The son of one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s most powerful City Council allies has resigned from his $72,384-a-year city laborer’s job after an internal investigation concluded he crashed a city vehicle while driving on a suspended license, then had a co-worker cover for him to avoid taking a mandatory drug test.
Kenny Austin, son of Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th), and co-worker Darryl Milsap were accused of violating numerous city personnel rules by participating in an alleged cover-up unmasked by Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
The crash that damaged a city van and a private vehicle, but caused no injuries, occurred in 2012. But it wasn’t until 2013 that Ferguson’s office got an anonymous tip alleging that the accident report filed with the Chicago Police Department and the damage report to the Department of Streets and Sanitation were fraudulent.
After an extensive investigation that involved interviewing co-workers and examining police reports, driving records, damage estimates, drug tests and surveillance video, the inspector general confronted both men.
Sources said Kenny Austin lied to investigators by claiming to have been the passenger — not the driver — at the time of the accident.
The alderman’s son further violated personnel rules by driving on a suspended license, failing to report the accident and falsely claiming that the passenger was the driver to avoid the mandatory drug test required of city drivers after on-duty accidents.
Sources said Milsap contradicted Kenny Austin. Milsap admitted that Kenny Austin was behind the wheel at the time of the accident, that the two men had traded places to cover up the fact that Kenny Austin was ineligible to drive and that Milsap had nevertheless taken the drug test.
Armed with Milsap’s confession, Ferguson recommended the firing of both Kenny Austin and Milsap, whose salary was $77,400. Both men resigned recently to avoid being fired.
Carrie Austin is the political powerhouse who joined forces with Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke to block an ordinance empowering Ferguson to investigate aldermen and their employees and taking that power away from Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan, who is suing the city.
On Wednesday, Carrie Austin accused Ferguson of targeting her son to get even. She insisted that her son was the passenger — not the driver.
“Everybody’s trying to make like Kenny is the liar. That’s not true. Milsap is the liar. He came with his own personal attorney and the inspector general believed them. That’s what the inspector general wanted to do because it’s my son. I’m sick and tired of this f—— city witch-hunting my god—- family,” the alderman said.
“My son didn’t do any of that. That’s the lie the inspector general is telling. There was an accident, yes. But my son was not the one driving. He was the passenger. Milsap is the one lying and saying that Kenny is the one who did it.”
Pressed to explain why her son resigned, Austin said, “He told me. He said, “Mother, I cannot lose my pension on no BS.’ And I said, ‘OK, son. Do what you have to do. It ain’t my decision. It’s your decision. If you want to fight it, I’ll fight it with you. But it’s your decision.’ ”
A furious Austin added, “The young man who was in the car with my son told another individual at Sanitation that they had to protect me. From what? That’s a bald-faced lie. That’s the reason I know they’re lying. Why would you even say that you were protecting me? What were you protecting me from? I believe it’s a witch hunt. Who is the Budget chairman? [Ferguson] would want to get at any of us. Not just me. He’s already picked at Ed [Burke]. I’m next on the line. Next, I guess he’ll go at Michelle” Harris, chairman of the City Council’s Rules Committee.
Ferguson could not be reached for comment.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that another one of Carrie Austin’s sons, Lemuel Austin III, serves as the $88,812-a-year superintendent overseeing the South Side division where his brother works. City Hall said he was not the division’s superintendent at the time of the accident; he was promoted to division superintendent in 2013.
The division superintendent at the time of the accident failed to notify a safety administrator when the accident occurred. The department brass was unaware of it until the spring of 2013, when the inspector general started asking questions.
During the mayoral campaign, Carrie Austin made headlines — and inadvertently put pressure on Emanuel — by claiming that a post-election property tax increase was inevitable, no matter who won the April 7 runoff.
Nepotism apparently comes naturally to the Austins.
For five years ending in 1993, Austin’s husband, the late Ald. Lemuel Austin (34th), and Anthony C. Laurino (39th) engaged in the art of political wife-swapping.
Laurino’s wife was placed on the payroll of the City Council’s Budget Committee, chaired by Lemuel Austin. Laurino, who chaired the Traffic Committee, returned the favor by giving Austin’s wife a committee job.
Despite a federal investigation into alleged ghost payrolling on the staffs of City Council committees, Carrie Austin has insisted that she earned her $37,560-a-year field investigator’s pay by driving around four South Side wards in search of broken street signs.
Lemuel Austin died of a heart attack in 1994 at 48.
Two weeks later, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Carrie Austin to succeed her late husband. Seven years later, Carrie Austin followed in her husband’s footsteps again — as chairman of the City Council’s second-most powerful committee.
After cruising to re-election in 2011 with 65 percent of the vote over four challengers, Carrie Austin chose Lemuel III to serve as her ward superintendent. Lemuel III had run snow-removal operations in the 34th Ward during the infamous Ground Hog Day 2011 blizzard that shut down Lake Shore Drive.
Former alderman Ald. William Beavers (7th), who was subsequently convicted on tax fraud charges, once had his brother working as his ward superintendent. Before being convicted on federal corruption charges, former Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th) had her sister doing the same.
Carrie Austin was believed to be the first alderman to install a son or daughter in the all-important housekeeping job, responsible for everything from snow removal, garbage collection and street sweeping to tree trimming, graffiti removal and rodent control.
At the time, Lemuel III had his hands full.
The 34th Ward was one of 10 wards involved in a 10-week surveillance that had prompted Ferguson’s predecessor David Hoffman to conclude in 2008 that Chicago was wasting $21 million a year on garbage collection crews “paid to do nothing” for 25 percent of their time on the clock.
In that investigation, laborers and truck drivers tracked by investigators were found to be in bars and restaurants, relaxing at home, sitting in their cars or standing around drinking and, in one case, urinating on the street when they were supposed to be hard at work.