In a town where the notorious often plead innocence and even self-proclaimed reformers occassionally end up in prison, Richard Simon has been linked with everyone from organized crime figures to police superintendents.
Simon quietly rose from chauffeur for the city’s “King of the Janitors” to claiming that crown as owner of United Service Companies, a nationwide firm based in the South Loop. The relationships that Simon forged along the way have come under close scrutiny since Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently signed one of Simon’s companies to a five-year, $99.4 million deal to provide janitors at O’Hare Airport.
Simon, 62, was in business until a year ago with an alleged organized-crime figure, and he employs another man who went to prison after being indicted with the late mob boss Anthony “Big Tuna” Accardo, the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently.
Simon also had a long relationship with another mobster and he refused to appear before a grand jury investigating the disappearance of a “close female friend and companion” of his mentor and longtime boss, janitorial kingpin and corruption convict Ben Stein, according to Chicago police and federal records.
At the same time, Simon had a stint as head of the city’s convention bureau and became friendly with a who’s who of local power brokers, including Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
Workers for Simon, who was a Chicago police sergeant, clean the lakefront memorial to slain officers for free. Phil Cline, the retired police superintendent and memorial foundation executive director, said this week he was thankful to Simon and was unaware he had ties to organized crime figures until seeing recent news stories.
“The Rick Simon I know is a very generous man,” Cline said.
Through a spokesman, Simon argued that his firm would offer airport janitors improved wages and benefits. He alleged that the Service Employees International Union — whose members stand to lose their jobs at O’Hare when the deal goes into effect Saturday — had engaged in “a paid smear campaign and personal attacks.”
“As a Chicago-based company, we are proud to have earned the city’s confidence to do this work in a better, more efficient manner that will save the city roughly $10 million,” the spokesman said.
Simon began working for Stein as a janitor, while still a high school student in 1965, and continued to work for him, even as he joined the Chicago Police in 1976.
A police file from February 1983 — months after Simon was promoted to sergeant — said he was a “chauffeur and vice president’ for Stein’s company who “had been conducting negotiations” on Stein’s behalf with a woman named Karen Lee Koppel. Simon offered her “a posh Lake Shore Drive apartment” and new cars to start a rental business if she would get out of Stein’s life, according to the report obtained by the Sun-Times.
The document also says Simon met with the woman at a bar “on the night of Koppel’s disappearance,” but she told friends she declined his offer and demanded $50,000.
“Simon refused to testify before a Cook County grand jury investigating the disappearance of Miss Koppel,” according to the document.
Investigators again approached Simon in 1988, this time to ask him about the attempted mob hit on labor leader Dominic Senese. According to an FBI report documenting the interview, Simon “stated that he had known Dominic Senese and his family for so long that he could not remember how long” and did not know who attempted to kill him.
Stein, who had ties to organized-crime figures and served a federal prison sentence for bribing union officials in the 1960s, died in 1996. Simon gradually bought out Stein’s family, and he now is 100 percent owner of United Maintenance, city records show. His companies have more than 5,000 employees cleaning conventions centers, airplanes, hospitals and hotels across the country.
A review board appointed to root out corruption and mob influence in the Teamsters alleged in 2002 that Simon colluded with labor bosses, including William Hogan Jr., to undermine the union’s contract in Las Vegas. The federal Independent Review Board charged that the deal with Simon translated into lower wages and worse benefits than the Teamsters contract required for convention workers.
Hogan — whose brother worked for Simon at that time — was booted from the Teamsters for life as a result of the probe. A spokesman for Simon denied any wrongdoing in the dispute in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, politicians here and across the country have accepted almost $200,000 in campaign donations from Simon and his companies in the past 15 years. By far the largest amount — more than $41,000 — went to Burke. The veteran alderman did not return calls seeking comment.
In a statement, McCarthy’s spokeswoman, Melissa Stratton, said the superintendent met Simon through Cline, adding that Emanuel’s top cop and Simon “are social acquaintances.”
The Sun-Times’ parent companies prior to the current owners, Wrapports, had contracted for maintenance and janitorial services with United Service Companies.