2 Investigators: County Official’s Family Ties To Contractor Leads To Ethics Probe

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CHICAGO (CBS) — You could call it a family affair: A Cook County government official helps oversee the work of a company that employs his relatives.

Does that sound right to you? The Better Government Association and CBS 2’s Pam Zekman didn’t think so. They found it raises questions about a possible waste of taxpayer money and ethical issues that could reach up to the county board president.

bga logo 2 Investigators: County Officials Family Ties To Contractor Leads To Ethics Probe

Better Government Association logo. (Credit: BGA)

Air conditioning and heating systems in large county buildings require regular maintenance and repair performed by private contractors.  Anchor Mechanical Engineering is one of them.

County records show that since 2008, Anchor has been paid more than $13.5 million for work it has bid on.

“The contracts are for repairing heating and cooling units,” says Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association. “But if I’m a taxpayer of Cook County I’m thinking maybe this isn’t so cool. Maybe I should be heated up over these deals.”

Why? Because a county official who has a role in approving the work and payments made to Anchor has two relatives who work for the company owner.

The county employee, Patrick Nolan, is a $107,432-a-year operating engineer and has been with the county since July 2008.

Amy Nolan, his sister-in-law, works at Anchor.

His brother, Dennis Nolan, works for another company, Exclusive Construction Services, owned by the owner of Anchor.

“It feels like a conflict,” Shaw says. “It feels unfair. It feels like the doors are open to steering and engineering things.”

County officials confirm Patrick Nolan’s job includes helping to shape bid specifications.

And records show Anchor employees e-mailing Nolan for approval on invoices. And Nolan is listed as their contact for jobs.

After a BGA inquiry, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle referred the matter to her Board of Ethics to investigate.

“It doesn’t ring right to us,” Preckwinkle says.

A month later records show that Preckwinkle got a $10,000 contribution from the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 399.

Anchor employs members of local 399 and Patrick Nolan’s father is the retired chair of the union’s Political Education Fund. He still consults on some donation decisions, according to the union president.

“If this is serious enough to refer to the Cook County Board of Ethics she probably shouldn’t be taking campaign cash from people involved in this,” Shaw says.

Preckwinkle responded: “I have throughout my political career gotten support from a variety of unions. But that does not preclude us from taking appropriate action when we have questions about the conduct of an employee.”

The union contributed $16,000 to Preckwinkle in 2010, and it also contributed to her predecessor.

Brian Hickey, the President of local 399, says the $10,000 contribution this year was for a Preckwinkle fundraising dinner and the timing was “just a coincidence.”

Hickey said the local makes contributions to officials of government agencies that have local 399 members employed.

“If they help us, we try to help them,” he said.

Patrick Nolan had no comment for this story.

Michael Rosner, who operates Anchor and Exclusive, says his employment of the two Nolans has nothing to do with his company getting county work. He said the contracts are competitively bid and Anchor was the low bidder.

As for getting work and invoices approved, Rosner said, “There are many layers in the county system for review, not just Nolan.”

And Rosner says the county owes him money for work that Anchor did and was not paid for. In defense of a pending lawsuit filed by Anchor, the Cook County States Attorneys office says Anchor submitted some invoices for work that was not performed, or that Anchor failed to “fully perform” as required by the contract.

A county spokeswoman says Preckwinkle has also asked the Board of Ethics for a “more expansive investigation.”

She said the board has been asked to determine not only if current ethics rules have been violated but also whether it’s appropriate for Nolan to participate in contract management for Anchor and to make “general recommendations for improving and strengthening the ethics code.”

More from Pam Zekman
  • ChicagoCitizen

    I don’t see a problem. Someone has to do the work. Why not let the lowest bidder have the contract? I don’t care who knows who. If the work is being completed correctly, who cares? People will always look for a reason to nit pick these little details!!! Hey, Tom. What’s up buddy?

    • tom Sharp

      It’s called ETHICS!! You have none and neither do a lot of politicians. Everyone else sees the problem>YOu’re the ‘odd” man out! Maybe you missed this part of the story:

      And Rosner says the county owes him money for work that Anchor did and was not paid for. In defense of a pending lawsuit filed by Anchor, the Cook County States Attorneys office says Anchor submitted some invoices for work that was not performed, or that Anchor failed to “fully perform” as required by the contract.

    • ChicagoCitizen

      Hey, Buddy, I did see the part of the story where Anchor wasn’t paid for work performed. Isn’t it typical that the county has failed to pay up. Of course they’re going to counter with the accusations they did.

  • Chivi

    I rob you!! You rob me!! Chicago is a corrupt City!!! It’s taking too long to catch these crooks. That is why the City is broke.

  • youdontknow

    Attack good people that’s the way to go. Chicago might be “corrupt” but I guess you can also say Chicagoans are vicious trying to ruin a good family by calling them thiefs. Nolans are great people with good morals and values who are you people to say that they are thiefs and villains. You people are sick! As for Anchor Mechanical dont judge if you dont want to be judged. They work hard to earn every dollar they earn. The are on call 24/7 and if you say that Anchor Mechanical is a reason why Chicago is broke than you are giving way to much credit to this company. This isn’t NEWS this is just straight up Slander!

    • dennis nolan

      thanks for the support against a thinly investigated string of illogical assumptions. the ethics board will rule on this, not pam zekman or andy shaw whose inaccurate reporting tries to paint a picture that on its own merit does not warrant a news story. sincerely Dennis Nolan jr.
      p.s. if this were your family and this were your lively hoods you might desire more in depth investigating before running with a non story. this was worthy of fox news but CBS I am a lttle surprised. really big stretches are made here and those who know my family know this is poor journalism at best

    • tom Sharp

      Let me spell this out for you in easy terms, so you can see what’s “wrong” here. A guy with a highly paid position in Cook County that allows him access to all information on competitive bids for the county’s work on air-conditioning and related projects has friends and family working for a company making bids on that work. Magically, that company seems to have the lowest bid most or all of the time on that work. Then that company is found to donate big money to the politicians in charge. On top of that there are legal disputes over “unfinished” or poorly done” work by the company, yet they still get more contracts and are willing to make more bids even though, according to them, they are not being paid for the work. Gee what’s wrong with that picture!? Wake up! Nolan should “recuse” himself from all parts of the bidding process and not be allowed access to information on it when his family’s business is involved. No ifs ands or buts!

  • diane

    who cares……….. this has been going on for years, I don’t see any harm,
    the company is performing the work done, not like they are getting paid for
    nothing. And all of sudden the work is not properly completed – try blaming
    the inspectors then, and having them complete the work again. DONATIONS
    have been happening for years also, did not complain to put that in their check
    book until something comes out that could hurt them. All officials need contributions
    that is how they get elected.. duh! I have known the Nolan’s for a very long time
    and I am very proud that they are a very devoted christian family, that would help any one in need, go out and get the real criminals and leave the good people alone

  • Bob Trevor

    If they didnt get the bid and they were lowest bid…THEN THAT WOULD BE WRONG and people would complain about overpaying for a job that was bid cheaper ! But Andy Shaw and the little grumpy lady have to pretend they are earning their money !

  • Ann H.

    The only way I see this as a problem is if someone wasn’t actually doing his job- and it doesn’t seem like this is the case. It looks to me like you have a family of people all working in the same field; it doesn’t seem crazy that things like this would happen. As a Chicago taxpayer, I don’t concern myself with issues of nepotism UNLESS the work isn’t getting done- and it doesn’t seem like this is the case here. So who cares? Go after the jerks drawing double pensions or the ghost payrollers and leave the working man alone.

  • BDrunChicago

    The focus of this report was on family connections with no reference on the value of the contract or how the contract was obtained or whether or not the county is getting the services that they paid for. While we are on the subject of family, let’s talk about the local press, like the Holt family, Jiggets family, Jordan Family, and the Ponce family. Pam zekman’s reporting was sensationalism at its best…..oh wait, this is November. Isn’t this sweeps month? Shallow reporting.

  • Lynn

    If the work is being done and it’s being done by the lowest bidder, what’s the problem? There are arguements about the some of the invoices? I would be surprised if there weren’t! Anyone that has ever paid invoices for work/services performed knows that sometimes there are problems. Disagreements about the work performed or if it was “fully performed”? Who hasn’t argued with someone at sometime regarding a similar issue, either personally or professionally? Then of course a union contributed to a political campaign. Show me a union that doesn’t. Oh, and several people from a large family work in related fields…. Seriously, with all that’s going wrong in Chicago these days, this is what makes the news? Sounds like someone is trying to cause trouble and it’s a slow news day.

  • NNS

    Here we go again, sensationalism at it’s Chicago best. Attacking hard working county employees. I did not see anything about work not being performed or job duties being unfulfilled. Stop attacking the ‘little guy’ for doing his job, there are bigger fish to fry in the Chicago system.

  • kad1986

    Other than finding successful business people in Chicago with the same last name, Pam was searching for a story. It is true that in Chicago, as well as many large cities, people work together through and alongside their friends and families. In Chicago’s history there has been much corruption with this type of work. However Pam needs to go find a real story, 4 people with the same last name does not make it corrupt. Get you details straight and leave a good family alone. Let the ethics committee realize this is nothing but “news” for a slow news day

  • R.Clarke

    I agree. The county is broke and it is so typical of the county to find excuses not to pay up. Two brothers went in to a similar line of work and their profesional lives have happened to cross. Not really a news story.

  • DH

    So what is the actual scandal? A company that put in the lowest bid for a contract gets the job. Family members of an individual who is responsible for overseeing the maintenance and installation of HVAC equipment, happen to be EMPLOYED, by said company. They do not own the company, so they are not the ones reaping the profits from the contract. What’s the problem? Also, Unions have always supported and given campaign donations to politicians who support organized labor, such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and she has been receiving campaign contributions and endorsements from Local 399 and other labor unions ever since she first ran for public office. How is that any worse than any other interest group making campaign contributions to a politician who supports their cause? CBS is making a mountain out of a mole hill.

  • Brian Dowgiallo

    Pam Zekman is supposed to be a professional investigative reporter? How can you run this story without waiting on what the ethics board concluded? How can you not get into detail on how the bid processes worked or if any other companies submitted a lower bid? Pam should be investigated by the ethics board for her sloppy reporting and to let the public know how many other non stories she sold to the Chicagoland area. To throw a family under the bus and potentially hurt their livelihood/careers without any factual evidence is careless. Chicago needs to fully support the Nolan Family.

  • Phil

    The lawsuit only further proves that Nolan oversaw the job responsibly and correctly. The fact that he refused to pay Anchor for the work in question is very admirable. The only corruption would have been if Nolan had paid them without overseeing the jobs at all, or if he would have approved of unsatisfactory work. This was not the case – as is evident by the lawsuit. Stop fishing, tom Sharp and Pam Zekman. There is no story here. And tomsharp, next time get your facts straight. Anchor did not donate to Preckwinkle – the members of the Engineers Union Local 399 did. The work for these contracts was performed by the pipefitter’s union Local 597 members. Also Anchor is not “the Nolan family business”. Pat’s sister- in – law is merely an employee there.

  • Brian Reagan

    This report is a whole lot of nothing. This is a good family who does things honestly and fairly. Please focus your reporting on those who are not playing by the rules instead of a family who does play by the rules.

  • DONNA J.


    I’ve seen first hand what Anchor has taken from the county. Lower bids that were
    overlooked eventhough other companies met the specs. and were totally qualified.Anchor has gouged the county out of millions.Their work was shotty at best. 90% of their work was either not completed or not done at all. GUESS WHAT THEY STILL GOT PAID.THE PROOF IS IN BLACK AND WHITE YOUR A TAXPAYER, WAKE UP.

  • c. klimp

    Here is the truth that Pat Nolan and all his friends and family don’t want you to know. Anchor Mechanical was not always the lowest bidder but got the contract anyway. Then there were other times they got the bids showed up and did not do the work. how about getting the contract and showing up to do the job you bid on and not having the tools or equipment to do it. There are ethics rules for a reason, anyone remember the hired truck scandal or should we call the U.S. Attorney General for clarification. Aren’t the tax payers of cook county tired of being ripped off or are they just resigned to the fact that corruption is the norm. IF YOU ARE SHAME ON YOU. The next time you go to the ballot box cast a vote for your family, friends, and neighbors and not some politicians

  • Mary

    This story made me re-examine some of my basic assumptions. Usually when I read something like this, I think, “Ho-hum. Political business as usual,” and I accept the story as accurate. But I know these people. I know their integrity and their hardworking, ethical mindset. Let’s wait for the results of the real investigation, not the one conducted for sweeps month.

  • ME

    hmmm. Investigation only about COOK COUNTY, nothing mentioned about STATE contracts awarded to Anchor and Exclusive Construction (owned by same person) in surrounding counties and Cook Co.

    According to Comptroller, STATE Expenditures for the 2 businesses owned by same person: FY09 $7.2 million; FY10 $5.7 million; FY11 to date $5.6 million.

    Most contracts awarded as Emergency and do not require BIDS. AHA, another loophole in the system.

    • ME 2

      Agreed Me…….. this system is laden with loopholes and systematic anomolies. And in other words………………………just plain crooked.



    • ME

      OMG! YOU are so on target that EVERYONE from top to bottom should also be held accountable.

      In my opinion, if a disgruntled employee is behind this, doesn’t matter anyway because it’s public now. If it makes you feel any better, nothing will come out of it because sounds like our City, County & State Legislators are their best friends and will downplay any illegal activity. Pay for Play always prevails.

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