Photography by Andreas Larsson
|Three years removed from his prison stay, former alderman Percy Giles is now a freelance consultant serving churches and nonprofits.|
Former governor George Ryan is only the latest in an ignominious line of Chicago and Illinois politicians who have been convicted of crimes committed while in office. A few remain in the public eye-ex–U.S. Representative Dan Rostenkowski offers political analysis on television, for example, and former alderman Cliff Kelley plays host on a popular radio show. But many others served prison terms and then disappeared from the news. We wondered what life was like on the other side of this experience, so we looked up some of these ex-cons to see how they were doing and what they were up to. In our unscientific survey, a surprising number were unrepentant, or at least unapologetic. Many volunteered opinions about overzealous prosecutors. And most, despite their past, seemed to have found some peace.
Wallace Davis Jr., 54
Then: Alderman, 27th Ward, 1983-87. His political career began in 1976, shortly after he settled a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department in which he claimed he was mistakenly shot in the back by a police officer after reporting a burglary.
The rap: Convicted on extortion and racketeering charges in Operation Incubator for accepting a bribe from an FBI mole, extorting money from the owners of a neighborhood restaurant in exchange for preventing its demolition, and demanding kickbacks from his niece out of her salary as his ward secretary. Imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan, from May 1988 to March 1991.
Now: One day in the early nineties, Davis had an epiphany about his West Side neighborhood: “Ain’t no restaurant around here,” he said. So he opened one. “I got a two-story building looked like holy hell,” he says. He fixed it up and opened Wallace’s Catfish Corner, at 2800 West Madison Street, in 1994. “It was a hit from out the door,” he says. If you’re stopping by, Davis has some recommendations. “I’m famous for my shrimps, my ribs, and my catfish.” There’s also a buffet. “Louisiana-style cookin’ like you wouldn’t believe.”
Labor of love: Davis estimates he works 15- to 18-hour days, but he loves it. “No greater feeling than waking up and saying I’m the boss,” he says. Boldface names stop by sometimes. Davis lists Dusty Baker, Tyson Chandler, Carol Marin, and Don King among his customers.
Old friends: Occasionally, Davis visits the city council. He says his former colleagues are still friendly with him, always approaching him and wishing him well. “They know I got a raw deal,” he says.
On going back to politics: “I tell you what-I’m going to stick with this catfish.”
Ambrosio Medrano, 52
Then: Alderman, 25th Ward, 1991-96. Before he was an alderman, Medrano was executive director of the Pilsen Area Chamber of Commerce and later the head of the Mayor’s Commission on Latino Affairs.
The rap: Pleaded guilty in Operation Silver Shovel to extortion for accepting bribes from an FBI mole in exchange for setting up meetings with government officials, helping to license a rock-crushing operation, and promising to help obtain a false minority-business certification. Imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisconsin, from September 1996 to December 1998.
Now: Medrano has worked for three different record companies in the past eight years, promoting their artists to radio stations around the Midwest. He has promoted, among others, Los Tigres del Norte, Marco Antonio Solís, and Conjunto Primavera; all have had albums that hit number one on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart. Currently, he is doing music industry work on a freelance basis, but he says he will take a full-time job “if the right one comes along.”
His mood: “It doesn’t really take much for me to be happy. As long as I can pay my daughter’s tuition.” His daughter is a music management student at Columbia College.
Comeback: Despite an unsuccessful run for his former aldermanic seat in 2003, Medrano plans to try again in 2007. “I’ve been campaigning ever since the last election,” he says.
Familiar territory: Medrano still has a connection to his former position, at least geographically. “My office now is the old office I occupied as the alderman.”
Lawrence Bloom, 62
Then: Alderman, 5th Ward, 1979-95. Known in the city council as a fierce independent with a sterling ethical reputation.
The rap: Pleaded guilty in Operation Silver Shovel to tax fraud; as a condition of his plea bargain, admitted taking bribes from an FBI mole, although he was not convicted on any bribery charges. Imprisoned at Oxford from May to November 1999.
Now: Bloom is the managing broker of Bloom Realty, a real-estate brokerage in Hyde Park, one of the neighborhoods he represented as an alderman. He still lives in the Hyde Park/Kenwood community.
The full story is still to come: Bloom declined to be interviewed for this article. “I can’t see the upside,” he says. He intends eventually to tell his side of things. “I do have some thought in the future of either writing something or making myself available” for an extensive interview.
Paul Foxgrover, 64
Then: Cook County Circuit Court judge, 1984-92. Known as an efficient judge in the suburban Markham courts. Presided over a high-profile 1989 case in which a prominent South Side Christian minister was convicted of sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy.
The rap: Pleaded guilty to theft, forgery, and official misconduct for taking court-imposed fines for personal use. Imprisoned at the East Moline Correctional Center from July 1992 to November 1994.
Now: Foxgrover is a state-certified general appraiser of real estate with Allstate Appraisal. He says his company focuses on commercial work-for example, it appraised the buildings that offer rooftop views of Wrigley Field, as part of the dispute between the owners of those buildings and the Cubs. He still lives in the Beverly neighborhood, and he sees his “five gorgeous daughters and eight grandkids” frequently.
What went wrong: “I was my own worst enemy,” Foxgrover says. A small measure of comfort: “I never hurt anybody other than my family.”
What’s different about him now: “I’m not as good-looking as I used to be.”
Virgil Jones, 57
Then: Alderman, 15th Ward, 1991-99. As a Chicago police officer before that, Jones had the nickname “Lock ‘Em Up Jones.”
The rap: Convicted in Operation Silver Shovel on extortion and tax charges for accepting bribes from an FBI mole who sought a permit to run a rock-crushing business. Imprisoned at Oxford from September 1999 to August 2002.
Now: “I’m preparing to go and get my office back,” Jones says. To do this, he’s hoping to clear his name by telling his story. “I’m writing a book titled My Skin Was My Sins: A Story of a High-Tech Lynching in Chicago. It’s all about my case involving Silver Shovel, and I intend to show that the two prosecutors committed wanton misconduct.” Jones hints that he will run again, but he stops short of declaring his candidacy for 2007.
On his conviction: Jones says he remembers details well-so well that people have trouble believing him. “That’s what bothered the jurors,” he says. “They don’t know my mental capacity.”
As if things weren’t bad enough: Another man named Virgil Jones, who was convicted on two fraud-related charges, was in federal prison the year before Jones. Ex-alderman Jones says this other Virgil Jones has impersonated him and caused a lot of damage to his reputation.
David Shields, 74
Then: Cook County Circuit Court judge, 1978-90. Presiding judge, Chancery Division, 1986-90. A favorite of Chicago lawyers, he was known for his humor and legal skill on the bench.
The rap: Convicted in Operation Gambat on seven charges related to accepting a bribe to rule favorably on a 1988 court case. Served his time at the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth, Minnesota, from May 1992 to January 1995.
Now: Shields spends three days a week working at various charities, such as Joseph Academy, a school for children with behavioral disorders. He runs the student council and keeps the kids acquainted with current events. “[I] sit and talk to them, explain what life’s all about,” he says. “I’m kind of a grandpa.” He also works at Casa de Providencia, a social-service agency on the West Side, and with the Courage program, a ministry based at St. Germaine Parish that provides assistance to unwed mothers.
Actual grandpa: Shields has three children and four grandchildren. He lives with his wife of many years, Jan, in the tiny northern suburb of Golf, where political leanings tilt Republican. “We’re still missionaries out here,” he says. “They look at me with disdain every time I get a Democratic ballot.”
On his conviction: “I thought it was a silly suit . . . and then I was in the hoosegow.” Shields says he suffers no lasting stigma: “I don’t think I’ve lost a single friend. Everyone’s been friendly and supportive,” agreeing with him that “it’s all bunk.”
A good life, but not quite perfect: “I’d rather have my costume back and be back on the bench.”
Percy Giles, 54
Then: Alderman, 37th Ward, 1986-99. A businessman and community organizer when he was elected, Giles was the first black alderman of his ward.
The rap: Convicted of racketeering, bribery, extortion, and filing false income tax returns in Operation Silver Shovel for accepting bribes from an FBI mole in exchange for, among other things, allowing the operation of an illegal dumpsite. Imprisoned at the Terre Haute (Indiana) Federal Correctional Complex from August 2000 to June 2003.
Now: Giles is a freelance consultant, providing financial and governmental expertise to churches and nonprofits. He also serves as the social minister at Temple of Faith in the Belmont Central neighborhood.
Avocation: Giles is one of the producers of a planned movie about a battle between a West Side family grocery store and the corrupt politician standing in the way of its expansion. The movie, tentatively titled Mel Bay, is based on a story by Don Temple, who was one of Giles’s precinct captains when he served as a Democratic committeeman. Giles wrote political speeches for the screenplay and is serving as a consultant on the project. The producers are optimistic about filming the movie on the West Side this summer. “We’re trying to put the final touch on the funding,” Giles says.
On his conviction: Giles is wary of discussing anything relating to his criminal case. “I hope you’re not going to take us back to the past,” he says.
Michael McNulty, 64
Then: Cook County Circuit Court judge, Traffic Court, 1977-87. In private practice before being appointed to the bench.
The rap: Pleaded guilty in Operation Greylord to three charges of tax evasion for not reporting bribes on his income taxes. Imprisoned at the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth from March 1988 to March 1990.
Now: McNulty is co-owner, with his brother William, of Gleneagles Country Club, in Lemont. The club has two 18-hole public championship courses. The McNulty family has owned the club since 1950. McNulty says he has a 12 handicap.
On being an ex-con: “Ninety-nine percent of all the people who know me now have no idea what happened to me. . . . Quite frankly, you’re the first person in 15 years to ask me about it.”
And it’s a boring topic: “It certainly wasn’t the end of the world for me,” McNulty says. “It’s not so much what others think; it’s how you perceive yourself.” About his life change, he says, “It’s kind of noninteresting. . . . You just change occupation.”
Miriam Santos, 50
Then: Chicago city treasurer, 1989-99 and April to October 2000. She was the first Hispanic woman to hold a citywide elective office.
The rap: Convicted in 1999 on five counts of mail fraud and one count of attempted extortion for demanding political contributions from companies that did business with the city treasurer’s office. Imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin from October 1999 to January 2000. Her conviction was reversed on appeal in January 2000 and remanded to the district court for retrial. Pleaded guilty in October 2000 to one count of mail fraud for misusing city employees for campaigning. Sentenced to time served.
Now: Santos is practicing law again, after a two-year license suspension, and she owns a small real-estate company. Life in the private sector “has just been very peaceful,” she says. “Government is very, very stressful. . . . Anybody working in that environment is constantly under intense scrutiny. Having moved on from all of that has given me a good, balanced perspective on life.”
Pay it forward: At the request of lawyers she knows, Santos meets, pro bono, with people who have pleaded guilty or been convicted, “bridging that moment with the actual realities of going to prison.”
Support: “Life goes on. . . . Most people, I have found, are incredibly kind. Especially, people who followed my case are just wonderful. They don’t get everything that happened-that makes two of us.” Santos is pragmatic about her experience. “What’s important about this whole process, for anyone who’s living through it, is that bad things happen in life. But that shouldn’t stop you from having a full life and a good life.”
Martin Tuchow, 81
Then: Cook County commissioner, 1974-85. Democratic committeeman, 48th Ward, 1970-84. Served as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1970, along with Richard M. Daley.
The rap: Convicted on charges of extortion for soliciting payments from contractors in exchange for city building permits. Imprisoned at Oxford from November 1985 to July 1988.
Now: “After I got screwed, I didn’t want to go back into politics, obviously, so I devoted my time to my family,” Tuchow says. “It was kind of nice-just retired from politics and retired from the law.” He and his wife now live full-time in Fort Lauderdale, where they moved four years ago. His two children and three grandchildren all live in Florida as well.
On the good old days: “Politics is not like it used to be. . . . We had control over things; we could help people. Now I don’t think they’re getting it done like we used to. . . . I just wanted to help people.”
Homesick: He says he and his wife of 38 years have a good life in Florida: “We have the beach and we have the pool. And we have dinner.” But the restaurants there aren’t like Chicago’s-“not like Gene & Georgetti,” he says. “I miss Chicago. The air of the town . . .it’s a part of me.”
Donald Swinarski, 71
Then: Alderman, 12th Ward, 1967-73; Illinois state senator, 1973-75. Took over the state senate seat of his father, Theodore Swinarski.
The rap: Pleaded guilty to tax evasion for misstating the source of money that prosecutors alleged was a bribe to influence a zoning decision when he was an alderman, although he was not convicted on any charge of bribery. Jailed from May to September 1975 at the Federal Prison Camp at Eglin, Florida.
Now: Swinarski retired about five years ago from a successful career as a marine contractor. As the owner of Alpha Marine, in south Florida, he oversaw several large projects, including construction of the Coast Guard station in Puerto Rico and the docks for the city of Hollywood, Florida. Knowing almost no one when he moved to Florida, Swinarski built his company and reputation from the ground up. “God has been very, very good to me,” he says.
Still busy: Swinarski owns property in the Fort Lauderdale area, including an office building that was destroyed last year by Hurricane Wilma; he is rebuilding and substantially improving it. He is also an avid scuba diver, donates time to the local high school, volunteers with the Lighthouse for the Blind, and is active in his church, St. John the Baptist. “I go to daily mass, and I really love God,” he says.
Good intentions: “All I know is when I get buried, I’m trying to get to heaven. I’m not sure I’d have done it in Chicago.”