Figure in UMC investigation found dead in Michigan

A key figure in the University Medical Center no-work contract scandal turned up dead on a Lake Michigan beach Wednesday evening, possibly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.

The body of Orlando Jones, 52, was discovered about 6:30 p.m. in the town of Union Pier in southwestern Michigan, about 70 miles from his Chicago home.

Detectives for the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department were still investigating, but an autopsy Thursday determined the gunshot to the head was self-inflicted, Sheriff Paul Bailey said.

Jones’ family last saw him on Tuesday and filed a missing-persons report Wednesday afternoon with Chicago police. Bailey said Chicago police found a suicide note at Jones’ house, but he did not know what was written in the note.

Jones was at the center of a Las Vegas police investigation into whether former UMC boss Lacy Thomas steered lucrative hospital contracts to friends and associates in Chicago for financial kickbacks.

Jones was approached this week by Chicago FBI agents for an interview, but he declined, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The FBI would not discuss details about the potential interview, citing an ongoing investigation, according to the newspaper.

Las Vegas police last week submitted a 60-page investigative report on the UMC case to the district attorney’s office and recommended charges including fraud, bribery and theft against Thomas, Jones and Martello Pollock.

The case centered on a $132,000 contract to Chicago-based Crystal Communications to review telecommunications at UMC.

Police think Thomas and his wife received a trip to Aruba and $14,000 in exchange for the contract, which was awarded to Crystal Communications though a Nevada company’s bid was nearly $36,000 less, a source close to the investigation said.

Jones was a corporate officer for Crystal Communications and had a history of personal business with Thomas, the source said.

Local authorities said Jones’ death would not hinder their investigation.

“It doesn’t hurt the case,” District Attorney David Roger said.

Las Vegas police Deputy Chief Kathy Suey said Jones had not cooperated with detectives, and his suicide would “not affect our investigation at all.”

Jones, the godson of and one-time chief of staff to former Cook County Board President John H. Stroger, was an influential player in Chicago politics. Current county board President Todd Stroger, who succeeded his father, said in a statement that Jones was a family friend who left behind a wife and two sons.

“The Stroger family is saddened by the passing of Orlando Jones,” the statement said. “His passing is an untimely and unfortunate loss for those who knew and loved him, and he will be missed.”

Last week, Jones told the Sun-Times he did nothing wrong in Las Vegas.

His friend and lawyer, Robert Stephenson, said he met with Jones on Tuesday to talk about the case, the newspaper reported Thursday.

“I had spoken to the D.A. out there (in Clark County) on Friday. He wanted us to cooperate, and I said we would,” Stephenson told the newspaper.

Stephenson said the two discussed a stack of documents the lawyer had assembled to send to Roger’s office.

“I was relatively confident that once the D.A. looked at these documents, this thing would have been over with respect to Orlando,” Stephenson told the Sun-Times.

Jones made phone calls until about 8 that night but never came home, the paper said.

A couple walking to the beach in New Buffalo discovered Jones’ body at the bottom of a stairway leading to the lake, Bailey said. He was still holding the handgun, he said.

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