Long-secret phone bill in David Koschman case reveals early calls to Mayor Daley’s brother
Special prosecutor Dan Webb left Bridget Higgins McCarthy’s calls to Michael Daley out of his report — but did cite her calls to the Daley nephew who killed Koschman.
Sixteen years after then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko threw a punch that cost David Koschman his life, newly released cellphone records reveal that one of the people Vanecko was with called the mayor’s brother just eight hours after the incident.
Long hidden from public view by a court order, the phone bill obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times shows Bridget Higgins McCarthy called attorney Michael Daley around the time that two Chicago police detectives had come to the McCarthys’ house. The cops were looking for two men who ran away after the punch was thrown, leaving Koschman unconscious on Division Street around 3:15 a.m. on April 25, 2004.
McCarthy’s husband Kevin, who’d initially been handcuffed at the scene, lied to the detectives, telling them he and his wife didn’t know the two guys who ran away. He didn’t tell them that he, his wife and those same two men all had been together at an engagement party for one of Michael Daley’s daughters earlier that night.
The detectives asked to speak with McCarthy’s wife. But he told them she was unavailable, and the police left.
About four hours later, the police investigation came to an abrupt halt, records show. It didn’t resume until May 9, 2004 — three days after Koschman had died.
The Bridget McCarthy phone bill, released by the Chicago Police Board in response to a public records request, raises new questions about the Daley family’s communications with those involved in the Koschman case at the time the Chicago Police Department — under Richard M. Daley’s control — was conducting an investigation that would keep Vanecko from being brought to justice for nearly a decade.
A special prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb, obtained an indictment against Vanecko in 2013 for involuntary manslaughter, and the mayor’s nephew, who was 39 then and is now 45, pleaded guilty the following year.
Webb is now serving as special prosecutor in another high-profile case: He got an indictment against actor Jussie Smollett from Fox-TV’s “Empire,” charging him with staging a hate crime. And Webb continues to investigate Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx over her decision to drop the charges initially filed against Smollett last year.
After Vanecko’s guilty plea in January 2014, Webb said he found “no evidence that former Mayor Daley, his family or others at their direction engaged in conduct to influence or attempted to influence” the two Chicago police investigations — one in 2004, the other in 2011 — into Koschman’s death.
But more than a decade and a half after Koschman’s death and six years since Vanecko served two months in jail for killing him, these questions about the handling of the case and Daley’s awareness of what happened remain unanswered:
- When did the mayor learn about the deadly confrontation?
- Who told him?
- And did the mayor or his family discuss the case with the police department, which never even questioned Vanecko, letting him remain free until the grand jury overseen by Webb indicted him?
Koschman’s death came as Daley was reeling from a federal investigation into the city’s Hired Truck Program, in which the FBI already had seized documents from City Hall and later would question the mayor. The scandal ended up sending 48 people to prison and prompted Daley to kill the $40 million-a-year program.
The police quickly ended their initial investigation into Koschman’s death but reviewed the case again in 2011, prompted by a Sun-Times request to see the police reports from the 2004 case, which officially had remained listed as open and unsolved. The 2011 investigation ended with detectives formally closing the case, declaring that Vanecko had struck Koschman in self-defense, though witness statements contradicted that.
The newly released phone records show Bridget McCarthy made three calls to Michael Daley’s home and law office between April 25 and April 30 as Koschman, 21, of Mount Prospect, was undergoing a series of operations at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
But McCarthy waited until more than a week after Koschman’s death before telling the police she knew the two men who ran off — Vanecko and his friend Craig Denham. Denham later married the sister of Mayor Daley’s son-in-law.
McCarthy and Michael Daley didn’t respond to Sun-Times messages asking to interview them about the conversations they had while Koschman lingered in a coma for days before dying.
Michael Daley’s law firm has done work for McCarthy’s father John “Jack” Higgins, a Daley family friend who has a deal to develop government-owned land within the Illinois Medical District on the West Side.
In the six years since Webb closed his investigation, he has refused to release the “voluntary sworn statements” that the former mayor and seven relatives — including Michael Daley and Vanecko’s parents — gave in writing, which were read to the grand jury by Webb’s team.
Webb also has opposed releasing other records, among them the cellphone bills for McCarthy and others, including Daley family members.
The Sun-Times was able to get Bridget McCarthy’s phone bill because it surfaced in the disciplinary case against Sgt. Sam Cirone, who was reprimanded by the Chicago Police Board on Dec. 12 for his role in bungling the 2011 investigation into Koschman’s death. Cirone said his detectives never tried to get cellphone records because they assumed they no longer existed, though City Hall Inspector General Joseph Ferguson later was able to get them.
In response to a records request from the Sun-Times, the police board released evidence against Cirone that included five pages of McCarthy’s phone bill from April 2004. Each page was marked with an identical notation: “Confidential grand jury materials subject to court seal and protective order.”
It’s unclear whether the police board released the phone records by mistake or with permission from the city law department, which oversaw Cirone’s disciplinary case.
The law department rejected a request to make public other phone records.
Those records, locked away in Webb’s possession, remain sealed under a court order issued by Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Toomin, who appointed Webb as Koschman special prosecutor.
Webb didn’t return messages seeking comment.
G. Flint Taylor, a lawyer who represented Nanci Koschman in her successful effort to reopen the investigation of her son’s killing, says he wants all of the records made public. He says McCarthy’s phone bill is “another link between the Daleys and the coverup that began soon after Vanecko ran away.
“There’s a call to Michael Daley at the very time the cops are at the door,” Taylor says. “It’s another piece to the puzzle that has so many pieces missing with regard to the Daley family. It really begs the question as to why this investigation still remains secret and why wasn’t it pursued aggressively by Dan Webb.
“Here we are on the anniversary, 16 years, and the public and Mrs. Koschman have a right to know the full details of the coverup.”
McCarthy’s cellphone records provided key evidence in Webb’s investigation, according to his final report, which revealed that she and Vanecko were communicating immediately after he fled. But Webb’s report didn’t say McCarthy also was calling the mayor’s brother.
Koschman’s case was an open, unsolved homicide in January 2011 when the Sun-Times asked to see the police files five months before Daley left the mayor’s office. In response, the police department quickly reviewed the case and then closed it without seeking criminal charges.
But the Sun-Times stories sparked an investigation by Ferguson, who found that the original case files were missing, that detectives never canvassed the area for additional witnesses or videos and that the police didn’t try to get phone records from Vanecko, McCarthy and other Daley relatives and friends.
These findings prompted Nanci Koschman to ask for a special prosecutor to reinvestigate.
Webb then gained access to Ferguson’s files, including the cellphone bills, as Ferguson assisted his investigation.
On Jan. 15, Toomin gave Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s top City Hall lawyer, Mark Flessner, permission to release Ferguson’s summary reports — which included evidence gathered by the grand jury. City Hall used Ferguson’s reports in pushing for disciplinary action against six police officers Webb had said he considered charging with obstruction, including Cirone, but didn’t because he said he didn’t think he had enough evidence.
Toomin’s decision let Lightfoot fulfill a campaign promise to release inspector general reports involving police discipline in high-profile cases.
City officials say they didn’t ask Toomin to release other Koschman records, assuming he’d refuse.
Toomin has rejected previous requests to release Koschman files, saying that would violate grand jury secrecy. But the judge has said the city can release its own records, even if they went to the grand jury, as long as it doesn’t identify them as having been provided to the grand jury.
The police and the law department have refused to release many records in the Koschman case, saying that they couldn’t because the documents were given to the grand jury.
Last summer, the police rejected a Sun-Times request seeking all records in the Koschman case, saying they already had provided those. But then they released 70 previously unreleased pages of police reports — “general progress reports” and other documents that the newspaper had asked for years earlier.
But the department said at that time it was still withholding an undisclosed number of other records. The Sun-Times has sued City Hall in an effort to obtain those records.
Asked why the city released McCarthy’s cellphone records but not others, Kathy Fieweger, a spokeswoman for the law department says: “As part of your ongoing litigation with the city about this, the Department of Law’s position from that case and several other cases and FOIA requests you have submitted is that the protective order remains in place. To date, the city’s legal position has been upheld in each instance. As such, we will not be providing the records you request.”
Koschman investigation’s first 12 hours
With the release of Bridget McCarthy’s cellphone bill, as well as previously released police reports, a fuller picture can now be provided of the start of the Chicago Police Department’s 2004 investigation of David Koschman’s death on April 25, 2004.
3:15 a.m. April 25, 2004 — A drunken argument ensues when David Koschman and four friends bump into Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko and three companions — Bridget and Kevin McCarthy and Craig Denham — on the sidewalk at 43 W. Division St. Vanecko punches Koschman, then runs off with Denham. The police arrive and initially handcuff Kevin McCarthy before letting him go.
3:21 a.m. — Chicago Fire Department paramedics treat Koschman, who was left unconscious after falling backward and cracking his skull on a curb.
3:35 a.m. — Koschman arrives at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
3:36 a.m. —Bridget McCarthy places a one-minute call to Vanecko.
3:59 a.m. — Bridget McCarthy places another one-minute call to Vanecko.
9:30 a.m. — Detective Rita O’Leary calls the hospital to check on Koschman.
10:49 a.m. — Bridget McCarthy calls mayoral brother Michael Daley — a two-minute call.
About 11 a.m. — O’Leary and her partner Robert Clemens go to the McCarthy home in Lincoln Park. Kevin McCarthy says they don’t know the guys who ran away, and his wife is unavailable.
11:43 a.m. — Off-duty Detective Ronald Yawger logs onto a police computer to review Kevin McCarthy’s criminal history. Yawger wouldn’t be assigned to the case until May 9, three days after Koschman died.
3 p.m. — O’Leary calls Michael Connolly, one of two bystanders.
3:20 p.m. — O’Leary calls the hospital and speaks with Koschman’s mother — the last police activity in the case until four days after Koschman’s death.