Click Here To Purchase My Fall From Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls

Author:  James J. Laski
ISBN:   978-1-4343-6279-7
ISBN:   978-1-4343-6280-3
Publisher:  Author House

In My Fall From Grace, City Hall to Prison Walls, James Laski blows the lid off in what he refers to as “nasty Chicago politics” in this comprehensive account of his rise from the second highest elected position as city clerk to his incarceration in the infamous “Hired Truck” program scandal.  The book opens with Laski in the Morgantown Federal Correctional Institute, reflecting on success and defeat and how his pursuit of a shortcut to the American dream became his demise.

Laski began his political career under the auspices of Congressman William Lipinski, Alderman of the 23rd Ward, working from 1979 to 1993 as newspaper editor, press secretary, chief of staff and one of the few “go-to-guys” in the Lipinski organization, where he was later appointed alderman of the 23rd Ward.   After their split in the early 1990s, Laski continued in politics, winning two terms as city clerk and with his star on the rise, there was speculation that he would run for higher office. 

What began as a career in public service turned to fraud and deceit, as Laski talks candidly about altering absentee ballots, forged signatures on election petitions, and how polling sheets might be intentionally overlooked so deceased people could remain on the voting rolls. “If people think that stealing elections in Chicago or altering numbers to make someone look good or bad went out with Al Capone, they should think again,” writes Laski.  He says that it was after his first term as city clerk that he became complacent, slightly reckless, and viewed himself as invincible.  Laski admits to spending an inordinate amount of time on the golf course cutting deals for himself and his friends.

Several chapters are devoted to Laski’s pertinacious involvement in the complex Hired Truck program scam, an act that brought the curtain down on a promising political career.  Chicago’s Hired Truck program (which no longer exists) employed private trucking companies to do city work.  In 2004, the Chicago Sun-Times conducted an investigation that some of the trucking companies involved were being paid for little or no work and had a connection to city employees.   Truck owners also paid bribes in order to get into the program. 

It was circa 1995 when Laski pulled some strings, helping a longtime friend get admittance into the Hired Truck program.   Subsequent “friends” followed and Laski began accepting bribes from $500.00 to $1,000 a week over a several year period.  A federal investigation was launched and agents caught Laski on tape encouraging witnesses to lie to a grand jury and deny that they had given him cash bribes to continue getting business from the Hired Truck program.   A myriad of city officials went to prison, but Laski was the highest ranking elected official to get caught.  Laski pleaded guilty to two counts of bribery and one count of obstruction of justice, which was lowered to one count of bribery.  In 2006 Laski resigned from his position as city clerk and gave up his license to practice law.   He was sentenced to two years in prison, of which he served 11 months in the Morgantown Facility in West Virginia and six months in a halfway house. 

My Fall From Grace is an explosive narrative, taking the reader where they may have never been before.  The chapters on the Morgantown Federal Prison are illuminating and allow the reader to live vicariously through Laski’s struggles and survival.  He spills the beans on the federal prison system, calling the conditions at Morgantown deplorable and talks about its ineffective drug and rehabilitation program.

I admire Laski’s gutsy, no holds barred attitude, revealing political glitches such as betrayal, entitlement, and other ploys that involve a litany of politicians, including his contentious relationships with Mayor Daley and Jim Lipinski.  The chapters on the Hired Truck scandal provide drama and suspense, and at times read like a Hollywood movie script.  The book is voluminous (427 pages), with unnecessary description, but it’s not often that we get a blow by blow on ballot tampering!   Most memorable is the devotion to his wife and family, and the embarrassment and remorse he feels is evident throughout.  The final good-bye before leaving for prison forces a flood of emotion from Laski that transcends to the reader.

Much to Laski’s credit, he’s not afraid to show his vulnerabilities, exposing the frailties of human behavior.  He’s hard on others, but equally hard on himself.  He admits putting friendships before his career and that he made some unscrupulous decisions.  On a philosophical level, the book invites us to think about our own life choices; how we’re all prey to power and greed and that temptation from our friends can potentially destroy us.  He also brings to light the notion of I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine is alive and well-and not only in the political arena- but it can also be used on both an honest and dishonest level.   

Click Here To Purchase My Fall From Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls