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Political Insider Tries To Halt Inspector General’s Probe

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Chicago City Hall (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A legal battle is on between Chicago’s Inspector General and a well-known veteran of the city’s political scene.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has subpoenaed the personal financial records of the Rev. Leon Finney Jr., a longtime board member of the Chicago Plan Commission.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times reports Finney is trying to keep Ferguson from snooping.

Finney has filed a lawsuit seeking to quash Fergusons’ subpoena for records from Finney’s now-shuttered restaurant, his development deals, church and personal finances.

Finney was one of retired Mayor Richard M. Daley’s most prominent African-American supporters. He was appointed to the Chicago Plan Commission early in 1979 by the late Mayor Michael Bilandic, and served until shortly after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office last year.

Earlier this month, Ferguson’s office subpoenaed Lakeside Bank to examine Finney’s personal, church and restaurant bank statements between 2008 and 2011, court records show.

But Finney’s lawsuit this week called the subpoenas “fishing expeditions” and illegal. Finney claims Ferguson has no jurisdiction since neither he nor the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church where he’s pastor or even his Leon’s eatery had city contracts during the four years covered in the subpoena. And they don’t currently, court records state.

Finney believes The Woodlawn Organization or “TWO” — where he was once president but hasn’t had a position since 2007 — is the actual target of the inspector general’s probe, court records state. Dating back to the 1950s, the organization fought back against an expansion by the University of Chicago, and mobilized Woodlawn residents against dishonest local businesses, slumlords and school segregation.

In his suit, Finney states that during 2011, Ferguson “began to investigate TWO’s performance of certain contracts it had had with the City.”

The inspector general’s office didn’t comment Wednesday.

Finney’s lawsuit states that TWO has had contracts with the city over the years, but the pastor asserts he never had no connection to the deals — again attempting to make the case he’s not subject to Ferguson’s subpoenas.

“At no time has Finney personally conducted business with TWO. Finney has personally received no funds from TWO connected with any city contracts and has personally performed no services pursuant to or in connection with those contracts,” the suit states.

In legal papers, Finney does acknowledge his church rented space to TWO and his restaurant Leon’s provided catering services, but those deals weren’t part of any city contract.

While he couldn’t be reached for comment, Finney suggests in his lawsuit that he knows more than a little bit about the probe. In the legal papers, he states that TWO has been cooperative with the city inspector general, producing “numerous documents” for the investigation.

And two companies tied to Finney — Tre’s on 63rd restaurant and Lincoln South Central real estate — have turned documents over to the inspector general, the lawsuit states. The companies had served as TWO vendors who worked on city contracts.

This isn’t the first time Finney’s run in to problems in recent years.

In 2010, South Side residents disrupted a Chicago Plan Commission meeting to demand that Mayor Daley remove Finney from the commission because, they claimed, he was a “slumlord.”

At the beginning of 2011, complaints about Finney mounted amid problems at a 30-unit courtyard building on the 6100 block of South Kimbark Avenue just south of the University of Chicago campus, which was owned by The Woodlawn Organization. The building lacked heat or hot water.

Resident Mary Smith told CBS 2 at the time that the only thing heating her apartment are pots of water, her stove cranked to 550 degrees, and occasionally one of the radiators. Residents claimed the problems persisted because Finney was getting off easy with the city due to his political connections.

And in the last six months, local news outlets have reported about an FBI and federal housing probe as well as a lawsuit tied to Woodlawn Community Development Corp.’s management of public housing projects at the Gary Housing Authority.

Sources told the Northwest Indiana-based Post-Tribune last year that the local housing agency may have lost $850,000 over three years to Woodlawn’s alleged misappropriation of federal funds to boost its payroll.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Lisa Donovan and Fran Spielman contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)