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Burke faults dead staffer in payroll scandal

Ald. Edward Burke sits and listens as the Committee on Finance meets on March 6, 1998, in the City Council chambers. Burke is the chairman. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) broke his silence on the ghost payroll scandal Thursday and blamed a dead man for irregularities that federal investigators have found in Burke’s City Council Finance Committee.

Burke’s comments came as U.S. Attorney James Burns said he considers public officials who provide or sanction the appointment of phony government workers to be “even more guilty” of violating the public trust than the low-level ghost payrollers.

Burns said he believes ghost payrolling may be “more widespread than the public appreciates.” His comments came during taping of the “At Issue” program, which airs at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on WBBM-AM (780).

The influential Finance Committee, which Burke chairs, is one of five city and county agencies that Burns confirmed Thursday are targets of a federal grand jury investigation of ghost payrolling.

Later Thursday, in a call from a pay phone in Palm Springs, Calif., Burke said his former chief investigator, Horace Lindsey, “apparently connived” with Marie D’Amico, the daughter of former Ald. Anthony Laurino (39th), to carry D’Amico on the committee payroll from 1991 to 1993, even though she did no work.

D’Amico was sentenced to one year in prison last week after she pleaded guilty to also ghosting in the county clerk’s office from 1981 to 1985 and in the sheriff’s office from 1988 to 1990.

“Obviously, I feel embarrassed. I have to assume responsibility, from a technical point of view. But I had no knowledge that this was going on.”

Burke said his instructions to the committee’s chief administrator, Steven M. Murray, “are clear: If people don’t show up for work, they’re to be terminated.”

Lindsey was a colorful political veteran who once was Park District patronage chief for former Supt. Ed Kelley.

Lindsey was fired from that post in 1982 after he backed Richard M. Daley’s first, unsuccessful mayoral bid.

Lindsey sued, charging that his firing was politically motivated, and won a $98,940 settlement in 1986. Meanwhile, he joined Burke’s staff in 1984 and carried the title of chief investigator when he suffered a stroke last year. He died Dec. 13, 1994.

Burke, who is on vacation, also commented for the first time on remarks by U.S. District Court Judge George Lindberg, who sentenced D’Amico.

Lindberg said it appeared to him that Murray, the Finance Committee chief of staff, had at first lied to federal investigators probing the D’Amico case and initially had withheld records. Lindberg suggested that the U.S. attorney’s office consider prosecuting Murray for obstruction of justice.

Burke said, “I can’t understand why he would say that. To the best of my knowledge, Steve Murray responded in a timely way to every request made of him.”