2016 Corruption Watch: Chicago, East St. Louis take top corruption spots
This year was full of corruption and mismanagement from public officials, but four instances in particular stand out.
Illinoisans are no strangers to corruption. In fact, a Gallup survey found that Illinois residents have the least amount of confidence in their state government. It’s no wonder, considering Illinois and the City of Chicago are consistently ranked among the most corrupt governments in the nation.
This is evident in the top corruption stories for 2016, which cover local officials who have engaged in elaborate schemes worth millions of dollars in bribery, insider deals and theft, all at the expense of taxpayers.
A full look at 2016 corruption stories can be found in the Illinois Policy Institute’s Illinois Corruption Watch. Illinoisans should not have to accept corruption in their state. Residents and taxpayers should insist on – and politicians must embrace – more government transparency.
Here is a recap of the top four corruption stories from 2016:
- Chicago’s red-light scandal continues: Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the company that used to administer Chicago’s red-light-camera program, made headlines in 2015 as news of a multi-million dollar scandal broke. The former CEO pled guilty to bribery and conspiracy in a $2 million scheme to funnel tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to the Redflex company.
The saga continued in 2016 as the city’s deputy commissioner of transportation, John Bills, was prosecuted for his role in the scheme where he ensured the company would win and maintain Chicago city contracts for the red-light-camera system. He was convicted of 20 counts of mail and wire fraud.
- Corruption in CPS: Another corruption case from 2015 also continued into 2016. In October 2016, former chief executive of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to wire fraud for funneling $23 million worth of school district contracts to two consulting firms. She received $2.3 million in kickbacks for ensuring the firms would have no competition in the bidding process.
In March, Chicago Public Schools filed a lawsuit seeking $65 million in damages and losses against Byrd-Bennett.
Also, in October, Gary Solomon, a co-owner of the consulting confirms involved in the scheme, pleaded guilty to wire fraud for his role in the scandal.
- Bribes, backroom deals stay the norm in Chicago: In September, Philip Oropesa, a former executive for LAZ Parking, pleaded guilty to wire fraud for his role in a kick-back scheme involving lucrative Chicago parking contracts. He pocketed $90,000 in brides in exchange for steering a $22 million contract to Cale Parking Systems USA.
- Series of arrests in Metro East: Illinois’ Metro East area was also in the spotlight for corruption this year, as eight public officials were arrested on corruption charges. Those arrested included an East St. Louis councilwoman, two East St. Louis Township trustees and a St. Clair County Board of Review member. The charges include official misconduct, bribery, forgery and using public resources for personal gain.
The East. St. Louis Township supervisor was also arrested and pleaded guilty to wire fraud for using the township credit card to pay for personal expenses, including a trip to Las Vegas.