I-Team Report: The Hiring Line

July 29, 2009 8:53:26 PM PDT
Chicago may be known as the city that works but to become one of its workers, it still helps to know somebody. The old line that ward bosses "don't want nobody that nobody sent" was no joke when it came to a man named Dennis Henderson.

As the I-Team found, Mr. Henderson's admitted political clout still has him on the hiring line.

Dennis Henderson works for the city of Chicago water management department.

Henderson is a house drain inspector. He is paid #92,000 a year base salary. But life hasn't always been this lucrative for Mr. Henderson. Before getting hired by the city in 1996, he worked as a grocery store produce clerk for 15 years. Then he met his guy, known as HDO, the Hispanic Democratic Organization which Henderson joined even though he is not Hispanic. He joined because he heard that if you did political work for HDO, you could get a city job. At least that is what Henderson testified in a city hall corruption case more than three years ago. He especially wanted a house drain inspector's job, Henderson testified, one of the best jobs with the city.

"We called Henderson for strategic purposes," said Pat Collins, former federal prosecutor.

Patrick Collins was a wunderkind lawyer in the U.S. attorney's office in 2006. He led the successful prosecution of Mayor Daley's patronage chief Robert Sorich who had personally promoted Henderson to drain inspector because of his political work for the Hispanic Democratic Organization.

"We thought it was a compelling story for the jury to see how a guy's history with the city and his promotions were so extricably intertwined with his work with HDO," said Collins.

After testifying three years ago, Henderson ducked into a taxi and wouldn't talk. This transcript of his sworn testimony shows that he admitted campaign and election work had "a lot to do with it," his hiring.

Nevertheless, three years and two months later, Henderson is still employed by the city where he clouted his way into a job.

GOUDIE: "I'm doing a story on why you still have your job after your testimony in that federal case.
HENDERSON: No comment.
GOUDIE: Are you surprised you're still working?
HENDERSON: No comment."

Henderson's own city business card was the reason the I-Team started working this story. He had left it with this northwest side couple last spring after briefly looking over a mysterious geyser had submerged their basement and backyard in raw sewage.

"I don't think he knew where the sewer was and that's his whole job," said Maureen Chiavola, sewer victim.

We reported last week on how city water officials had bungled the Chiavola family's sewer situation and returned this week to tell them that the first inspector on the scene was a political hire and experienced grocery clerk.

"I lived here all of my life, I know how it goes. Sometimes it's who you know. It's the city that works for one another," said Tony Chiavola.

HENDERSON: "Sir, I come to work, I do my job..."

Whether Henderson does his job, it is a job he admits getting illegally.

"What the city does with Dennis Henderson from an employment context is purely their decision and the federal government didn't try to intervene in that in any regard," said Collins.

What the city of Chicago has done with Dennis Henderson is nothing.

A statement from water commissioner John Spatz says Hnderson "meets all qualifications for the job he has held for seven years" and is "an employee in good standing."

Former federal prosecutor Collins says there was evidence in the Sorich trial that at least 300 city workers obtained their positions as did Henderson,; hitting Chicago taxpayers like the Chiavola's twice; once to pay Henderson's near six figure salary and again for the damage to their property, all of it thanks to clout.

"If you took employment action against the Dennis Henderson's of the world I'm not sure you could field a work force in some of these larger departments," said Collins.

City officials said they wouldn't discuss Henderson's testimony in a criminal case. That would be the testimony where Henderson admitted getting his job under the table.

And water commissioner Spatz, who last week said he was simply too busy to speak with ABC7, this week said he wouldn't talk about an employee's work history.

One city official is apparently concerned about Henderson: Inspector General David Hoffman who is said to have recently questioned Henderson. Hoffman's office would not comment.


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