Egg on Rahm's face in comptroller scandal

What role his CFO played in bringing fox to henhouse should be next question

For a man who cultivates the aura of a guy who knows everything, Mayor Rahm Emanuel didn't know all that much in the matter of Amer Ahmad.

Or so he says.

Ahmad is one of his former golden boy financial whizzes, the onetime deputy treasurer of Ohio who was brought to Chicago as Emanuel's city comptroller.

Now that Ahmad has been indicted in an Ohio kickback scheme, Emanuel says he's trying to get to the bottom of it all. Ahmad worked at City Hall from Emanuel's inauguration in the spring of 2011 until nearly a month ago.

"I appreciate that you think I should have known," said Emanuel sarcastically to reporters on Tuesday, adding that others had recommended Ahmad for the job, including "the head of Key Bank, the head of the treasurer's office in Ohio gave him a clean bill of health and a thumbs-up."

But Emanuel forgot to mention someone else who gave Ahmad a big thumbs-up:

Lois Scott, the mayor's chief financial officer.

According to public records I examined on the Ohio treasurer's office website, Scott's private financial firm worked on some $200 million in state highway construction bonds in Ohio.

Scott Balice Strategies LLC, co-owned by Scott, served as "financial adviser to the treasurer" on those Ohio deals. Scott sold her interest in the firm in 2011 when she came to work at City Hall.

I'm not saying there was anything wrong about the deals. I'm just saying that Ahmad was the deputy treasurer in Ohio when Scott's firm was helping to put the deals together. Financial advisers don't work for free. And the fees are usually hefty.

So I called Scott to hear what she had to say about Ahmad, but she wasn't available. Her staff said she was out of town at a conference.

Then I placed a call to Sarah Hamilton, the mayor's press secretary. I asked her who recommended Ahmad for the city comptroller's job.

"He was recommended by a variety of individuals in finance and government," Hamilton said.

Was one of them Lois Scott?

"Yes," Hamilton said.

She mentioned that Scott's former company worked in some 20 states, and that her partner in the firm was originally from Ohio.

"I know they worked in Ohio, but I don't know if they worked directly (together)," Hamilton said of Scott and Ahmad.

But Scott certainly knew Ahmad well enough to recommend him to the mayor. And if Mayor Rahmfather really wants to get to the bottom of all of this, the place he should start — before hiring a bunch of outside lawyers who'll cover his skinny political behind — is Scott herself.

But the mayor doesn't often take my advice, and that's too bad for him. He's already wasted oodles of his savings in the Bank of Political Likeability by closing down schools, slapping Chicago with all those revenue-grabbing red-light and speed cameras and insisting that there really isn't any need to hire a lot more cops.

Emanuel did promise that his investigators would examine all the Chicago financial transactions Ahmad might have been involved with, including investments for police, fire and other city union pension funds.

Where that money gets invested and who gets to chew on those hefty administration fees is a measure of clout in this city.

Emanuel is feeling heat, so he's hired forensic lawyers to help city lawyers, including his own Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton, who will assist the mayor's least-favorite lawyer at City Hall, Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

This is completely inappropriate. Patton, whose boss is Emanuel, shouldn't be anywhere near this investigation.

Emanuel has been trying to undercut Ferguson for months now and can't risk being caught off guard. The mayor likes to play at being transparent, as long as no one's really looking. And Ferguson has this annoying habit of actually looking.

So Ferguson is getting squeezed and Patton is watching him. All this is far too obvious, and unworthy of the legendary deviousness of Mayor Rahmfather.

For years now, he's been too intent on being slick and tricky. But for a guy desperate to be seen as always one step ahead of everyone else, the mayor has stumbled.

It's obvious to Chicago, and to several aldermen, including Ald. Robert Fioretti, 2nd, and Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd.

They're upset that Emanuel used the Illinois Supreme Court to shield the mayor's office from subpoenas issued by Ferguson.

There's nothing like claiming you're Mayor Transparency while you're hamstringing the watchdog.

"That's why we need all of Rahm's hands off of this," Waguespack told me Tuesday. "The mayor just can't have his hands in the pot on this."

City Hall's investigation of Ahmad "needs to be completely independent. You can't have the corporation counsel sitting there looking over the IG's shoulder, saying, 'We're not going to allow you to have that document, or that document.'"

"The bothersome part," Waguespack said, "is that clearly, somebody vetted this guy."

But the vetting is what Emanuel wants you to look at, so you'll focus on a couple former federal attorneys who were hired by the city to ask Ahmad a few questions over the phone, and who didn't see anything wrong.

It's not the vetting, it's the recommending. It's the "let's hire this guy."

And if investigators want to know how Ahmad got hired, they should start by asking Emanuel's chief financial officer.jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

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