In Print: public servants with the gift of grab | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Calendar

In Print: public servants with the gift of grab


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Nineteen ninety-seven was a difficult year for police superintendent Matt Rodriguez. Seven Austin District police officers were under indictment on corruption charges, and several off-duty police died under suspicious circumstances. The 12th District commander made disparaging remarks about Hispanics. The Fraternal Order of Police announced a vote of "no confidence" against Rodriguez on November 3. Yet it was a friend of 38 years who effectively ended Rodriguez's career.

A November 14 story in the Chicago Tribune disclosed a friendship between Rodriguez and Frank Milito, a restaurateur and former owner of several Amoco gas stations, who had been convicted of two counts of felony mail fraud and one count of income tax evasion in 1986. More recently he had been questioned by the FBI regarding the ten-year-old murder of Charles E. Merriam, an Amoco executive gunned down in his Prospect Heights home. The Tribune mentioned that Rodriguez ate at Milito's restaurant often and that they once had traveled to Los Angeles together to see Pavarotti and World Cup soccer. Though not criminal, the friendship violated rule 47 of the police conduct code, which prohibits "associating or fraternizing with any person known to have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, either state or federal, excluding traffic and municipal violations."

As police scandals go, it was hardly sexy. There were no dens of gambling or protected prostitution rings, no illegal payoffs, extortion, or bribes for county jobs. Perhaps it shows what's been missing from vice: theatrics. Richard Lindberg, author of To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption From the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal, 1855-1960, shows that corruption belongs in the hands of people who know how to work it: people like William McGarigle.

McGarigle was a golden boy, appointed to the post of police superintendent by Mayor Carter Harrison in 1879, when he was 29. But behind his rise to power was Mike McDonald, who ran the "Store" at 176 N. Clark, a 24-hour gambling parlor, whose profits he turned into political clout. He controlled the county commissioners and had helped Harrison get elected.

"If Mike ran the city government," said Harrison, "the people of Chicago were to be congratulated that he was born and lived among them."

But McDonald did run city government, with McGarigle passing along departmental secrets and shielding the parlor from raids. In 1882, against Harrison's advice, the master ran his pupil for Cook County sheriff--giving him $50,000 and passing out beer and cigars at McGarigle's campaign rallies.

When McGarigle lost, McDonald found a position for him as warden of Cook County Hospital, where he and the other commissioners on the county board collected bribes from ambitious contractors and commissions on bills paid to the city. McGarigle began channeling food waste and offal from the hospital to farmers for pig feed and received payoffs of as much as $11,000. Meanwhile, the hospital's contagious-disease ward crammed both men and women into one room with only six beds.

Such flagrant evidence of neglect convinced the state's attorney to launch an investigation. After they were arrested in 1887, the rest of the commissioners (including McDonald's brother Ed) faced to either two years in jail or $1,000 in fines. But McGarigle managed to temporarily escape judgment. Allowed regular visits home from his cell during his trial, on July 22 he jumped eight feet from his bathroom window to a carriage while the sheriff waited for him to finish his bath. He was able to catch a ship bound for Canada (which under its 1842 treaty with the United States was not obliged to extradite him), moving around the country before settling in Banff. Though an expatriate of some infamy, he roomed with the pastor of the town's Methodist church, joined the choir, and was elected the town's fire chief--a post he refused. It would be two years before McGarigle finally came back to Chicago, making a deal with the state's attorney for no jail time and a $1,000 fine.

"McGarigle made some noteworthy reforms," says Lindberg. "But he was caught up and corrupted. In those days you had to have sponsors, and he attached his star to Mike McDonald.

"My theory is that the Chicago Police Department is better managed today than it was before. But that says an awful lot, because it was so bad before and people just don't realize it....I think Mr. Rodriguez was a decent man, he just had unfortunate associations, as a lot of them did."

Lindberg will appear at the Roden branch of the Chicago Public Library, 6080 N. Northwest Highway (312-744-1478), Saturday at 1 to discuss To Serve and Collect. Admission is free.

--Sridhar Pappu

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): William McGarigle, 1886 uncredited print.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment