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Whistleblower case in the 12th Ward... Alderman fired an assistant after she talked with FBI agents investigating ward corruption, lawsuit charges

Since we are now in full swing of the February 24, 2015 Chicago municipal elections it is good to remind ourselves who are the people that are trying to get elected in our city. This post is a refresher on 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas -- supported by Rahm Emanuel -- who is running for re-election against Pete DeMay a Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Federation of Labor endorsed candidate. DeMay is currently challenging an election board decision that his nominating peititons were invalid. But the bigger question is whether the corruption in the 12th Ward is going to continue unchecked.

The lawsuit on behalf of whistleblower and former ward worker Maria Chavez is reprinted here.

De May has cited a current lawsuit as part of his efforts. The full text of the case against Cardenas makes for good reading and an insight into the corrupt ward politics in Chicago.

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IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, COUNTY DEPARTMENT- LAW DIVISION

Case No. 2014-L-006569

MARIA G. CHAVEZ,

Plaintiff,

V.

CITY OF CHICAGO, a municipal corporation and GEORGE A. CARDENAS, individually and in his capacity as alderman of the 12th Ward of the City of Chicago, Defendants.

COMPLAINT

Plaintiff, Maria G. Chavez, by and through her attorneys, Laduzinsky & Associates, P.C., and for her complaint against the City of Chicago, a municipal corporation, and George A. Cardenas, individually and in his capacity as alderman of the 12th Ward of the City of Chicago, states as follows:

PARTIES

1. Plaintiff, Maria G. Chavez ("Maria") is a resident of Cook County, Illinois residing within the geographic boundaries of the City of Chicago.

2. Defendant, City of Chicago, is an Illinois municipal corporation, organized pursuant to Illinois law, with its principal place of business at 121 North LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois. The City of Chicago is in the business of providing municipal services such as police, fire, paramedic services and other public services to the citizens living within the fifty (50) aldermanic wards of the City of Chicago.

3. Defendant, George A. Cardenas ("Cardenas"), is an Illinois resident who, at all times relevant to the allegations of this Complaint, was an employee and agent of the City of Chicago. At all times relevant to the allegations of this Complaint, Cardenas served as the alderman of the 12th Ward of the City of Chicago.

JURSIDICTION AND VENUE

4. This Court has jurisdiction over the City of Chicago, as it is an Illinois municipal corporation with its principal place of business being located in the State of Illinois and over Maria and Cardenas as they are residents of the State of Illinois.

5. Venue is proper in Cook County, Illinois as the City of Chicago's principal place of business is in Cook County, Illinois and Cardenas resides in Cook County, Illinois and a substantial portion of the cause of action arose in Cook County, Illinois.

ALLEGATIONS COMMON TO ALL COUNTS

6. On or about April 3, 2001, Maria started her employment with, the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation working as a timekeeper supervisor and administrative assistant. In 2002, Maria was laid off from the City of Chicago due to budgetary cut backs.

7. On or about May 5, 2003, Maria was appointed by Cardenas to the position of Staff Assistant of the 12th Ward Public Service Office.

8. From May 5, 2003 until May 2, 2014, Maria was an employee of the City of Chicago working in the 12th Ward's Public Service Office. From May 5, 2003 until May 2, 2014, Maria completed and excelled in the tasks assigned to her.

9. As a result of her performance, Maria held and was promoted into job positions with more responsibility and received pay increases associated with those job positions, including administrative assistant, Senior Community Liaison and Manager of Community Relations and Program Development.

10. From approximately November 2012 until May 2, 2014, Maria served as the 12th

Ward Manager of Community Relations and Program Development working with local community organizations, non-profits and schools. In particular, Mana s duties related to Program Development including the planning and execution of 12th Ward Events.

11. During her employment with the City of Chicago at the 12th Ward Public Service Office, Maria organized, publicized and managed the following events:

a. Mother of the Year Event;

b. City Sticker Sale;

c. Environmental Awareness Fair;

d. Weatherization Events;

e. Career Fair (in conjunction with the National Latino Educational Institute);

f. Annual Bike the Boulevard Event;

g. Annual Back to School Event;

h. Annual Toys for Kids Event;

i. Movies at the Park;

j. Senior and Community Health Fair;

k. Little Village Health Fair;

l. Thanksgiving Turkey Give Away;

m. Thanksgiving Senior Brunch; and,

n. Other hosting events.

12. Throughout her employment with the City of Chicago at the 12th Ward Public Service Office, Maria received multiple positive employment reviews as well as letters of appreciation from local citizens, non-profit organizations and businesses for her efforts for the citizens of the 12th Ward.

13. During the course of the February 2011 Municipal General Election, in which

citizens of the City of Chicago elect municipal officers including Mayor, Clerk, Treasurer and Alderman, the City of Chicago's Office of the Legislative Inspector General received complaints against Cardenas related to allegations that Cardenas was using city property, namely the 12th Ward Public Service Office, and city employees, namely the 12th Ward Public Service Office's employees, to gather registered voters' signatures and notarize petition sheets seeking the nomination of Cardenas as 12th Ward Alderman.

14. The City's Legislative Inspector General's Office interviewed most but not all of the 12th Ward Public Service Office's employees. News of the investigation became publicly known in mid-2013 through news and radio media reports.

15. In late 2013, Markese stated that Cardenas was displeased with the public disclosure of the City's Legislative Inspector General's investigation and that a number of 12th Ward Public Service Office employees that had provided information to the City's Office of Legislative Inspector General related to the political activity allegations and investigation related to his 2012 Aldermanic reelection.

16. Markese, on behalf of Cardenas, advised all of the 12th Ward Public Service Office employees that all information related to Cardenas' activities and communications in and out of the office as well as persons that may call the office are sensitive and confidential and should never be disclosed to anyone.

17. In January 2014, Anabell Abarca, Cardenas' Chief of Staff ("Abarca"), and Markese, on behalf of Cardenas distributed the Employee Guidelines for the Office of Alderman George A. Cardenas. ("Employee Guidelines") The Employee Guidelines contained a Confidentiality Provision, which prohibited the 12th Ward Public Service Office employees from disclosing sensitive and confidential information to anyone outside the office.

18. Cardenas' Employee Guidelines indicated that examples of sensitive or confidential information included such things as "matters involving the personal or professional lives of Office employees, internal legislative or political strategy internal operations of the office." (Exhibit A)

19. In January 2014, Cardenas required each employee to execute an Acknowledgement of Receipt and Review of Employee Guidelines. ("Acknowledgement")(Exhibit B)

20. The Acknowledgment stated that each employee was at-will serving at the pleasure of Cardenas. The Acknowledgment also stated "[a]ll internal matters including conversations, memoranda, information and material of any description are strictly confidential." (See Exhibit B)

21. On January 7, 2014, Cardenas required Maria to sign the Acknowledgment.

22. On the evening of May 1, 2014, two (2) male Special Agents of the Federal

Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") arrived at Maria's home. The FBI Agents identified themselves as FBI Agents by showing Maria's husband, Alejandro Chavez ("Alejandro"), their badges and government issued identification and by providing him with their business cards. The FBI Agents asked to speak with Maria, however, Maria was not home at the time. Alejandro let the FBI Agents into the house and called Maria to tell her to come home because the FBI Agents wanted to speak with her.

23. On May 1, 2014, around 7:30 p.m. while Maria was driving home to meet with the FBI Agents, Maria called Rocky Markese ("Markese"), the 12th Ward's Streets & Sanitation Superintendent. Maria called Markese Twice without him answering his telephone.

24. When Maria arrived home, the FBI Agents identified themselves by showing Maria their badges and government issued identification and then interviewed and questioned her for over two (2) hours regarding the activities and communications of Cardenas in and out of the 12th Ward's Public Service Office related to their investigation of Cardenas' for violations of the law including illegal hiring practices and other illegal operations of the 12th Ward Public Service Office. Maria provided the FBI Agents with all of the information she possessed.

25. On May 1, 2014, around 9:41 p.m. after the FBI Agents had left her home, Maria called Markese again. Markese answered his telephone. During this conversation, Maria advised Markese of the unannounced visit to her home of the FBI Agents, the nature of the questioning and that the visit caused her much concern and emotional distress.

26. Markese asked Maria for details on what questions she was asked by the FBI Agents and the information that she provided. Markese told her "it is okay, it is too late now." Markese also advised Maria that he would tell Cardenas about it in the morning and that Maria, Markese, and Cardenas would discuss the issue further in the morning.

27. On May 2, 2014 at approximately 7:48 a.m., Maria called Markese on her way to the office. Markese advised Maria that he would meet with her about the visit of the FBI Agents as soon as she arrived.

28. Subsequently, at approximately 8:02 a.m. and 8:03 a.m., Maria attempted to call Cardenas on his cellular telephone. Cardenas did not answer.

29. On May 2, 2014 at approximately 8:04 a.m. Maria sent a text message to

Cardenas stating "Please call me it is very important!!!! I need to talk to you in person. Please stop by the office. It is very important!!!!"

30. Maria arrived to the 12th Ward Public Service Office for work at approximately 8:05 a.m. and met with Markese shortly thereafter. Maria explained in detail the questions that she was asked by the FBI Agents and the answers that she provided. Maria also showed the FBI Agents' business cards to Markese who questioned how Maria knew that the gentlemen who came to her house were FBI Agents. Markese stated that they would discuss the matter later that day with Cardenas at the 12th Ward Public Service Office.

31. On May 2, 2014 at approximately 8:32 a.m. Cardenas responded to Maria's text message from 8:04 a.m. of that morning and the following text message exchange took place:

Cardenas: "Not around today. See Anabel."

Maria: "Sony I can't it regarding the FBI. It is directly with you."

Cardenas: "Our attorney is James Nally. If it's legal then he takes care of it." Maria: "It is okay. You don't understand."

32. Shortly thereafter, Anabell Abarca ("Abarca"), Cardenas' Chief of Staff, arrived at the 12th Ward Public Service Office. Abarca called Maria into her office and advised Maria that she could go home if she was not feeling well. Maria was confused by this statement and told Abarca that she felt fine and needed to complete planning for an event the next week but that she might leave after she finished her work because the unannounced visit to her home by the FBI Agents prevented her from sleeping the previous night. Maria told Abarca that she did not want to get Abarca involved and that the FBI Agents' visit to her home was all about Cardenas. She also told Abarca that she was not going to lie to the FBI Agents and that she believed that they were going to come back to question her again.

33. After her meeting with Abarca, Maria returned to her desk and began her work for the day. Markese went into Abarca's office and they met with each other for approximately twenty (20) minutes behind closed doors.

34. Before noon, Abarca approached Maria at her desk and again told Maria she could go home. When Maria asked Abarca what she meant by that, Abarca said "Never mind," and went back into her office.

35. At approximately 12:45 p.m., Cardenas arrived at the 12th Ward Pubic Service Office. Cardenas went into Abarca's office while Markese stood outside of the doorway of the office.

36. At approximately 1:00 p.m., Abarca called Maria into the office with her and Cardenas. When Maria entered the office Cardenas was in the process of signing a letter. He then gave the letter, which was inaccurately dated May 1, 2014, to Maria, pointed his finger at her face and said, "don't say anything, wait until [Abarca] explains it to you." He then said he had to leave and left the 12th Ward Public Service Office.

37. Maria read the letter which advised her that she was terminated. When Maria asked Abarca for an explanation, Abarca said that Cardenas had the right not to give Maria a reason for the termination and that Abarca was not allowed to disclose to Maria the reasons for her termination. Abarca advised Maria to gather her personal belongings and to leave the office.

38. Maria exited the 12th Ward Public Service Office at approximately 1:30 p.m.

39. At all times relevant to this Complaint, Illinois had a strong public policy favoring the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses. The cooperation of citizens possessing knowledge of crimes in the investigation and prosecution thereof by law enforcement officials is essential to effective implementation of that policy. Illinois public policy favors citizen crime fighters and persons acting in good faith who-have probable cause-to believe that crimes have been committed should not be deterred from providing information to law enforcement officials by the fear of discharge from their employment.

COUNT I

VIOLATION OF THE ILLINOIS WHISTLEBLOWER ACT, 740 ILCS 174/1 et seq.

V. CITY OF CHICAGO AND CARDENAS

40. Plaintiff, Maria G. Chavez, reasserts and realleges paragraphs 1 through 39, inclusive, of this Complaint as and for paragraph 40 of Count I of her Complaint as if fully stated herein.

41. Under Sections 15 and 20 of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 ILCS 174/1 et seq., an employer, or persons acting within the scope of their authority, may not retaliate against an employee for disclosing information to a government agency, where the employee has reasonable cause to believe there was a violation of a federal or state law, rule or regulation; and an employer may not retaliate against an employee for refusing to participate in an activity which violates state or federal laws, rules or regulations.

42. At all times relevant herein, the City of Chicago and Cardenas were "employer[s]" under Section 5 of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 ILCS 174/5.

43. At all times relevant herein, Maria was an "employee" of the City of Chicago under Section 5 of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 ILCS 174/5.

44. Section 15 (b) of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 ILCS 174/15(b), prohibits retaliation against an employee "for disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency, where the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses a violation of a State or federal law, rule or regulation."

45. Maria's communications with the FBI Agents on May 1, 2014 regarding her knowledge of Cardenas' activities and communications in and out of the 12th Ward Public Service Office concerned violations of law such as illegal hiring practices and other illegal operations within the 12th Ward Public Service Office.

46. Illinois has a strong public policy favoring the exposure of crime and the cooperation of citizens possessing knowledge thereof in the investigation and prosecution of those crimes by law enforcement officials.

47. Cardenas does not have a reasonable and legal cause to forbid Maria's communications regarding the aforementioned speech to the FBI Agents.

48. Maria advised Abarca and Markese that she had spoken to the FBI Agents on May 1, 2014. Upon information and belief, Abarca and Markese relayed that information to Cardenas.

49. Maria did speak to the FBI Agents and provided them with the knowledge that she possessed related to Cardenas' activities and communications in and out of the 12th Ward Public Service Office.

50. At the time that Maria met with the FBI Agents, she had a reasonable belief that the information she was providing was to assist the FBI in investigating and prosecuting Cardenas for violations of the law including illegal hiring practices and other illegal operations within the 12th Ward Public Service Office.

51. Maria was retaliated against by the City of Chicago and Cardenas through the

termination of her employment for communicating with the FBI Agents regarding Cardenas' activities and communications in and out of the 12 Ward Public Service Office.

52. Maria's discussion and statements to the FBI Agents regarding Cardenas' activities and communications in and out of the 12th. Ward Public Service Office is protected speech and activity under Illinois public policy and the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

53. As a direct and proximate result of the City of Chicago and Cardenas' wrongful actions, Maria has sustained damages through the loss of her employment, including the wages, health care, life insurance and retirement benefits afforded to her as an employee of the City of Chicago, and attorney's fees and litigation costs, which have a value in excess of $50,000.

54. Section 30 of the Illinois Whistleblower Act allows for the recovery of reinstatement, two times the amount of back pay, interest on the award of back pay, reinstatement of all benefits, payment of attorney's fees and costs, and punitive damages to prevent further violations of the Illinois Whistleblower Act by the City of Chicago and Cardenas, as its agent and employee. 740 ILCS 174/30.

WHEREFORE, Maria G. Chavez, respectfully requests this Honorable Court for the entry of an order reinstating her as an employee of the City of Chicago with the same seniority status and benefits she would have had but for the Defendants' violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, enter judgment against the City of Chicago and George A. Cardenas for compensatory damages, back pay, with interest, and front pay, attorney's fees and litigation costs, which damages exceed $50,000 and an award of punitive damages in excess of $50,000 against Defendant, George A. Cardenas, to deter him from violating the Illinois Whistleblower Act in the future and any further relief that the Court deems proper and just.

COUNT II

VIOLATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO ETHICS ORDINANCE

2-156-019 V. THE CITY OF CHICAGO AND CARDENAS

55. Plaintiff, Maria G. Chavez, reasserts and realleges paragraphs 1 through 39, inclusive, of this Complaint as and for paragraph 55 of Count II of her Complaint.

56. At all times relevant to the allegations of this Complaint, there was in full force and effect the City of Chicago, Governmental Ethics Ordinance, Chapter 2-156 of the Municipal Code of Chicago ("Chicago Ethics Ordinance"). CHICAGO, ILL.. MUNICIPAL CODE OF CHICAGO, Ch. 2-156 (2013).

57. At all times relevant herein, Maria was an "employee" as defined by Section 2-156-010(j) of the Chicago Ethics Ordinance. CHICAGO, ILL.. MUNICIPAL CODE OF CHICAGO, Ch. 2-156, Art. II, Par.1, 010(j) (2013).

58. At all times relevant herein, the FBI was a "public body" as defined by Section 2-156-019(a)(1) of the Chicago Ethics Ordinance. CHICAGO, ILL.. MUNICIPAL CODE OF CHICAGO, Ch. 2-156, Art. II, Par.1, 019(a)(1) (2013).

59. Section 2-156-019(b) of the Chicago Ethics Ordinance provides that:

No person shall take any retaliatory action against an employee or any other person because the employee or the person does any of the following:

(1) Discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or to a public body an activity, policy, or practice of any official, employee, or city contractor that the employee or other person reasonably believes evidences (i) an unlawful use of city funds or city funding for actions performed by or on behalf of the city, unlawful use of official authority, or other unlawful official conduct that poses a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety by any official, employee or city contractor; or (ii) any other violation of a law, rule, or regulation by any official, employee, or city contractor that relates to their work performed for, or on behalf of, the city; or

(2) Provides information to or testifies before any public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry into any official activity, policy, or practice described in subsection (b)(1). CHICAGO, ILL.. MUNICIPAL CODE OF CHICAGO, Ch. 2-156, Art. II, Par. 1, 019(b) (2013).

60. Maria's communications and statements to the FBI Agents regarding Cardenas' activities and communications in and out of the 12th Ward Public Service Office were protected activities as defined under Section 2-156-019(b) of the Chicago Ethics Ordinance. CHICAGO, ILL.. MUNICIPAL CODE OF CHICAGO, Ch. 2-156, Art. II, Par. 1, 019(b) (2013).

61. Maria advised Abarca and Markese that she had spoken to the FBI Agents on May 1, 2014. Upon information and belief, Abarca and Markese relayed that information to Cardenas.

62. The City of Chicago's and Cardenas' termination of Maria on May 2, 2014, less than twenty-four (24) hours after she spoke to the FBI Agents, constituted retaliatory action as defined under Section 5-156-019(a)(2) of the Chicago Ethics Ordinance and constitutes a violation of Section 5-156-019 of the Chicago Ethics Ordinance.

63. Section 5-156-019(c) of the Chicago Ethics Ordinance provides as follows:

If any retaliatory action, as defined in subsection (a)(2)(i), is taken against an employee in violation of this section, the employee shall be entitled to the following relief, if applicable:

(1) reinstatement of the employee to either the same position held before the retaliatory action or to an equivalent position;

(2) two times the amount of back pay; and

(3) reinstatement of the full fringe benefits and seniority rights.

CHICAGO, ILL.. MUNICIPAL CODE OF CHICAGO, Ch. 2-156, Art. II, Par. 1, 019(c) (2013).

64. As a direct and proximate result of the City of Chicago's and Cardenas' termination of Maria's employment on May 2, 2014, she has suffered damages through the loss of her employment, the wages, health care, life insurance, retirement and seniority benefits afforded to her as an employee of the City of Chicago, which have a value in excess of $50,000 as described in Section 5-156-019(c).

WHEREFORE;Maria G. Chavez, respectfully requeststhis Honorable Court for the entry of an order reinstating her as an employee of the City of Chicago with the same seniority status and fringe benefits she would have had but for the Defendants' violation of the Chicago Ethics Ordinance, enter judgment against the City of Chicago and George A. Cardenas for compensatory damages, to include two times that amount of her back pay, and any further relief that the Court deems proper and just.

COUNT III

RETALIATORY DISCHARGE V. THE CITY OF CHICAGO

65. Plaintiff, Maria G. Chavez, reasserts and realleges paragraphs 1 through 39, inclusive, of this Complaint as and for paragraph 65 of Count III of her Complaint.

66. Maria was discharged on May 2, 2014 by the City of Chicago.

67. Illinois has a strong public policy favoring the exposure of crime and the cooperation of citizens possessing knowledge thereof in the investigation and prosecution of those crimes by law enforcement officials.

68. Maria's communications with the FBI Agents on May 1, 2014 regarding her knowledge of Cardenas' activities and communications in and out of the 12th Ward Public Service Office concerned criminal activity such as the use of public funds and the honesty or corruption of public officials.

69. Maria advised Abarca and Markese that she had spoken to the FBI Agents on May 1, 2014. Upon information and belief, Abarca and Markese relayed that information to Cardenas.

70. Maria was terminated in retaliation for speaking to the FBI Agents and for exercising her rights to speak to law enforcement regarding an investigation of Cardenas.

71. The City of Chicago's termination of Maria less than twenty-four (24) hours after she spoke to the FBI Agents was wrongful because it is contrary to a clearly mandated public policy of the State of Illinois.

72. As a direct and proximate cause of the City of Chicago's wrongful termination, Maria has been damaged in that she has suffered and will continue to suffer from emotional distress, loss of reputation, and had sustained back and future compensation losses and loss of fringe benefits, including but not limited to health insurance and pension benefits, in excess of $50,000.00.

WHEREFORE, Maria G. Chavez, respectfully requests this Honorable Court for the entry of an order awarding her compensatory damages in excess of $50,000.00, plus costs of this action against the City of Chicago and for any other relief this Court deems appropriate.

Respectfully submitted,

MARIA G. CHAVEZ

By:

One of her attorneys

Steven M. Laduzinsky (sladuzinsky@laduzinsky.com)

Tracy L. Brdar (tbrdar@laduzinsky.com)

Laduzinsky & Associates, P.C.

216 S. Jefferson Street, Suite 301

Chicago, Illinois 60601

(312) 424-0700

Atty. No.: 40727



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