Feds indict ex-head of hired trucks

Chicago Sun-Times,  Jan 27, 2004  by Tim Novak
 

In the growing scandal over Mayor Daley's Hired Truck Program, a former gang member who ran the program was charged with shaking down a trucking firm owner for cash, authorities said Monday.

Angelo T. Torres, 36, a onetime Two Six gang member now living in Beverly, allegedly received at least $3,800 in bribes from the owner from 2001 to 2003.

In turn, Torres is accused of steering at least $50,000 in hired truck business to the unidentified owner, according to an FBI affidavit in the case.

The firm owner secretly recorded conversations with Torres for the FBI. In one talk in which the businessman offered a bribe, Torres assured him that he and other owners would work through the winter.

"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of you," Torres said. "All of you guys are gonna have something going . . ."

Federal prosecutors are interested in much more than Torres. They slapped a subpoena Monday on City Hall seeking a slew of records on the city's $40 million Hired Truck Program.

The subpoena came as the Chicago Sun-Times finished its three- part series on the Hired Truck Program showing that many trucks do little or nothing at taxpayer expense.

Some trucking firm owners have political clout or give contributions to politicians, including the mayor, while some owners have links to organized crime. Firms in the Hired Truck Program provide dump trucks and drivers at city work sites for rates ranging from $29 to $94 an hour.

The head of the FBI in Chicago, Thomas Kneir, called the trucking scandal "absolutely offensive." He announced that the FBI was creating a hotline at (312) 786-2686 for people with tips on corruption in the program.

The city late Monday announced it was suspending seven trucking firms from the program for violating program rules. The city refused to say why.

Also on Monday, the city fired Torres from his job in the Transportation Department. He was transferred to that job last November after he was removed from his post overseeing the Hired Truck Program. The reassignment came as the Sun-Times began asking questions about Torres.

City Corporation Counsel Mara Georges said the city is investigating the program and is cooperating with federal authorities.

"My hope is that they'll find that there were inefficiencies in the program and that nothing rose to criminal conduct," Georges said.

For the first time Monday, Daley, who is traveling out of state, issued a statement on the scandal: "I want to assure the public that we take these kinds of allegations seriously and will deal with them severely whenever and wherever they occur."

Torres had run the Daley Administration program since 1998, a long way from his first city job in 1996 as a car booter with the parking enforcement program.

Torres belonged to the Two Six street gang, confirmed Irving Spergel, a University of Chicago professor emeritus of sociology. Torres once worked with Spergel on a gang intervention project. The Two Six gang has been described by Chicago police as "one of the largest and most dominant Mexican street gangs in Chicago."

Torres has no criminal record but has had two orders of protection filed against him for allegedly threatening to harm his wife and a former girlfriend.

Torres was arrested Sunday at home. FBI agents had planned on arresting him this Friday but sped up his arrest after the Sun-Times reported on Torres late last week. While running the Hired Truck Program, Torres let mobsters into the program, as well as his father- in-law's two-truck firm, the Sun-Times found.

"FBI agents go out looking for crime," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said. "Reporters go out looking for crime. Sometimes we find the same crime."

Torres had no comment as he left the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Monday, free on $25,000 bond. His father said Torres would be cleared.

Contributing: Mark Brown, Lucio Guerrero, Frank Main and Ana Mendieta

Whose trucks are idled

The scandal swirling around the City of Chicago's Hired Truck Program resulted in suspensions Monday for seven companies. All but one were mentioned in the Chicago Sun-Times series detailing waste and abuse in the program.

The companies were suspended indefinitely for "specific violations of the Hired Truck Program rules," said Lisa Schrader, spokeswoman for Mayor Daley's Office of Budget and Management, which runs the program. She refused further comment.

Here are the seven companies:

*Blaz Cartage of Chicago, owned by Scott Janczak. Blaz owned one of the four trucks that did little or no work at a city job site the Sun-Times visited last November. The city paid Blaz $243,417 during the first 10 months of 2003.

*Four Queens of Summit, owned by Arnold Anzaldua. His firm was let in the program by his son-in-law, Angelo Torres, who was charged Monday with taking bribes from a firm in the program. The city paid Anzaldua $54,765 in the first 10 months of 2003.

*Gavin Construction of Chicago, owned by John Gavin. He was suspended once before after being caught giving a $100 bribe to a clerk in the program. The city paid Gavin $153,205 during the first 10 months of 2003.