Ferguson uncovers in-house scheme to steal 4,000 lbs. of wire

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There’s aDepartment of General Services employee fired for allegedly engineering an elaborate scheme that disarmed overnight security systems and paved the way for the theft of 4,000 pounds of copper lined industrial cable wire valued at $21,800.

And acity health inspector who resigned to avoid being fired after being accused of soliciting homeowners and contractors to hire an electricity provider that paid commissions to the inspector. The inspector also was accused of offering a contractor a passing inspection in exchange for making the switch.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s quarterly report shows he’s been busy uncovering corruption, even as he also takes on the formidable task of policing city hiring, now that a judge has dismissed a federal hiring monitor and released the city from the 42-year-old Shakman decree banning political hiring and firing.

The copper wiring caper is the juiciest new find.

It allegedly allowed four spools of copper-lined industrial cable wire, each of them weighing 1,000 pounds, to be stolen from a storage facility operated by the city’s Department of General Services sometimes between Feb. 8 and March 4, 2011.

“While off-duty at home…and without any legitimate operational or duty-related purpose, the employee remotely disarmed the alarm system at the facility,” Ferguson wrote in the quarterly report released Thursday.

“In addition, the employee reprogrammed the system’s primary and secondary phone numbers so that, in the event of an alarm, system alerts would not be directed to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. The employee left the facility in this compromised state overnight for over ten hours, finally restoring the phone numbers and re-arming the system from home while off-duty.”

Cell phone tracking placed the employee near the facility shortly after the security system was disabled, the report states. The Department of Fleet and Facilities Management fired the employee, who is appealing to the Human Resources Board.

The health inspector who jumped to avoid being pushed was accused of trolling for customers for an electricity supplier in exchange for commissions.

At least four of the targets were homeowners.

“These home were unsafe and unhealthy for residents, many of whom were children who tested positively for elevated levels of lead in their blood,” the report states.

“The inspector should have treated these homes as the serious public health hazards that they were. Instead, the inspector used them as a means to attract potential customers for an unapproved side job.”

The inspector was further accused of soliciting “personal benefits” from a building trades contractor.

“The inspector promised to pass the contractor’s work at three South Side houses if the contractor agreed to become a customer of the electricity company,” Ferguson wrote.

“In exchange, the inspector submitted fraudulent and false test samples and forms, thereby guaranteeing that the work would pass the city inspection for contaminants,” the report states.

The quarterly report released Thursday also talks about a health inspector slapped with a 14-day suspension for allegedly failing to fully inspect a scrap yard where a “large amount of stolen city property” was located, then submitting “inaccurate inspection reports.”

And there’s the case a delegate agency that continued to receive city grant funds, despite “repeated financial mismanagement” and “substantial outstanding tax liabilities.”

Ferguson’s report also details his investigation of a rare “public screaming match” on a city street between a parking enforcement aide (known as a PEA) and a Chicago police officer, both in uniform.

The incident prompted the inspector general to suggest that the police department and the city Department of Finance take steps to “clarify their respective roles” and reduce a broader tension between the two agencies.

“There is a perception of a rivalry . . . shared by both sides,” Ferguson wrote.

“PEAs believe that police officers are unnecessarily targeting PEAs for abuse. That perception whether exaggerated or real, resulted in [finance] supervisors advising their subordinates to avoidpolice officers while on duty. PEAs asserted that police officers are adversarial in certain or all districts. Police officers, for their part, felt that PEAs unnecessarily saturate areas with enforcement.”

The report also recounts the embarrassing lack of oversight that allegedly allowed a low-level clerk in the Chicago Department of Transportation to embezzle nearly $750,000 in permit fees over a six-year period.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has since tightened security at all levels to prevent a repeat occurrence.

Antoinette Chenier, 50, was accused last spring of embezzling $25 to $200 at a time; she was, officials say, depositing into her account hundreds of checks Chicagoans had written for permits to park moving vans and dumpsters on city streets since 2008.

The long-running theft allegedly snagged Chenier $741,000, more than 12 times her $60,000-a-year salary.

It wasn’t until January, when Charter One bank staff noticed the unusual activity on one of Chenier’s accounts and froze it, that she was nailed by a joint investigation that included the FBI, the IRS and Ferguson’s office.

Federal prosecutors in April filed embezzlement charges against Chenier.

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