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$100,000 bribe offer to Chicago alderman alleged
Businessman wanted Ald. Isaac Carothers to help him open restaurants at O'Hare and Midway, feds say
By Todd Lighty, Hal Dardick and Jeff Coen
November 6, 2009
A businessman offered a $100,000 bribe to an alderman he thought could help him open seven restaurants in Chicago's two airports, according to federal charges unsealed Thursday.
But the businessman did not know that the powerful alderman, Isaac "Ike" Carothers, had been cooperating for months in an undercover FBI sting, a source familiar with the investigation said.
Carothers wore a hidden microphone and a video camera to secretly capture his meetings with businessman Wafeek "Wally" Aiyash.
Authorities, referring to Carothers in court papers only as "Cooperating Witness," said the alderman began helping them in 2008 in hopes of winning a reduced sentence for his own crimes. Charges against Carothers for allegedly taking bribes from a developer were made public earlier this year.
According to Thursday's charges, Aiyash promised during a series of meetings between May and September 2008 that he would give cash to Carothers if the alderman helped him obtain a piece of the lucrative restaurant business at O'Hare International and Midway airports. Carothers is a member of the City Council's Aviation Committee, whose duties include approving contracts at the airports.
Their conversations were often cryptic and involved scribbling notes on pieces of paper to communicate the alleged bribe, according to court records.
In one meeting, Aiyash allegedly promised Carothers $10,000 upfront with the remaining money later. Records show that Aiyash wrote down the word "cash" on the back of one of Carothers' business cards and allegedly said, "That's the only way I'll do it."
Authorities arrested Aiyash on Thursday at his Naperville home on charges that he delivered two bribes totaling $9,000 in 2008 and offered the rest of the money to Carothers if the contracts came through. He was later released.
Aiyash, 50, owns numerous properties in the Chicago area, including a Grandma Sally's restaurant.
Aiyash's lawyer declined to comment on the bribery charge.
Federal authorities have long had an interest in pay-to-play allegations at Chicago's two airports. Sources familiar with the matter said agents continue to investigate how contracts were awarded at O'Hare, but it appears that the Aiyash case is not part of that larger, ongoing investigation.
Carothers, the 29th Ward alderman and a longtime ally of Mayor Richard Daley's, could not be reached Thursday for comment, but it was revealed shortly after his arrest in May that he had cooperated with the FBI in corruption investigations.
Carothers, who continues working as an alderman, was charged with accepting $40,000 in gifts, including White Sox baseball tickets, for supporting a zoning change in 2006 that cleared the way for a residential and commercial project in his ward.
Court records in that case show Carothers cooperated against the developer, Calvin Boender, and that he has secretly taped other public officials. Boender has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Like Boender, Aiyash donated to Carothers' political campaigns and did business in his West Side ward.
Thursday's charges allege that Aiyash had a corrupt relationship with Carothers before the alderman began cooperating with federal authorities.
Carothers told federal authorities that in 2007 Aiyash allegedly had given him $40,000 to $50,000 in cash in exchange for the alderman's "assistance in obtaining the requisite approvals to develop certain property" owned by Aiyash.
According to public records, Carothers rents space for his district offices from one of Aiyash's companies, WJ Madison Plaza.
In 2005 the city sold vacant property in the 5200 block of West Madison Street in Carothers' ward to WJ Madison for $1, as the city sometimes does to spur development in blighted areas. The city valued the property at $376,000. WJ Madison paid $730,000 that same year to buy nearby property on the same block.
In the end, Aiyash and his partners spent about $4 million to develop more than half the block, according to city documents. "It cost us a fortune," said John Bozonelos, an Aiyash partner.
Bozonelos said he and Aiyash met about 15 years ago through their wives and eventually went into the business together. He said he was stunned by the bribery charge.
"You could have no better person as a friend," Bozonelos said. "I'm flabbergasted. I could not believe it. I don't think Wally has any intention to bribe someone."
BUT WHEN GRANDMA SALLY'S WAS PROPOSED, ONLY WALLY AND BOZONELOS COULD DO IT OVERLOOKING RESIDENTS AND OTHER WESTSIDERS!
Restaurant to be built on vacant Austin lot
By Jeanette Almada
Special to the Tribune
Published April 3, 2005
City officials will sell vacant city-owned land to a retail developer who will build a long-sought full-service restaurant in the Austin neighborhood.
Chicago-based W.J. Management Inc., which consists of Wally Aiyash and John Bozonelos, will build the restaurant as part of a larger commercial/retail project at 3223-41 W. Madison St., according to Marty McCarthy, a Chicago Department of Planning and Development project manager who won the approval to sell the two city-owned parcels from the Community Development Commission in early March. The developer, who privately has acquired land adjacent to the 39,000-square-foot city land, will pay $1 for the city-owned land that is appraised for $376,000, McCarthy told commissioners.
The project concludes the city's lengthy search for a restaurant developer to build on the corner of Madison and Laramie Avenue, according to Ald. Isaac Caruthers (29th), who told commissioners that the full-service restaurant will help the surrounding neighborhood.
A restaurant developer had been sought for the location since the city acquired the lots in 1995, McCarthy told commissioners. "Unfortunately we had no responses. ... Although we have a couple of wonderful restaurants in Austin, we really need a full-service, sitdown restaurant," Caruthers told commissioners.
A residential and commercial developer, W.J. Management has rehabbed buildings in Austin and other city neighborhoods and suburbs.
W.J. President Wally Aiyash cited the company's rehabbing success and increasing Austin property values in its decision to build the restaurant, a Grandma Sally's Pancake House.
The plaza will consist of two buildings. Both buildings are designed by FHS Architecture.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
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