When Pam Zekman and her colleagues bought a run-down bar in River North in 1977, it was filled with leaking pipes, frayed wires, and all kinds of code violations. You would think they could have found a better place.
That was the whole point. Zekman wasn’t really a would-be entrepreneur; she was a Chicago Sun-Times reporter, fishing for corrupt City of Chicago inspectors.
She and her team, working with the Better Government Association, named the bar The Mirage, installed cameras in the ceilings, and set about finding out just how corrupt city inspectors were.
The undercover reporters didn’t offer bribes; they waited to see what the inspectors might ask for in order to look the other way when they saw rats, roaches, frayed wires, leaking ceilings, raw sewage – you name it.
Sometimes just $10 did the trick.
After just two months in “business,” the sting wrapped up and the newspaper issued its findings in a 25-part series. Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes did a story, too.
And while no one went to jail, several city and state employees were fired or suspended, and some were even convicted of bribery charges. And it’s possible that corruption in Chicago got knocked down a notch or two, at least for a while.