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Laski charged in federal hired truck probe

Friday, January 13, 2006

He is the highest ranking city official charged in the Hired Truck scandal. City clerk James Laski is accused of taking bribes and obstructing justice. The evidence against Laski includes recorded conversations. Details of those phone calls were made public Friday.

Jim Laski was concerned that a long-time friend was wearing a wire for the government. He was so concerned that he patted him down before a conversation last September. Laski was right to be concerned. His friend was wearing a wire, but Laski didn't find it. That conversation was recorded. So were others, and now Laski is in a heap of trouble.

Once upon a time, Jim Laski thought about running for mayor. Now he's looking at the possibility of substantial prison time. When he left the courthouse Friday evening, the city clerk of Chicago was swallowed in a sea of cameras.

"I'll be at work next week," said Laski.

That was the only comment of substance from Laski after he was charged with taking thousands of dollars in bribes and obstructing justice in the government's Hired Truck investigation at City Hall.

"What's alleged in the complaint is naked bribery -- pay me money and you'll get business,'' said US attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Prosecutors say that Laski took pay-offs, beginning at $500 a month and later jumping to $1,000 a month to help a friend get his trucking company business with the city. That friend later became a cooperating witness for the government and wore a wire in the presence of the constantly suspicious Laski, who is accused of pressuring at least two witnesses to lie about the bribes.

One of the cooperating witnesses remembers Laski saying, "We've got to keep it straight here. We can't get weak." "There's absolutely no proof of what you gave me." Laski is also recorded on tape, saying "This is crunch time for us ... everybody in the inner circle is committed to helping everybody. If something happens to me, where are we all at?"

A member of Laski's political organization, Sam Gammicchia, was also charged Friday with obstruction of justice for threatening one of the secret witnesses by saying, "If I go to jail, you'd have to go under the witness protection program."

The feds have Laski on audio tape and at least one occasion on video. Now he will decide whether he pleads guilty or not.

"I just received the government's complaint. We're going to look over it and talk about it and make a decision," said Anthony Pinelly, Laski's attorney.

The mayor, in a written statement Friday night, said, "City Clerk Laski was elected by the people of the city, and he is accountable to them. It will be up to him to determine how he should proceed."

The cooperating witness in this case says that before the Laski bribes began, Laski ran the Hired Truck deal past an influential alderman. No alderman is named in the criminal complaint, but the fact that Laski is named in a criminal complaint and not in an indictment suggests the government has a door open for his cooperation.

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