The movie industry has brought millions of dollars to the Chicago area, shooting scenes all over the city and suburbs.
One or more Metra employees may have tried to get a piece of the action, CBS2 and the Better Government Association have learned. Now, the rail agency’s inspector general is investigating.
A Metra train has a starring role in the new Hollywood science fiction thriller, "Source Code." It is one of the many movie negotiations handled for more than a decade by Jonathan Gottlieb, a Metra special transportation services manager.
But after Gottlieb negotiated a $19,000 contract for "Source Code" last year, a film location manager reportedly complained that Gottlieb demanded additional cash for all his hard work — $2,000 — be delivered in an envelope to him or another Metra employee.
On the morning of the first shoot, the complainant said, Gottlieb was furious to learn the money would not be delivered and said told her she’d never be able to work with Metra again.
Gottlieb denied any involvement and said his record is unblemished. He says a Metra police officer asked if he had demanded a kickback.
"I said ‘No, no, no, no,’ OK? And that was the end of that," Gottlieb said.
Soon after the alleged incident, he retired from his $73,000-a-year job.
Gottlieb says the only money he ever received from a movie production company was for work he did as an extra. He also said he once arranged for his condo association to be paid $1,900 for allowing a film crew shooting nearby to park vehicles behind his building.
The "Source Code" complaint was filed about the same time Metra Executive Director Philip Pagano was accused of taking more than $1 million in unauthorized bonuses and advances. Pagano committed suicide shortly after the financial misconduct was revealed.
"Things changed and became very chaotic during that time, but that’s not to say this was dismissed by any means," Metra spokesperson Judy Pardonnet told Zekman.
Pardonnet said that after inquiries by the BGA, the case was sent to Metra’s inspector general.
BGA Director Andy Shaw says the future of Illinois’ film trade depends on a complete investigation.
"I think we need to know if this was one incident or one of a hundred incidents," Shaw said. "If a number of movie and television production companies have been shaken down this way, we need to send the word out that this has been stopped and it won’t happen again."
Shaw praised the "Source Code" location manager for blowing the whistle and urged others in the industry to report any similar problems they have had. In the end, that will make Chicago and Illinois "a friendly place for television and movies," Shaw says.
The other employee named in the location manager’s complaint still works for Metra. He refused to comment.
The firm of Hillard Heintze, Metra’s new interim inspector general, also declined to comment about their investigation.
Main image courtesy of Summit Entertainment