Tuesday, July 19, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Mayor Richard M. Daley yesterday took a jab at the way federal prosecutors handled the latest charges in their investigation of hiring practices at City Hall, but he also said he takes the charges seriously and plans to change hiring and promotion practices.

Two city officials were charged Monday with running a system that gave well-connected applicants a break during job interviews and faked interview scores to ensure they got the positions.

“It’s important to note that for more than 30 years, through six administrations, such violations always have been treated as civil, not criminal matters, at least until now,” Mr. Daley said, later noting that test-rigging is a criminal violation.

Mr. Daley would not say how he would change the city’s hiring practices, but that he would continue a hiring freeze on non-emergency personnel.

Robert Sorich and Patrick Slattery, both 42, were charged with mail fraud as an 18-month federal investigation into a corruption-ridden city truck hiring widened to City Hall hiring practices. Both men were fired Monday, Daley spokeswoman Jodi Kawada said.

Mr. Sorich and Mr. Slattery were “part of a scheme involving massive fraud in the hiring process going back more than a decade,” U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said.

Mr. Daley, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, has promised to clean up corruption in City Hall, recently pushing out four department heads and accepting the retirement of a fifth. Nearly 20 people have pleaded guilty so far in the federal hired truck investigation, and there has been evidence of widespread payoffs.

But the new accusations strike deeper into the political heart of City Hall — the hiring process that has been the focus of a decadeslong fight to end political patronage abuses.

The charges say the two men violated a 1972 court decree that barred the use of political work as a condition of hiring in government.

Before the decree, powerful ward committee members — the bulwark of the legendary Chicago Machine — commanded armies of precinct captains who were fired if they failed to get out the vote for candidates favored by City Hall.

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