I-Team Report: A Numbers Game

October 6, 2010 (CHICAGO) The numbers game is well known in the county building and goes by the shorthand 24-9. That stands for $24,999 which for years was the amount of money that could be paid out by county president Todd Stroger without board approval. Any contract worth $25,000 or more had to be approved. And without any oversight, the 24-9 contracts became hot commodities.

Cook County government operates on a $3 billion budget with dozens of small, no-bid contracts awarded under county business rules. Until recently, there were no checks and balances on those contracts less than $25,000 dollars. So when county official Carla Oglesby allegedly stole $300,000 in a no-bid contract scheme--less than $25,000 at a time-it was months before anyone noticed where the money was going or whether any work was being done.

"We'll let justice take it's course," Stroger told reporters after Oglesby was charged.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, who employed Oglesby as his deputy chief of staff, claims that "the issuance of contracts under $25,000 (is) standard and not an unusual process" but that the process broke down.

A check of 24-9 contracts by the I-Team has found that learned the process has been used to steer deals to businesses connected to Stroger friends since at least last year, including 24-9 contracts to:

  • Bora Planning, a Washington, D.C. company run by former Stroger campaign treasurer Vincent Fry, who did not return our calls about contracts awarded to the company not just in 2010, but also we've learned in 2009 - two years in a row.

  • Anka Shank, a promotion company run by Stroger's boyhood friend and disc jockey Lee Pearson. When the I-Team recently asked Stroger about that connection, he made light of it. "Well, I know you now so I guess I could never hire you right?" said Stroger.

    Cook County officials claim the Anka Shank contract was to promote home foreclosure seminars but have yet to provide any evidence the seminars ever took place. The boyhood friend never returned our calls.

  • Former state representative Miguel Santiago received a 24-9 contract. Santiago, currently a lobbyist, was indicted in 1998 for being a county ghost payroller and acquitted but resigned his state House seat.
  • We also found another frequent aspect of 24/9 contracts: they are frequently awarded to newly incorporated companies that operate out of the owner's home.

  • Maxx Vantage Marketing and Public Relations, incorporated November 4, 2009, received a county contract for $24,500 less than two weeks later. The business is registered to a home address.

  • Step One Training & Development incorporated at the owner's home address last November 19. Awarded a 24-9 contract on a few days later.
  • Who cares about such measly contracts? Cook County residents like Marilyn McGuire, who waited months for flood relief funds and then ended up with a fraction of her claim paid.

    "If you can't trust your local government, who can you trust. Who can you go to when the local government fails you?" said McGuire.

    McGuire's complaint comes full circle to Carla Oglesby's legal troubles. One of the 24-9 contracts Ms. Oglesby is accused of awarding to her own company was to promote flood relief programs.

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