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Departing inspector general’s final quarterly report chock-full of wrongdoing — again

Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s 12-year run as Chicago’s top watchdog ended Friday. His final quarterly report, released Monday, includes details on a city employee who tried to sneak a firearm through an airport checkpoint.

Chicago City Hall
A new report from Joe Ferguson, the city’s now-departed inspector general, documents another round of misbehavior and worse by city employees.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

A city employee without a valid FOID card or concealed carry permit who tried to pass through a security checkpoint at O’Hare Airport with a loaded, semi-automatic firearm.

A Chicago firefighter-EMT who used Facebook to spew racial hatred against minorities.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s extraordinary, 12-year run as Chicago’s top watchdog ended Friday. But his final quarterly report, released Monday, includes a range of wrongdoing, just like other reports issued during Ferguson’s three terms in office.

As always, the accused employees are not identified — the report notes only their positions and departments, summaries of the behavior, and the punishment recommended and meted out.

Still, the summaries raise eyebrows:

• A fleet services assistant for the Department of Assets, Information and Services “carried a loaded semi-automatic firearm” into O’Hare and tried to pass through security with the weapon in a carry-on backpack before boarding a flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The employee also had an “empty badge wallet and a pair of handcuffs” in the backpack.

The employee did not have a valid FOID or concealed carry license, and “had previously applied for a FOID, but was denied due to prior criminal convictions,” the report states.

“Without a valid FOID card, the fleet services assistant could not lawfully acquire or possess firearms or firearms ammunition,” the report continues.

“In order to circumvent the FOID card provisions, the fleet services assistant made separate purchases of the required parts to assemble a fully-functional firearm ... .”

A security checkpoint sign at O’Hare International Airport on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 in Chicago.
A security checkpoint sign at O’Hare International Airport. A city employee was reprimanded after they tried to pass by security at that airport with a loaded semi-automatic weapon on a backpack that they intended to carry on a flight to New York. The employee also was carrying a pair of handcuffs, according to the final quarterly report from Inspector General Joe Ferguson, whose tenure in that office ended Friday.
Associated Press file photo

Ferguson recommended the employee be fired and placed on the city’s do-not-hire list.

Instead, there was only a written reprimand — even though they pleaded guilty to a felony. They were sentenced to two years’ probation on Sept. 21.

Termination wasn’t possible because, city lawyers advised, the Illinois Human Rights Act makes it “illegal to take an adverse employment action against an employee who has committed a crime off-duty unless the department can articulate a substantial relationship between the criminal offense and the employee’s job title,” the report states.

• A firefighter-EMT who made “multiple racist and offensive comments” in posts on their Facebook page and on a Facebook item posted by a “member of the public.”

Four years ago, a housecleaning triggered by racist, sexist and homophobic emails in the Department of Water Management flushed out then-Water Management Commissioner Barrett Murphy.

Ferguson uncovered those emails while investigating allegations that now-former District Superintendent Paul Hansen had used his city email account to sell guns.

The Facebook posts by the firefighter-EMT — on their own Facebook page and in response to a post by a member of the public the firefighter-EMT did not know — were similarly hateful.

“The comments mocked the member of the public’s mother’s parenting skills, assumed that the member of the public and other commenters on the post were welfare recipients and suggested that one of the commenters ‘take their a- - back over the border,’” the report states.

“The posts were particularly directed at Black people, presenting stereotypes equating them with criminality and welfare ... . The firefighter-EMT also derided and insulted an Asian reporter by calling her a false name and writing in a mock imitation dialect. The firefighter-EMT seemingly issued praise for violence, advocating for shooting an individual in Kenosha and posting a cartoon depicting a driver hitting protesters with a car.”

The firefighter-EMT was further accused of drawing “attention to their employment multiple times” by mentioning they “had to go to work and that they had a ‘real job,’” the report states. The firefighter-EMT’s Facebook profile included a photo of the employee and their child dressed in “CFD paraphernalia.”

The firefighter-EMT was fired and placed on the do-not-hire list, but has filed a grievance.

• A truck driver for the city’s Department of Aviation who posted a photo to their Facebook account “holding a handgun with the message, ‘Proud Boys, KKK or any of you other hate-mongers. We ready. Bring that foolishness this way, if you want to.’”

The employee said the photo was “staged” in a public bathroom at a Menards store and uploaded while the driver was off-duty. But the photo was taken after the driver “was alleged to have referred to several of their colleagues” in a break room as “the Klan or KKK,” the report states.

After learning of the Facebook posts, several colleagues alerted bosses “of their fear” that the accused employee “might be seeking to harm them with a firearm,” the report states.

The motor truck driver was fired Sept. 21, but has appealed. A hearing before the Human Resources board is pending.

Other allegations in the report:

  • A now-fired aviation department operating engineer owned and operated a printing company that did business for the city, including printing work for “several aldermen.”
  • A now-fired administrative assistant for the city’s Law Department filed a fraudulent unemployment insurance claim in an attempt to receive jobless benefits while gainfully employed.
  • A contractor employee who has since been discharged pocketed a $100 bribe in exchange for “not towing the individual’s booted vehicle.”

Parting shots as mayor ponders next inspector general

Ferguson opted not to seek a fourth, four-year term after Lightfoot made it clear that she would not re-appoint the former co-worker and friend with whom she has had an increasingly contentious relationship for the last two years.

During an unrelated news conference on Monday, Lightfoot fired back at Ferguson for the parting shots he took on his way out the door.

“My record speaks for itself. What we’re focused on is making sure that we get a new, strong, independent inspector general who understands the importance of staying in their lane, but importantly, making sure that they’re true to the mandate. Getting investigations done in a timely manner,” she said.

“If we’ve got issues and challenges, we need to be able to address them now and not years and years and years after the fact.”