February 7, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
Christopher G. Kelly is a cat on a hot tin roof. He knows a lot about roofs, given that he's a roofing contractor.
He knows about heat, given the federal blast furnace hitting him as one of Rod Blagojevich's best friends, fund-raisers and, craziest of all, gaming consultants.
» Click to enlarge image
Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin
2003: Gambling adviser a high roller
If Kelly ever had any doubt, he now knows the feds have no mercy.
It didn't matter to them that Kelly pleaded guilty, just three weeks ago, to federal tax charges involving laundering tens of thousands of dollars in gambling debts to bookies through his company's books. He wouldn't cooperate. His head remains a steel drum that they are banging on hard.
The U.S. attorney's office and the FBI just issued a new indictment that could add years to the mere 47 months Kelly, 50, is already looking to serve.
His saying "sorry" the first time didn't mean diddly. They believe Chris Kelly can help fly them to O'Hare.
It turns out he had a lucrative, problematic Chicago airport deal involving an $8.5 million contract complete, allegedly, with kickbacks and laundered cash.
And the feds couldn't wait to get this information out. A press release Thursday from the U.S. attorney's office was packed with details and tantalizing references to Co-Schemer A and Company A, who allegedly "engaged in a bid-rigging scheme" with Kelly.
As integral as Kelly is to the Blagojevich scandal, it's worth remembering that Rod Blagojevich may be just one story in a whole opus on corruption.
A couple of columns ago, channeling Walt Disney, I called it the Circle of Life. Kelly could be the next chapter.
According to a superb article by Sun-Times reporters Robert Herguth and Chris Fusco in 2003, "Kelly's trip into the governor's inner circle began in the early to mid-1990s when he and the man he calls his best friend, Ronald Rossi, met Blagojevich outside a political fund-raiser."
Fusco and Herguth reported that Kelly's close contacts went beyond Rossi, whose family owns Northlake's Rossi Construction, to "golfing pal Robert Blum, who runs two Markham construction companies, Castle and MBB, [and] leased him space and equipment. Former Daley aide Christopher Hill helped link him with an out-of-state roofing executive, Chuck Burks. . . . Later, Kelly bought out Burks, renaming the company BCI Commercial Roofing. In 1998, it teamed up with Castle and, the first time it ever bid at O'Hare, won a roofing contract worth at least $7 million. . . . Kelly returned to O'Hare under some of the same city bosses he befriended. ... One was Mike Levar, whose brother is Ald. Patrick Levar (45th)."
By 2003, Rossi and Castle, neither of whom returned my calls, had gotten a combined $53.4 million in O'Hare work.
Other than Kelly, no one mentioned above is charged with any wrongdoing.
But here's the deal.
O'Hare has been a golden goose of possibilities for well-connected businesses and politicians. In the last year, Mayor Daley's own Inspector General David Hoffman has, according to published reports, been probing contracts and political connections out at O'Hare.
And now we learn the feds have in their clutches former Daley aide and Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris, who -- guess what? -- did two tours of duty for the mayor out at O'Hare. Harris was arrested on Dec. 9. The Kelly indictment spans airport work from 1998-2006.
Where was John Harris during some of those years? In 1999, the mayor named him first deputy commissioner of aviation overseeing the "future of O'Hare," the project manager for "design, financing and construction."
A cooperating witness, imagine what Harris has been able to share with the government.
Imagine what Kelly could tell them, assuming he doesn't stay on that hot tin roof much longer.