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Ratz: ‘I was trying  to do a good thing’

Updated: July 18, 2012 6:19AM

If you had to pick one word to describe Tom Ratz, it would have to be intense.

Fearless works, too — with angry coming in a close third.

That’s why it’s no surprise the 43-year-old St. Charles man gets worked up when discussing the civil case that accused him of being a rip-off artist.

Ratz was cleared of those charges a couple weeks ago by a DuPage County judge. But as satisfying as that courtroom victory is, it does little, he says, to repair his damaged reputation that resulted from the media attention the case drew.

Even Ratz agrees it all made for screamy headlines: Ex-con accused of ripping off single mom with disabled child.

But nothing was further from the truth, he contends. His client, an Aurora woman, never gave him a chance to finish the project, he insists, and it was only because of his criminal record that prosecutors went after him.

It’s also this unsavory past that made for great TV footage by Channel 2 investigator Dave Savini, who continued to blast him across the airwaves, Ratz complains, without telling the full story.

As he goes into all the details of that complicated tale, Ratz’s gets more ramped up. His speech cadence speeds up and the volume goes higher as he describes what it’s been like these past few years being “the poster boy of the system’s injustices.” And as he gets more animated, his hands begin to gesture, his feet start to tap and his brilliant blue eyes become even more piercing. At one point during an interview, he even ripped off his shirt to reveal an upper body covered with gang-related tattoos.

Ratz was the son of an Aurora police officer but was raised by his single mom on Dearborn Avenue and Locust streets — not a good place to be in the ‘80s, where “the street was wide open” and “you had to fit in or you would not survive.”

Judging from his rap sheet, he fit in fine. Ratz admits to using drugs, dealing drugs, stealing and even shooting four people. He ended up in prison five times. But that last stint in 2001-2002 led to sobriety and Jesus, he says, — a jailhouse conversion that not only turned his life around but filled him with the need to help others.

Once out of jail, he got married and started a concrete business. Five years ago, when he read my column about a man getting ripped off by an ex-con contractor, he offered to help that victim. When the Aurora woman read about that offer, according to court documents, she called Ratz asking for help in building a bathroom for her disabled daughter.

“I was trying to do a good thing,” he laments. “And look what it got me.”

As you can tell by the name of his company — Ex-Tream Con-Crete — Ratz refuses to hide his past. It’s easy to believe he’s “never backed down” from adversity — no doubt a trait that served him well in his former life and continues to do so.

Back in 2004, he was the force behind a civil-rights complaint filed by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board against 16th Circuit Court Judge James Doyle that eventually led to the embattled judge stepping down and a black mark on his popular Kane County Drug Rehabilitation Court program.

Doyle had thrown Ratz back in jail, even though he had not tested positive for drugs or committed any new offenses while on probation. During that time, Ratz lost his apartment and job. And when Doyle ordered him not to enter the city of Aurora as a further condition of his probation, Ratz hired an attorney and fought back.

“Because I’m an ex-con, I must have done what the judge said I did.” Ratz says sarcastically of the bull’s-eye he feels is always on his back. “Because I’m an ex-con, I must have ripped of a poor single mom with a disabled kid.”

Ratz says he had a growing business until the Aurora woman went after him. The media exposure and attorney costs may have ruined him financially, but because “I know how to fight,” he’s focused on rebuilding it all.

Just as intensity and anger define Tom Ratz, so also does tenacity. There is no doubt he is fearless and determined. But just as quickly as his voice raises and his eyes flash, his demeanor softens and he begins quoting philosophers. “People fear the unknown, he says, touching the large crucifix that hangs on a thick silver chain around his neck. “What is unknown to me is how people in authority play with people’s lives.”

His reputation may have taken a hit, Ratz concludes, “But I see this adversity as just another stepping stone in life. Now I know better, I do better.”

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