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Chicago's O'Hare lax on security, ex-chief charges

CHICAGO (Reuters) - O'Hare airport's former chief of security accused city officials in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday of ignoring his repeated warnings about lax security at one of the world's busiest airports.

In a lawsuit filed in Cook County Court, former chief of security at O'Hare James Maurer said Chicago City Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino and her staff "continually ignored, dismissed and shunned Maurer in his efforts to make O'Hare Airport a safer facility."

Maurer had spoken out repeatedly about "potentially catastrophic terrorist opportunities at O'Hare Airport," said the lawsuit that named two airport officials and the city of Chicago as defendants.

The suit said airport executives lacked experience in policing and anti-terrorism strategies, and appeared to be solely concerned with the $15 billion modernization and expansion plan under way at O'Hare.

UAL Corp's United Airlines and AMR Corp's American Airlines, the two biggest airlines at O'Hare, have objected to fee and rent increases related to the modernization program.

A City Aviation spokeswoman said the agency had not seen the lawsuit and was not prepared to comment.

Among the security threats cited in Maurer's suit were a shortage of patrol officers and allowing some 10,000 private vehicles owned by airline workers to be parked inside the security perimeter at O'Hare.

The suit said it would not detail other security gaps for fear that the information might fall into the wrong hands.

Maurer said O'Hare is "the least secure airport in the country" in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper.

Maurer reached the upper ranks in the Chicago Police Department in a 41-year career prior to his 2005 appointment at O'Hare. Andolino was appointed Commissioner of the Department of Aviation one year ago by Mayor Richard Daley.

Maurer said he was improperly fired last year based on what he said were false allegations that he had assaulted an airport executive.

Maurer was seeking several million dollars in damages, plus reinstatement and back pay.

(Reporting by Andrew Stern, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)