A politically connected company that has five leases to park cars on land owned by the Chicago Public Schools employed a convicted child-sexual predator to help Cubs fans park their cars on a school parking lot — just a few feet from kids playing this summer on the school’s playground equipment.
CPS could suspend or terminate Blk & Wht Valet LLC’s contracts — which total more than $2 million and run through 2020 — for failing to ensure that sex offenders and other criminals aren’t working on school property.
Terrance Sago — who is required by Illinois law to register as a sexual predator for the rest of his life after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old relative in 2001 — says he has worked for several years parking cars on CPS property for Blk & Wht.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on school grounds, Sago says he was working for the company when he was arrested after a Cubs game in 2015 and sent back to prison for two years for failing to update his address with the Illinois Sex Offender Registry — an online database of sexual predators that anyone with a computer can check.
He got out of prison in December and went back to work for Blk & Wht, helping park cars in a CPS lot at Inter-American Magnet School, 851 W. Waveland Ave.
That’s where Sun-Times reporters found him working on July 19, a few hours before the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, two blocks away.
There’s a provision in Blk & Wht’s CPS contract requiring strict background checks of anyone working at any Chicago school.
CPS officials, reeling from a sex abuse scandal, have vowed to do a better job of keeping students safe, taking steps that include tighter background checks on anyone who works at schools.
Still, there Sago was, with kids swinging on the monkey bars behind him.
He says Blk & Wht was aware of his criminal record, having done a criminal background check on him.
He says he was working “just when I’m needed. I stay in the parking lot. I don’t go on the playground.”
Minutes after the interview, Sago pulled off his blue parking vest and left the school lot, where customers were charged $40 per car.
Sago, 43, has since been fired by Blk & Wht, which earlier this year won a new lease to keep parking cars on the lot at Inter-American and in an adjacent parking garage the school shares with the Chicago Police Department’s 19th District station.
The company is co-owned by James T. Weiss and Iman Bambooyani.
Weiss is a son-in-law of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios — he married former state Rep. Toni Berrios, the assessor’s daughter, three years ago. He’s also a grandson of Edward Murray, a former Chicago schools official with long ties to the Daley family’s 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. Murray was a deputy city treasurer and ran unsuccessfully to unseat then-city Treasurer Miriam Santos. He then became a cash manager for the schools system.
Bambooyani was managing partner of the now-closed Raw Bar & Grill north of Wrigley Field.
“James Weiss has had his business since long before he even met my daughter,” Berrios says in a written statement. “I am not involved in his work, have never been asked to become involved and have not offered any involvement. I have not done anything or sought to do anything on behalf of Mr. Weiss or his interests.”
Under state law, convicted child sex offenders are forbidden from being on school grounds at any time.
But leases to park cars on property owned by CPS require companies to do criminal background checks on employees “who may have contact with CPS students.” That includes checking fingerprints with the Illinois State Police and the FBI and calling to check with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, in addition to seeing whether any of their employees are on the Illinois Sex Offender Registry.
Recent CPS leases, including the one at Inter-American, also require parking companies to report the results of each employee check to school officials and to update those checks quarterly.
CPS says Blk & Wht didn’t violate the terms of its lease at Inter-American because Sago and its other employees “do not interact with CPS students.
“However, we are greatly concerned that this individual was hired and assigned to work at a Board of Education property by Blk & Wht,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton says.
Bolton says school officials are asking Maggie Hickey — the former federal prosecutor hired to reexamine CPS policies to protect students from sexual abuse — to look into “the possibility of requiring renters to background check all personnel, even if they do not have contact with students or work during non-school hours.”
The parking leases put the onus on the contractors to identify sex offenders and other criminals.
Still, Blk & Wht blames Sago. He failed to disclose his criminal conviction on his job application, according to company attorney Richard Velazquez, a partner in the law firm of Daley & Georges, which is headed by Michael Daley, a brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The company “requires each and every potential employee to fill out an application which requires disclosure of information regarding the potential employee’s background,” according to a written statement from Velazquez. “A part-time employee was able to manipulate BLK & WHT’s process by lying on his application and failing to disclose a prior criminal conviction.
“The part-time employee has been terminated,” the statement says. “BLK & WHT will not tolerate dishonest conduct from its employees and has revamped its hiring process to guarantee compliance with all of the rules and regulations of the Board of Education.”
Velazquez and the company declined to respond to questions from the Sun-Times about the names of its employees who work on school property, how its criminal background checks are conducted and whether Blk & Wht has employed any other convicted felons.
They also wouldn’t discuss how the company repeatedly has secured leases from CPS to park cars on school property near Chicago’s top sports stadiums — Wrigley Field, the United Center and Sox park.
Blk & Wht Valet was formed a decade ago by Bambooyani and Weiss. Since then, it has gotten a dozen business licenses from City Hall allowing it to park cars for two Rush Street restaurants and to park vehicles on properties it leases from CPS, dating to at least 2012.
Under Blk & Wht’s leases with CPS, it’s set to pay a total of $2.1 million, including nearly $1.1 million to Inter-American, a deal that began in April and ends in late 2020.
Blk & Wht wouldn’t say how much money it anticipates making from those parking operations or why its deals aren’t structured to give the schools a percentage of the money sports fans pay to park on their property.
CPS also has 20 other parking leases, including a 10-year deal with Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse, which will pay nearly $3.3 million to Ogden Elementary School, 24 W. Walton, by the time the deal expires at the end of 2024.
Administrators of Chicago schools that have the parking deals like them because their schools get to keep all the money they bring in for using school lots on nights and weekends when classes aren’t in session, rather than having the money go to schools citywide, as is the case with contracts that allow cellphone companies to place towers on school roofs. The income is a boon for schools that have seen their budgets shrink in recent years.
The biggest contracts are with schools where parking is most in demand, in the pricey neighborhoods of Wrigleyville and River North and at the schools closest to the United Center and Guaranteed Rate Field.
The schools that have secured the most profitable deals serve a student population that is, on average, wealthier and more heavily white than the city as a whole. They include open-enrollment schools in expensive neighborhoods and lottery-based magnet schools that are immune to budget cuts other schools might face based on enrollment drops.
Disney Magnet Elementary used to get $16,000 a month from Blk & Wht for parking in its lot and garage at 4140 N. Marine Dr., a sum that went down to $7,000 a month when the contract was renewed in March. Disney Principal Kathleen Hagstrom says Blk & Wht was the only company that put in a proposal then.
CPS doesn’t require competitive bidding for parking deals “for less than $75,000 and . . . less than 10 years,” according to Bolton. Eighteen of CPS’ 25 current leases didn’t meet those thresholds.
Hagstrom says “Jim” — as she called Weiss — told her the value of the parking deal dropped as the growing popularity of ride-sharing services drove down demand to park on the lot, which is used mostly by people who live in the densely populated area.
Disney uses the income from the parking deal to help with upkeep, according to Hagstrom — for instance, if trees need replanting or stairs need to be repaired. When a driveway needed to be repaved, the cost was evenly split among Disney, CPS and Weiss, Hagstrom says. She says Weiss also has given the school additional money after particularly successful events.
Of the “multiple” companies that have leased the lot since she took over the school in 2001, Hagstrom says, “Blk & Wht Valet have been the best by far.”
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