Former city clerk expected to plead not guilty to Hired Truck charges

| 2/13/2006

Former Chicago City Clerk Jim Laski was expected to plead not guilty Monday, Feb. 13, and ask for time to work out a plea bargain regarding his alleged involvement in the city’s scandal-ridden Hired Truck program.

Laski’s attorney, Jeff Steinback, is expected to ask a U.S. District Judge for time to fine-tune the details of a plea bargain. However, no indication has been given on whether Laski will cooperate with the feds in the ongoing investigation as part of the agreement.

According to the Chicago Tribune, two employees in Laski’s department wore electronic surveillance equipment to gather evidence of the city higher-up’s alleged bribe-taking. One of the two unnamed informants told investigators that Laski – who has served as the city’s clerk since 1995 – had asked for $500 to $1,000 in bribes as a tradeoff for city contract work, according to the Tribune.

An affidavit also claims he promised to hire applicants recommended by Donald Tomczak – the city’s former Water Department head, who pleaded guilty to his own charges several months ago – for more support of the Hired Truck program, the Tribune reported.

Laski was preliminarily charged in a federal complaint on Jan. 13 and formally brought up on charges Jan. 26 for bribery and obstructing justice for his alleged involvement in the program. However, he returned to work just three working days after being slapped with the charges.

On Feb. 6, Laski – the first elected official to be charged in connection with Hired Truck – resigned from his position. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Laski switched lawyers, and his new counsel advised him to give up his position and its $135,000-plus yearly salary to preserve both his and the city’s reputation.

To date, 42 individuals have been indicted in the ongoing federal investigation into Hired Truck, in which city officials shook down trucking companies for bribes and campaign donations in exchange for lucrative city work. Twenty-six people have pleaded guilty or have been found guilty, including 14 city workers, and 20 people have already been sentenced, according to the Sun-Times.