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New Details Emerge in the Death of Chicago School Board President Michael Scott

SHADOWS OF DOUBT: Nearly two years after Michael Scott turned up dead in the Chicago River, we reveal exclusive new details about his final hours—clues that only deepen the mystery of what really happened on that sad November day.

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Michael Scott's car
Scott’s Cadillac behind a boundary of tape at the crime scene


Conspiracy theories surrounding Michael Scott’s apparent suicide

November 15, 2009: the final day of Michael Scott’s life began ordinarily enough. On that Sunday, he and Diana spent the morning catching up on their favorite television shows on their DVR. The couple had also spent the previous night quietly, eating in and watching TV. Toward the end of the morning, though, Scott’s BlackBerry started buzzing.

Jacquelyn Heard, Mayor Daley’s press secretary, called just after 11 a.m. to schedule a meeting for the next day about questionable charges that Scott and his staff had made on credit cards issued to them by the school board. He didn’t seem alarmed or upset by the call, family members say. Heard agreed. “The most perplexing thing to me was how absolutely normal he seemed to me just hours before this incredible tragedy,” she told reporters when she was asked about the call. Soon afterward, Scott talked to his daughter, Monique. He told her he was going to stop over later to see her and her brother and the grandkids—the two siblings live next door to each other in a townhouse complex on the West Side that Scott developed—and help Michael Jr. move his treadmill from the basement to his laundry room.

Around 2 p.m., Scott’s brother, Tracy, a Chicago firefighter, called to tell him that their sister, Beryl, was having a bad day. Three years younger than Michael, Beryl Scott became severely impaired after suffering a massive stroke in 2003, and her two brothers, particularly Michael, became her dedicated caretakers. Scott told Tracy that he was leaving soon to visit her. Right before he left, though, Scott sent a text to somebody—the police don’t know who. Moments later, an unknown correspondent texted Scott. Soon afterward, Scott kissed his wife goodbye, as usual, and left, promising on his way out to help her unload groceries when he got home that evening.

At the nursing home, Scott called Tracy and a cousin in New Orleans so they could talk to Beryl—normal, everyday stuff. As he was leaving, just after 4 p.m., he gave one of the nurses the leftover pizza—the public servant’s final act of kindness.

For some reason, Scott strayed from his normal route, heading toward River North instead of going home. As he drove south on Lower Wacker Drive, the same mysterious correspondent who had texted him an hour and a half earlier sent him another message, according to police reports. Scott then pulled over at an office building at Wacker and Randolph Street. A camera captured his Cadillac stopped on the side of the road, apparently so he could send a response to the same unknown recipient he had contacted earlier. Moments later, Scott’s car was captured on Upper Wacker Drive, going in the opposite direction—toward the desolate spot where he was later found dead.

* * *

Unable to sleep and still desperately dialing anyone she could think of who might have some clue to her husband’s whereabouts, Diana turned on the 5 a.m. newscast. Michael’s death was the lead story. (For whatever reason, the police had not notified her or other family members before the news broke on television.)

“After that,” recalls Michael Jr., “crazy stuff started happening.” Relatives, old friends, political dignitaries, and even near strangers rushed to Scott’s West Loop townhouse. So did a scrum of reporters, photographers, and television crews, who crowded the sidewalk outside the gated complex of 18 nearly identical red-and-tan-brick homes.

One of the first people to arrive, much to the surprise of the Scotts, was Ron Huberman, the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. Huberman had been heading up CPS since January 2009, after his predecessor, Arne Duncan, became the U.S. secretary of education. As part of the CPS shakeup, Mayor Daley asked Scott to return as board president, a job he had held from 2001 to 2006. Although Huberman, like Scott, was one of Daley’s favorite administrators, handpicked for several top jobs at City Hall, he and Scott never hit it off, by most accounts.

Evidently their relationship had deteriorated in the months prior to Scott’s death. Scott was annoyed that Huberman had asked the CPS inspector general to investigate the entire board—in particular Scott and his longtime aide, Greg Minniefield—to see if members had improperly influenced admissions at the city’s top selective enrollment schools. Tensions mounted, say family members, when Scott confronted Huberman that spring or early summer about having both a taxpayer-funded car and driver and a second CPS-leased vehicle for personal use, a perk previous CEOs did not have. Soon after that, when the inspector general began looking into credit card spending and charitable donations made by Scott and other board members, Scott suspected that Huberman was quietly behind it. (Both matters would eventually become small-scale scandals.)

So when Huberman showed up around 7 a.m., Scott’s family was a bit taken aback. Since he was the head of CPS, his visit was probably obligatory, they reasoned; they figured he would pay his respects quickly and go. But soon he began to intercede in an overbearing way that one family member says made them “uncomfortable,” as though he were trying to “manage” them. Huberman told the Scotts, for example, that he, not the family, would handle all communication with the police. Although they were troubled by that arrangement, they went along with it, largely because they were in shock and grief-stricken. “We were like zombies,” recalls Monique. “It was like we were sedated.”

Around midafternoon, Huberman drove the family to the medical examiner’s office and even stayed in the room when Diana, her sister, Michael Jr., and Tracy identified Scott’s body over a video monitor. “The whole thing was very strange,” says a family member.

Huberman declined to be quoted for this article. A source close to him says that Huberman was not trying to meddle in the police’s investigation. Rather, Huberman, a hands-on, type A personality who himself was a former police officer, was simply trying to help the Scotts get through a difficult situation. If his involvement made the family uncomfortable, he wasn’t aware of it. (According to family members, at one point that afternoon Diana told the mayor or somebody in his office that the family did not need or want Huberman involved any longer, and from then on he wasn’t.)

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Photograph: Lane Christiansen/Chicago Tribune


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