Bridgeport bank failure probe looking into Chicago city contractor James Bracken III over ties to William Mahon

When Chicago area businessman James W. Bracken III was going after a $61.7 million city contract from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration in 2016, he placed a high-ranking city official named William M. Mahon at the top of his list of references.

At the time, Mahon was a deputy commissioner with the city Department of Streets and Sanitation.

That was the department that would oversee the contract.

Bracken got the deal. 

As City Hall had done for about a decade then, starting under Mayor Richard M. Daley, it leased the ubiquitous orange dumpsters, dubbed Brackenboxes, from the contractor’s Brackenbox business for street sweepers to use to dump the debris they collected.

Now, Mahon — a longtime member of the Daley family’s 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization — faces up to eight years in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 11 for his role in the collapse of a crooked Bridgeport bank, Washington Federal Bank for Savings, where he was a board member for nearly two decades. 

He’s one of 14 people — including then Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson — convicted so far in the case after pleading guilty in August and admitting he falsified loan documents for years to keep federal regulators from discovering a massive embezzlement scheme.

And Bracken, 51, of Palos Park, has come under scrutiny by federal investigators in the ongoing bank investigation because of his ties to Mahon, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. 

Bracken hasn’t been charged with any crime.

Two of his business partners recently were indicted in two other cases. One centers on Cook County’s use of federal funding to demolish an abandoned hotel in Harvey. The other involves Riverdale Mayor Lawrence Jackson’s ties with Bracken, whose company was hired to collect garbage for the south suburb.

Bracken and his companies aren’t identified by name in those two indictments, which sources confirmed refer to them as Individual A and Company B. According to sources and government records obtained by the Sun-Times, Bracken owns the companies that demolished the hotel and hauled Riverdale’s garbage.

Bracken and his attorney Kalia Coleman won’t comment. Mahon and his lawyer Thomas Breen didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

Brackens’ history with City Hall

Bracken, who grew up in Canaryville, and his wife Kelly L. Farrell Bracken have a history with City Hall that dates to 2001, when the city Department of Transportation leased a dump truck from her company, KLF Trucking. It was one of nearly 200 companies in the city’s Hired Truck Program.

A 2004 Sun-Times investigation of the Hired Truck Program found that Daley spent more than $40 million a year hiring dump trucks for city construction projects but that those trucks did little or no work. Many truck owners paid bribes to get into the program and made campaign contributions to the mayor and other politicians.

Mayor Richard M. Daley at a news conference in 2004, when he responded to new disclosures related to the city’s corruption-riddled Hired Truck Program.

The newspaper’s reporting sparked a federal investigation that spread to include city hiring practices and led to the convictions of 48 people. Among those was Daley patronage director Robert Sorich, who was found to have fixed test scores for clout-heavy job applicants. 

Mahon testified about his role in the test-rigging scheme while working for Streets and San and also serving on the bank board. He wasn’t charged in connection with that scheme but was suspended from his City Hall job for 45 days.

He quit his job with the department in January 2022, a month after being indicted on charges that accused him of helping Washington Federal CEO John Gembara carry out the embezzlement scheme.

William M. Mahon walks out of federal court earlier this year after pleading guilty to charges of falsifying loan documents.

William M. Mahon walks out of federal court earlier this year after pleading guilty to charges of falsifying loan documents.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Bracken’s wife, a registered nurse, wasn’t charged in the Hired Truck case, a scandal that  prompted Daley to shut down the program and replace the dump trucks with privately owned dumpsters. 

Brackenbox’s first dumpster contract

The Daley administration gave Brackenbox its first dumpster contract with Streets and Sanitation in 2009. Altogether, City Hall has given the company five contracts, totaling $81 million. Brackenbox so far has been paid nearly $50 million. The company’s most recent contracts with the city were issued in June. 

Two other Bracken-owned companies — KLF Trucking and Utility Transport — have been given 19 City Hall contracts since 2011 for a total of more than $28 million.

During that time, the Brackens and their companies have made more than $295,000 in political contributions to politicians — including $25,000 to the 2019 mayoral campaign of Daley’s brother Bill Daley and $17,750 to funds controlled by former Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who’s now on trial on corruption charges.

The registered agent listed in state records for Bracken’s companies is attorney Michael Synowiecki, a law partner of Mara Georges, Daley’s former top City Hall lawyer. Synowiecki worked as attorney for the Chicago City Council Finance Committee when it was run by Burke. Synowiecki married Meaghan Cleary, who worked for the finance committee and is a great-niece of Anne Burke, the former Illinois Supreme Court justice who’s married to Burke.

Harvey deal under scrutiny

In February 2018, the Cook County Land Bank Authority, a government agency that works to get tax-delinquent property redeveloped, hired one of the Bracken companies, KLF Enterprises, to demolish a former Holiday Inn at 170th and Halsted streets in Harvey, county records show.

Land bank officials knew the building contained asbestos based on a 2017 survey from Carl Fioravanti, president of Alliance Environmental Control of Lansing. Bracken then hired Fioravanti to remove the asbestos, which would be dumped in a Bracken landfill, records show.

Initially estimated to cost $376,000, the land bank ended up spending nearly $500,000, which included money from the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

About six months later, federal authorities began looking into whether Fioravanti accurately reported how much asbestos he found inside the building and the amount he reported to the landfill operations.

A grand jury indicted Fioravanti on Oct. 19, accusing him of obstruction of justice, saying he gave federal investigators altered records “to reflect a different quantity of asbestos that was removed from the hotel site and delivered to the landfill,” according to prosecutors.

Two weeks later, the same grand jury indicted Jackson for perjury and obstruction of justice, accusing him of lying in a civil suit filed by Tri-State Disposal Inc., which had hauled the suburb’s garbage until the mayor hired a Bracken company.

Jackson testified in a sworn deposition in February 2021 that he didn’t know the owners of the new garbage-hauler. But a federal investigation found that Bracken was helping run Centennial Holdings, a trucking company owned by the mayor and his wife.

Attorneys for Fioravanti and Jackson won’t comment. Bridgeport bank failure probe looking into Chicago city contractor James Bracken III over ties to William Mahon

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