Chicago, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) – An investigation into Chicago’s longest serving alderman has found two boxes filled with old workers’ compensation records.
Alderman Ed Burke served the city of Chicago for decades prior to be indicted in 2018 for extortion. Burke is under investigation by the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for any evidence that he may have used his office in order to influence companies and others into hiring his law firm, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Burke had sole oversight over the city’s $100 million a year workers’ compensation program. In June, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was handing the administration of the program over to Gallagher Basset after the company won the bid process. Lightfoot said the way the system had been set up was so loosely run that it was “ripe for corruption.”
As of the end of March, the city said it had more than 1,300 claims in process that leave Chicago with a nearly $295 million liability. More than 600 of those claims are at least a decade old, the city said.
As part of the investigation into Burke, the city’s inspector general’s office found two safety deposit boxes filled with workers’ compensation claim paperwork.
Previous investigations into Burke by the Sun-Times found that the city’s Finance Committee was the sole oversight for the workers’ compensation program and that he used his position in it to trade disability checks and higher workers’ compensation benefits to those who benefitted him – whether through buying votes or providing him with more political clout. The Sun-Times found that the city paid more than $136,000 to a sanitation worker who beat up the man who was dating his daughter, despite the fact he was out on disability for a hand injury. Other investigations found that some workers were able to file claims for a higher rate than others, while those who promised to bring Burke votes were paid long after their injuries healed and they should have returned to work.
An audit by Grant Thorton concluded in May found that the system was in need of substantial improvement. In its report it found that the program had no formal governance or oversight procedures, and that there were no fraud risk assessments or ways to report fraud to management. In fact, the report found, there were no policies and procedures for anything other than claims management.
According to the report, 5 percent of the claims filed since 1988 were still open and being paid for by the city.
“The system that Ed Burke ran was ripe for corruption,” Lightfoot said in a June press conference. “We’re gonna learn more about that as we dig into the details of these old legacy claims. But what we’re trying to do now is establish a bright line that Chicago is actually gonna come into the modern age that is consistent with best practices across the country.”
Burke pleaded not guilty to 14 corruption counts, including attempted bribery and extortion