LAKEVIEW — The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce is denying any intentional wrongdoing in its hiring of an unlicensed security firm owned by the children of a local police officer.
Crime in Wrigleyville + Boystown published a report this week that suggested the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce skirted the law when it used the unlicensed A&T Security to de facto hire Chicago officer Tom Walsh's private security firm.
City law forbids city employees, including police, from having a financial interest "in his own name or in the name of any other person" in services paid for with city money.
On Tuesday, Lakeview East Executive Director Maureen Martino said there was no truth to the idea that Walsh Security — or Walsh himself — was getting paid for the services that A&T Security provided.
"It's ridiculous to think they would accuse us or our organization of doing something that is not above board, really," Martino said of the blog's report. "All the checks were made out to A&T. There's no way Walsh Sr. was involved in that."
The firm also wasn't hired to act as a security patrol, but as hourly community ambassadors who would keep watch on quality-of-life issues like breaking up fights between homeless youths and discouraging panhandling, Martino argued. The Chicago Loop Alliance has a similar hospitality team, she said.
"Did we ask for guns? No," Martino said. "Did we think they would be operating as a full security company? That's not what our intent was."
But the "semantics" of using vests emblazoned with the word "Security" and describing the patrols as "private security" in the 2014 request for proposals and subsequent chamber reports could be confusing, she said.
"Maybe if we thought about it again, we would have vests that said maybe 'Ambassador' instead," Martino acknowledged. "But if it's not 'Security,' nobody is going to take it seriously."
Enlisting A&T Security as community ambassadors would theoretically free the chamber from city policy requiring a contract with a state-licensed firm for security services paid for with tax money.
The River Forest-based A&T Security has no such certification, and owners Amanda Walsh and Thomas Walsh Jr. — officer Walsh Sr.'s daughter and son — do not have private security contractor licenses, according to a DNAinfo search of online state records.
Officer Walsh told CWB Chicago in an email that his son passed the Illinois State Security Contractor test, but did not provide the contractor license number to the blog for verification, according to CWB Chicago.
On Tuesday, Walsh said his son had indeed passed the test, but the younger Walsh's application was under investigation after an anonymous complaint was filed.
Walsh's son has a LinkedIn profile listing him as the director of operations and manager for Walsh Security, the licensed security firm his father owns. A profile for Amanda Walsh lists her as the president and owner of AT&T Walsh Security.
The younger Walsh wanted to follow his father in becoming a police officer and was "genuinely interested in security," Martino said. Hiring his firm was sound business judgment, not a decision based solely on personal relationships, she argued.
And the Lakeview East commission — a mayorally appointed board — must sign off on the chamber's hires, providing another layer of accountability, Martino said.
Once the Lakeview East chamber decided to hire an actual security firm — one that was licensed with the state, could use armed guards and would focus on aiding law enforcement — Martino said the chamber sent out a request for proposals and contracted HLSA Inc., a licensed security firm owned by a retired Chicago Police captain.
"When crime went up, that's when we said we might need people that are going to be armed and secured," Martino said.
The licensed firm began working for Lakeview East at the end of 2016.
From December 2014 to September 2016, the chamber paid A&T Security $59,075 of its $1.7 million in special service area tax money for private patrols, according to documents CWB Chicago received through the Freedom of Information Act.
The firm was paid $25 per hour, records show.
In the CWB Chicago article detailing the chamber's relationship to the Walshes and their security firms, the anonymously run blog shares a photo of a guard wearing a Walsh Security vest while patrolling the chamber's annual arts festival at a time when A&T Security was working for the chamber.
Martino said she didn't know why the man had on a Walsh Security vest but suggested he may have worked for more than one security firm at a time and grabbed the wrong vest that day.
Walsh Security provides private patrols for many Lakeview organizations, including the Center on Halsted and the Northalsted Business Alliance.
Unlike Lakeview East, the Northalsted chamber uses its own organizational money instead of city tax dollars for the security guards in Boystown, CWB Chicago reported.
It's not the first time Walsh's firm or his actions as a Chicago Police officer have drawn attention from the media.
In 2012, Windy City Times reported that the elder Walsh had failed to get the required state license to operate a private security firm.
In June, CWB Chicago examined allegations that Walsh tossed a black bouncer to the ground and shouted racial slurs at him, prompting a lawsuit and an Independent Police Review Authority investigation.
The blog has also questioned the firm's hiring practices, beginning with a 2015 post detailing the firm's employment of a felon with a revoked security guard permit.
CWB Chicago launched in 2013 and uses police scanner traffic, courtroom proceedings and sources from inside the Chicago Police Department to track crime in the neighborhood.