Just days after Chicago attorney Michael Shakman filed court papers accusing the Illinois Department of Transportation of improperly packing its rolls with patronage workers, a high-ranking state official involved in the hiring process at IDOT left the state agency.

Carmen Iacullo, a top administrator for IDOT in the Chicago region, “retired” from his $106,000-a-year position on April 30, state officials told the Better Government Association. Why he left wasn’t immediately clear, but IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said Iacullo was the subject of an internal investigation at the time of his departure, and the undisclosed allegations have been referred to inspector general’s office.

Iacullo, who was involved in patronage hiring for Chicago’s municipal government before joining IDOT in 2004, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Prompted by a 2013 BGA story about political hiring at IDOT – where most employees are supposed to be hired based on qualifications, not clout – Shakman filed a motion April 22 asking the court to appoint a “monitor” to regulate political hiring, firing and promotions at IDOT.

IaculloQuinn600x400IDOT District 1 headquarters / BGA photo

Shakman is an anti-patronage crusader whose previous court fights have resulted in monitors imposed on the City of Chicago and Cook County governments. Last week, Shakman filed an agreed motion to free the city from a monitor.

Tridgell wouldn’t say whether Iacullo was forced to leave, but said his departure was not tied to Shakman’s allegations that state government under the Quinn and Blagojevich administrations routinely flouted anti-patronage court orders. As the assistant to the regional engineer, Iacullo was the No. 2 official in IDOT’s Schaumburg-based district, which handles highway construction and repairs, and snow and ice removal for the Chicago area.

“There were recent issues related to his time at IDOT, and we launched an investigation and he stepped down at the end of last month,” Tridgell said. “I can confirm we referred the matter” to the Office of the Executive Inspector General, state government’s in-house watchdog.

A former colleague described Iacullo as “a kingmaker” at IDOT’s Schaumburg district, having a big say in who was hired and how new employees were assigned.

“He would drop [new hires] in the bureau and say, ‘Find him something to do,’” said Patricia Casale, a retired IDOT clerical secretary.

patriciacasaleBGAphoto600x450Retired IDOT clerical secretary Patricia Casale / BGA photo

Casale said one of her roles was to type up lists of questions to be asked of prospective employees during interviews. She said she personally handed the lists to Iacullo prior to interview sessions. “I’d have to bring a hard copy up to him,” she said.

In 2010, Iacullo was sued in federal court by Martin Anderson, IDOT’s former bureau chief of electrical operations.

In the lawsuit, Anderson said he was fired “without cause and because he was not a political supporter of . . . Iacullo,” and that Iacullo was hired “so the Chicago machine faction could exercise additional political control over IDOT operations, including hiring functions.”

A judge ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward with Anderson’s claim that he was fired for political reasons, but stated he could re-file a portion of the case in state court.

In 2006, Iacullo testified about his time at the Chicago Department of Transportation during the corruption trial of Robert Sorich, patronage chief for then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley before being convicted of rigging the city’s hiring system to favor candidates with clout. During the trial, Iacullo talked about attending meetings with Sorich, where “Iacullo would recommend candidates, including individuals from his [Democratic] political group, for promotions,” according to court records.

Tridgell downplayed Iacullo’s role in IDOT hiring, saying “he did not play a significant role.”

A spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn – who oversees IDOT – would not make Quinn available for an interview, and referred comment to IDOT.

A BGA investigation last summer showed how IDOT, under Quinn and his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, manipulated job descriptions to get around a U.S. Supreme Court decision that was meant to severely limit political hiring, firing and promotions in Illinois state government. The BGA found hundreds of questionable hires, where the jobs may have been filled because of clout.

This article was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Patrick McCraney, who can be reached at pmccraney@bettergov.org or (815) 483-1612.