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The man behind United Maintenance and his controversial past

Travelers at O'Hare International Airport

Ald. Ed Burke's office would call to make sure United Maintenance's contract to provide custodial services at O'Hare International Airport was paid right away, former Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans told the Sun-Times. | AP file photo

United Maintenance — one of the O’Hare Airport contract-holders cited by Chicago’s former aviation commissioner as getting special attention from Ald. Ed Burke — has made headlines before.

The janitorial services firm is run by Rick Simon, a former Chicago police officer with a controversial past.

Simon once had on his payroll a man who served prison time after being indicted along with the late mob boss Anthony “Big Tuna” Accardo.

Simon also was partners in a heavy equipment company with a man who has been described by law enforcement as a member of the mob.

On the other side of the law, Simon has socialized with ex-Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who is now running for mayor. One of Simon’s companies hired McCarthy’s firm for security work in 2016 after McCarthy was fired as the city’s top cop, according to a trade magazine.

Simon joined the police force 40 years ago and moonlighted at the custodial company of Ben Stein, Chicago’s “King of Janitors.” Stein, a convicted felon, also was a mob associate.

Simon refused to testify before a grand jury investigating the disappearance of Karen Lee Koppel, a “close female friend and companion” of Stein, according to a 1983 police file obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Simon “had been conducting negotiations” on Stein’s behalf with Koppel, offering “a posh Lake Shore Drive apartment” and new cars for her to leave Stein’s life. The police document also says Simon met Koppel at a bar the night of her disappearance. Koppel hasn’t been seen since, and Simon has denied having anything to do with her disappearance.

Investigators approached Simon again in 1988, to ask about the attempted mob hit on labor leader Dominic Senese. The FBI report indicates Simon “stated that he had known Dominic Senese and his family for so long that he could not remember how long” but told agents he did not know who tried to kill Senese.

After Stein died in 1996, Simon bought out his family. The company has thousands of employees working at convention centers, airports, hotels and hospitals across the country.

Rivers Casino in Des Plaines got rid of Simon’s company in 2015 after the Better Government Association reported it was working there.

The O’Hare janitorial contract has been a source of controversy from the outset.

It was awarded in 2012 over heated union opposition, which included SEIU Local 1. The union is now among the labor organizations that have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media.

At the time the contract was awarded, the Sun-Times reported the company had failed to comply with a contract requirement to disclose all its investors.

Instead of seizing on that infraction and canceling the contract, as the city was empowered to do, Mayor Rahm Emanuel allowed the deal go through.

Two years ago, United Maintenance shelled out nearly $850,000 to settle a federal wage-theft lawsuit brought by its O’Hare employees.

Former Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans alleges Burke personally pressed her to make sure Simon’s company was paid promptly.

Simon said Thursday he’s never had a problem getting paid by the airport and has never hired Burke for any service.

Simon and Burke are friends, though, and Simon’s companies have donated more than $70,000 over the years to Burke’s political funds, including $1,500 in October, records show.

Simon also gave the campaign fund for Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, a $2,000 “in-kind” donation in 2007 covering a “meet & greet reception” he hosted while she was running for the judicial seat.

Ed Burke’s brother, outgoing state Rep. Dan Burke, received $500 from Simon’s United Service Companies in 2010, records show.

Ed Burke’s publicly available ethics statements do not list Simon or his firms as clients of Burke’s private law firm.