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Indicted alderman taps clout contractor on city-financed Bridgeport project as a character witness

Patrick Daley Thompson’s friend Michael Meagher is president of McHugh Construction, which is restoring the old Ramova Theatre with City Hall’s financial backing.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

One of the people slated to testify as a character witness for Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson at his income-tax fraud trial is a longtime friend who’s working on a Bridgeport redevelopment project that has Thompson’s backing and $6.8 million from City Hall.

The friend, Michael Meagher, is president of McHugh Construction, which has been hired by developer Tyler Nevius to restore the shuttered Ramova Theatre as part of a multimillion-dollar project to turn the storied site into a performing arts center with a restaurant and brewery in the heart of Bridgeport, three blocks from Thompson’s bungalow.

Thompson is scheduled to face trial Feb. 1 on federal charges that accuse him of cheating on his income-tax returns by deducting interest payments he hadn’t made on $269,000 borrowed from Washington Federal Bank for Savings. Thompson also is accused of lying to authorities about the money he owed the Bridgeport bank, which federal regulators shut down four years ago because of what they described as a massive fraud scheme.

Thompson — a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a grandson of late Mayor Richard J. Daley — and Meagher and their families have been friends for decades.

“I have a 30-year relationship, and I’ve found him honest and ethical,” Michael Meagher of McHugh Construction says of indicted Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
“I have a 30-year relationship, and I’ve found him honest and ethical,” Michael Meagher of McHugh Construction says of indicted Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
Provided

“I have a 30-year relationship, and I’ve found him honest and ethical,” Meagher says.

He says he expects that, if called, he would testify “about his honesty and high ethics.”

“I’ve known him since college” at St. Mary’s University of Winona, Minn., Meagher says.

He says that, although the alderman supports the redevelopment of the Ramova, “Patrick has nothing to do with our involvement in this project. Zero.”

City financing is a key component for the Ramova, which is in Thompson’s ward, and he helped secure it. He voted along with the entire Chicago City Council to lend $6.6 million in tax-increment financing to the theater in the spring of 2020 and then, this past May, to increase the city funding to $6.8 million. The loan could end up being a grant.

The long-closed Ramova Theatre, 3250 S. Halsted St. in Bridgeport.
Bridgeport’s long-closed Ramova Theatre, 3250 S. Halsted St.
Mengshin Lin / Sun-Times

Thompson won’t comment about the plans to resurrect the Ramova, a dilapidated property in the 3500 block of South Halsted Street that has been vacant since 1986.

Nevius — who worked for the mega-talent agency headed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari Emanuel — has a $28 million budget for the project, including the City Hall loan.

This summer, Nevius’s company Our Revival Chicago, LLC spent $4.1 million buying nine properties for the theater project, including eight that had been owned by families with long ties to the Daleys. That land is expected to be home to a new Ramova Grill, a brewery, a taproom and parking.

The properties Nevius bought have unpaid or delinquent property taxes totaling more than $72,000, including penalties and interest, according to Cook County treasurer’s office records.

The deals for those properties:

  • Nevius paid $1.4 million for seven vacant lots across from the Ramova Theatre on June 30. The purchases came 28 years after Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration sold that land to Mick-Bert Construction for $195,000, according to records filed with the Cook County clerk’s office.

Mick-Bert — owned by Dominick Bertucci and Michael Bertucci, who did not return calls seeking comment — has made more than $37,000 in political contributions over the years to Daley family members’ campaigns, including $10,000 to Thompson.

The vacant lots, which are also across the street from the Daley Insurance Brokerage run by Thompson’s uncle Cook County Commissioner John Daley, will provide parking for the theater.

  • On Aug. 20, Nevius paid $1,285,000 for a two-story building at 3506 S. Halsted St. that was home to the Bridgeport News until the Feldman family, who live in Naperville, ceased publication of the paper last fall.

“We sold the building and the newspaper,” Joseph Feldman Jr. says.

Feldman’s father owned the Ramova Theatre for several years, during which City Hall cited him for building code violations. The city of Chicago bought the theater from the family for $285,000 two decades ago, officials say. This summer, City Hall sold the theater to Nevius for $1.

Joseph Feldman Sr. is a relative of Richard M. Daley’s former campaign treasurer, the late Patricia Kilroe, who married a Daley cousin. The Feldmans have given more than $18,000 to Daley family members’ campaigns, records show.

The Feldman family owned one of the hundreds of dump trucks that City Hall paid to use under the second Mayor Daley’s Hired Truck Program, which he was forced to shut down in 2006.

That was after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the city was spending $40 million a year to hire those trucks even though they did little or no work on city construction projects and that their owners were campaign contributors to Daley and others. The Sun-Times investigation led to federal criminal charges against 49 people, including city officials and truck owners, and 48 people going to prison.

The Feldmans were never were accused of any crime.

They also own several parking lots near the United Center on the West Side. Seven years ago, city inspectors found that the Feldmans also were parking cars on city-owned property nearby.

Emanuel’s administration also cited Feldman for parking cars on two residential lots near the United Center, land the family had acquired in a land swap with City Hall. Feldman hired the law firm then known as Daley & Georges, which was run by the former mayor’s brother and Daley’s former top City Hall attorney Mara Georges. Georges convinced the city to rezone the land so cars could legally park there.

  • On Aug. 24, Nevius bought several vacant storefronts between the theater’s entrance and the former Bridgeport News offices from businessman Kok Cheung Chin for $1,450,000. Chin had purchased the property for $500,000 in 2012. His attorney didn’t return calls.

A downstater who once lived in Wicker Park, Nevius was living in Brooklyn and working in the entertainment industry in 2017 when he says he decided he wanted to pair live entertainment with a brewery.

He says friends suggested that he contact Kevin Hickey, the acclaimed chef who operates the Duck Inn in Bridgeport. Hickey joined the project, and Nevius moved to Chicago, renting a home from Hickey.

“We wanted to open up a music venue with a brewery,” Nevius says. “We wanted to do it in Chicago, and we wanted to do it on the South Side. I reached out to somebody from the city, and they showed me the venue. I loved it. I said, ‘This could be fantastic.’ ”

Thompson “was always nice and always supportive,” Nevius says. “He never stopped it. He said, ‘Yes. This seems like a good team.’ ”

His company submitted an application to City Hall in August 2018 to buy the theater from the city while seeking tax-increment financing to renovate the building into a space for performing arts, a brewery and taproom and the return of the Ramova Grill.

The city says it sought other proposals in December 2019, but no one was interested.

Developer Tyler Nevius outside the Ramova Theatre, 3250 S. Halsted St.
Developer Tyler Nevius outside the Ramova Theatre, 3250 S. Halsted St.
Mengshin Lin / Sun-Times

Nevius says he has raised money from about 50 investors, whom he won’t identify, saying “some of the families have been in Bridgeport for a while. . . . There’s no one from the Daley family or any political family that I know of.”

He says the project’s $28 million budget includes an $8 million loan from an Iowa bank, money from investors and City Hall’s $6.8 million loan, which can be converted into a grant under the deal that was approved last year and earlier this year by the entire city council, including Thompson. Nevius says he expects to get the money from the city before the end of the year.

Meagher says his company was tapped for the project around 2018. He says McHugh has done other theater renovations, including working on the Civic Opera House.

The work on the Ramova, which is nearly a century old, is expected to take over a year.

McHugh is one of Chicago’s biggest and oldest construction companies and a contributor to numerous political campaigns — including Thompson’s — that’s made a total of more than $400,000 in contributions to Illinois political funds over the years, records show.

The company has given more than $9,000 to Thompson’s campaign fund and also helped him raise money. The company also has given to campaign committees benefiting his uncles’ political operations.

McHugh and its joint ventures have been paid nearly $500 million for city government infrastructure projects in recent years, including bridges and viaducts and O’Hare Airport, city records show.

Federal prosecutors named the company in a 2016 search warrant affidavit that came to light in 2019 as part of the ongoing corruption investigation of then-Ald. Danny Solis (25th). According to the affidavit, Solis agreed with Juan Gaytan — co-founder of Monterrey Security and a friend of Meagher — to accept a gratuity from McHugh as a reward for “official acts” favoring McHugh’s efforts to win approval of “a 500-room hotel and data center project” near McCormick Place. McHugh hasn’t been charged with any crime.