By John Byrne and Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune reporters
7:08 AM CDT, August 20, 2013
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration on Monday produced a letter showing it knew about questions surrounding Amer Ahmad and a controversial government contract in Ohio before the mayor hired him as Chicago's comptroller in April 2011.
The letter was released as the administration attempted to show how it vetted Ahmad, who pleaded not guilty Monday in federal court to a kickback scheme stemming from his tenure as Ohio's deputy treasurer. Ahmad, 38, abruptly resigned from his City Hall job nearly a month ago. The administration has said Emanuel didn't know about Ahmad's federal problems until the former aide was indicted last week.
In a letter to the Emanuel transition team dated April 1, 2011, attorney Vincent Connelly said he had interviewed Ahmad about an Ohio contract awarded to an East Coast bank and found Ahmad "acted appropriately." The bank was awarded a lucrative contract in 2010 after hiring a friend of Ahmad's as its lobbyist, a deal that led to Ohio newspaper reports and a campaign attack ad against Ahmad's boss questioning the arrangement.
"We find no reason that he should not be considered for the position" of comptroller, Connelly's letter to Emanuel administration official David Spielfogel reads.
Connelly said he and Zaldwaynaka "Z" Scott, who were then both attorneys with the Mayer Brown law firm, vetted Ahmad. They interviewed him by phone. Someone involved in the transition also looked into the Ohio treasurer's office contract with Boston-based State Street Bank, according to Connelly's letter. Connelly said Monday he did not remember who did that part of the review. Connelly said the vetting process for Ahmad was similar to that for many people being considered for positions in the Emanuel administration.
Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton could not provide details Monday about who else Connelly and Scott talked to about Ahmad during the vetting process.
Ahmad and his lobbyist friend Mohammed Noure Alo entered not guilty pleas in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, to charges that they and two others conspired to direct state investing work to one of them in exchange for kickbacks between 2009 and 2011. The charges are not related to the 2010 banking contract.
The two others charged in the alleged conspiracy, Douglas Hampton and Joseph Chiavaroli, have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with federal investigators, according to their plea deals obtained Monday.
The indictment alleges Ahmad directed Ohio state investment work to Hampton. In exchange, Hampton funneled more than $500,000 to a landscaping company owned by Ahmad and Chiavaroli and to Alo, a lawyer and lobbyist who was a "close personal friend and business associate" of Ahmad's.
The 2010 questions about the relationship between Ahmad and Alo came after State Street Bank hired Alo as its lobbyist and then got a state contract. The situation formed the basis of a campaign attack ad against Ahmad's boss, Democratic Treasurer Kevin Boyce, who lost the November 2010 election. Emanuel announced in late April 2011 that Ahmad would join his financial team.
Emanuel administration officials say the mayor didn't know about the federal investigation until the indictment, though Ahmad is accused of lying to investigators as far back as September 2012.
Ahmad and Alo were released on bail Monday. Federal Judge Michael Watson set an Oct. 21 trial date, though it is common in federal cases like this for the trial to get pushed back.
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