My father was an FBI informant. His dangerous, undercover work revealed more than $21 million in mismanaged or embezzled funds. But neither one of his corrupt union bosses ever suspected their nerdy accountant of collaborating with the feds.
During the six-plus year-long investigation of the Chicago Truck Drivers, Helpers and Warehouse Workers Union, my father wore a wire, smuggled out documents, held secret meetings, did investigative digging on his own… and even had a brush with a hitman.
“Whoever said accountants are boring never worked in my shoes,” my dad says.
My father isn’t dull, but you’d never picture him doing undercover anything. He’s more Eugene Levy than Daniel Craig. Six feet tall and skinny, my dad’s had the exact same haircut since he was in grade school–picture a George McFly short, side part but without the grease and messier. His interests, then and now, include: riding steam engines, playing bridge and reading The Wall Street Journal.
That’s partly why he was such a good informant. But the other reason is my dad wasn’t just an accountant: He had a side business doing financial planning and taxes. A licensed securities broker, he noticed a suspicious investment in 1988 that was authorized by John Johnson, union president, and Paul Glover, union vice president and general consul. The two decided to put $4.5 million of the union’s pension money in an investment that had a deferred sales charge of more than $180,000. My dad advised Glover they could put the money in a similar fund with no sales charge, therefore saving the union money. Glover told him, in expletive-laden words, to mind his own business.
My father mentioned this in passing to a former coworker. Coincidentally, FBI agents happened to be tapping this former co-worker’s phones in another investigation. About a week later, a well-coiffed gentleman wearing an expensive suit and driving a black Cadillac knocked on our front door. That was the start of my father’s undercover journey.
After that initial encounter, my father, along with the entire board of trustees and several other union employees, were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. Johnson and Glover hired attorneys for the whole staff, and after his first subpoena, my dad received a pay raise because the bosses assumed he had been defending them. That, and perhaps to assure his silence.
What they didn’t know is that while everyone else only appeared once, my dad gave additional testimony. “I spent several hours before them,” my dad says, and to justify his time away from work, he told his bosses he had been having a long lunch with his brother. “I told my lawyer that however he billed his time, he couldn’t say I was appearing before the grand jury.”
A week later, my dad went to Glover’s office to drop off papers. No one was there, and the mail had been just delivered. Sitting on top appeared to be an invoice from this attorney. “I opened it, and the lawyer had billed for three hours of the grand jury appearance,” my dad says.
This was a watershed moment. Had he not seen that invoice, gotten rid of it and had the lawyer send him another invoice directly, his cover would have been blown. “From that point on, I wasn’t afraid to do anything anymore because I figured somebody was watching over me,” my dad says. “I decided I didn’t need an attorney, and I dealt directly with the feds. I was determined to do everything I could to get my bosses indicted.”
My dad started combing over every single investment Johnson and Glover made, researching them and even, at times, calling the companies directly, using his side business as a cover to gather information.
He started working with George Ossey, a trustee, who asked questions about investments, but was always voted down by Johnson, Glover and two other trustees on the seven-member union board. “George and I would meet secretly in the stairway to discuss things,” my dad says.
About a year and a half later, the investigation stalled. Around this time, his bosses were starting to make bigger bad investments—putting, for example, $1 million into a mining company that had absolutely no presence on any stock exchange anywhere, and which my dad, rightly, suspected was worthless.
After hearing about Steven Quasenberry, a hotshot investigator within the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Labor, my dad reached out to him. “He told me to come over to his office after work,” my dad says. “The next day, he called me to say he’d taken over the investigation from the FBI.”
This drew my dad even deeper. He often concealed documents under his jacket when he went to hand them over to agents in the bodega, across from the union offices. One time, he almost got caught when he ran into Johnson in the elevator. “I told him I was going to buy a lottery ticket because of a big jackpot,” my dad says. “He asked me to buy him five tickets.”
Other times, Quasenberry would have my dad detail who all the various players were within the union—especially, who might be willing to cooperate with investigators. During this time period, many union employees were subpoenaed, and my dad often directed investigators as to who might yield information. “Paul Glover’s secretary hated her boss, and one day, she told me, ‘I’d like to help investigators. I wonder why they’ve never called me,'” my dad says, adding that he passed this along to investigators, who finally interviewed her.
As the investigation heated up, trustee George Ossey ran against Glover for president in the union election of 1992. Johnson’s secretary, an Ossey supporter, also gave my dad documents, as well as Johnson’s meeting planner. Though my dad was helping Ossey, his real purpose in getting these documents was to make copies for investigators, who matched them up against subpoenaed paperwork.
My dad also was asked to wear a wire to covertly record conversations with Johnson and Glover. Investigators were waiting nearby in a parked car in case they suddenly needed to extract my dad. “There definitely was a concern for my safety,” my dad says.
Though my dad was pretty fearless, my mom was terrified. Several times over the course of the long investigation, she begged my dad to quit and asked her Bible study group to pray for him. She also renewed her teaching license in case she had to return to full-time work and insisted on getting more life insurance. “I was not going to end up like my sisters,” she says. Both my aunts were widows, including one left to raise eight kids alone after her husband, a Chicago police officer, was killed in the line of duty.
Because she was so worried, my dad didn’t tell her everything, so she didn’t learn until years later that my dad wore a wire. “It was almost as if he was having an affair,” my mom says. “I felt, at times, like I was going crazy because I knew something more was going on.”
There was a lot more than even my dad knew. During the election, my dad was asked by Glover and Johnson to sign two false affidavits, stating that they never misused union funds over the past five years. My dad told both Johnson and Glover he couldn’t honestly sign them because federal agents had subpoenaed and confiscated the records they had referred to in the affidavits. By refusing to sign them, my dad knew he was likely to be fired, since this indicated he was supporting Ossey in the election. My dad, instead, made copies of the affidavits, which he gave to Ossey and wrote a letter explaining why he wouldn’t sign them.
The false affidavits and my dad’s letter went out to the entire union membership while my family was flying to visit me in Spain during my college semester abroad. After their trip, several undeliverable certified letters were waiting for my dad at the local post office, but rather than retrieve them, he went downtown to get fired in person.
Ossey and the reform slate of trustees were voted in handily, but a week after the election, Ossey got a phone call from someone claiming to be a hitman. “Apparently, he tried to kill George at the union Christmas party, but he couldn’t get a clear shot,” my dad says. “Your mother and I were there, standing by George, in the front window.”
Ossey met with the hitman at a restaurant in Greektown. FBI agents arrested the man, but neither Ossey, nor anyone else at the union, ever heard what happened after that. By 1995, three years after the election, Glover and Johnson were sent to prison for embezzlement and kickbacks totaling more than a half a million dollars. Johnson, during Glover’s trial, was described as “a violent, threatening bullying, lying” individual who carried a semi-automatic pistol with a silencer, beat up fellow union members and abused cocaine and alcohol.
While Ossey publicly ran against corruption in the election, no one knew who the real informant was. “You can connect the dots as to what could have happened,” my dad says.
Though the actual kickbacks were worth more than $1 million in today’s dollars, they actually mismanaged and embezzled more than $21 million, depleting the retirements of almost 10,000 truck drivers and pensioners. “If they hadn’t done that, with the stock market’s rise in the ’90s, the pension fund would have been worth around $40 million more,” my dad says.
Johnson, in return for testifying against Glover, was sentenced to about two and a half years in prison. He has since passed away.
Glover, whose first trial ended in a mistrial, was eventually sentenced, and he served seven years in prison. Today, he is an executive coach and inspirational speaker.
Three months after the union election, when Ossey took office, my dad was rehired and promoted to the position of fiscal administrator, helping to more properly invest the union’s funds. Ossey died in 1999 of lung cancer.
After my dad retired from the union in 2001, he worked part-time, consulting on financial matters for a decade. Today, he, my youngest sister Karen and her husband Jim run my dad’s original side business, a private financial planning and accounting firm.
News reports of the trials attracted the interest of a production company, which inquired about movie rights, but Ossey declined their overtures. Karen and my middle sister Julie asked my dad: If a movie ever got made, who would he want to play him? My dad’s answer: Danny DeVito. “What’s wrong?” my dad asked them, as they burst into a fit of giggles. “I like him. He’s a funny guy.”