectly comfortable” when Carothers asked for a referral “to do some work at his personal residence” in June 2004 and he put the alderman in contact with contractor Stanley Walczak.

“I didn’t think there was anything wrong,” Boender writes. “I was happy that I was able to send some business Stanley’s way, as well as pleased to be able to help Ald. Carothers find a reliable contractor.”

A few weeks later, Boender says, Walczak told him, “I think that [Carothers] thinks one of us is going to pay for the project!”

Boender says he considered calling Carothers but “feared what he could do to prevent the zoning from getting approved.”

“Alternatively, I could have just sent him an invoice and waited to see how he responded,” Boender writes. “In hindsight, this would have been my best option.

“Instead, I chose to quietly pay Stanley for the work he completed, and hoped that this transaction never came back to haunt me.”

The feds indicted Boender in 2009. Although Carothers — among then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s most influential City Council allies — copped a plea deal, Boender went on trial.

“I paid a seven-figure amount for my defense,” Boender writes.

He ended up spending more time behind bars than Carothers, who declined to comment.

Then-Ald. Isaac “Ike” Carothers listens to his lawyer Jeffrey Steinback as Steinbeck speaks to the media after Carothers pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in 2010. File Photo. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times
Then-Ald. Isaac “Ike” Carothers listens to his lawyer Jeffrey Steinback as Steinbeck speaks to the media after Carothers pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in 2010. File Photo. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

Boender says Carothers was the only crooked politician he had encountered in his many years as a developer. And he has nothing but praise for Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the Chicago Democrat who lobbied Daley on behalf of the Galewood yards project.

In his book, Boender reveals Gutierrez also successfully pushed the Daley administration for expensive road improvements for the development.

Boender told me none of that help had anything to do with the $200,000 he loaned to Gutierrez. “There was no quid pro quo,” Boender says.

Even after Gutierrez left the Council for Congress in the 1990s, Boender says his lawyer frequently travelled to Washington to lobby Gutierrez “to get pre-approval for our zoning requests” in Chicago.

A spokesman for Gutierrez didn’t respond to messages Tuesday.

The criminal dealings with Carothers took place when Boender considered himself “at the pinnacle of my career.”

“My wife had just thrown a 50th birthday party for me at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, which featured dinner with 240 of my friends, family and business associates, along with live entertainment from The Temptations,” Boender writes.

Now 61, he’s in business again but not tempted to invest in Cook County, he told me, citing shaky government finances and high taxes.

He mostly invests in farmland in Arkansas and Missouri, where he says people he meets tend to believe “we’re all Al Capone” in Chicago.

Boender acknowledges his case did nothing but add to the widespread notion Chicago runs on graft and greed.

“I love this city — I really do,” he says. “I should have handled things a lot differently.”

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