Corruption Watch

Corruption Watch

October’s headlines featured backroom deals and financial mismanagement, all at taxpayers’ expense.

Illinois wasn’t short on government corruption stories in October. In Chicago, an investigation into the Chicago Police Department found that the department collected $79 million in civil asset forfeiture since 2009. This money has been used as a slush fund for the police department, and has never been reported to the City Council.

This abuse is corrupt on multiple levels. On top of serving as a police slush fund, the practice of civil asset forfeiture allows police departments to seize the property of residents they suspect may have been involved in a crime – even if they have never been convicted. The Chicago Police Department using this money as a hidden slush fund is a blow to residents and taxpayers, who already are footing the bill for a massive tax increase to cover the police department’s bankrupted pension funds.

In addition to this, some of October’s other corruption cases include:

  • Taxpayers have lost $8.3 million on two inside deals regarding plans to revamp a piece of industrial property in Chicago. Two nephews of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley have been involved in taxpayer funded plans to redevelop the property. The first investment cost taxpayers $4.2 million, and the second cost $4.1 million. Though there were promises the taxpayer investments to build a new warehouse would generate jobs, the property has been sitting empty.
  • Gary Soloman, the owner of two education-service companies, has pleaded guilty to offering bribes to former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Byrd-Bennett received kickbacks for steering lucrative public contracts to Soloman’s companies.
  • The Chicago Board of Education’s inspector general found that the administrators at four Chicago public high schools inflated their attendance rates by 10-20 percent, a fraudulent attempt to boost the amount of funding their school received.

When instances of corruption, backdoor deals and mismanagement go unchecked, taxpayers lose out. Here are other cases of corruption:

Oct. 2, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: THE WATCHDOGS: CPS lawyer oversaw work done by his former firm

The top attorney for the Chicago Public Schools supervised work done for CPS by a law firm that’s still making $200,000-a-year severance payments to him, email records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

When the Sun-Times first reported in July that CPS had hired Jenner & Block LLP, schools CEO Forrest Claypool said his hand-picked general counsel, Ronald Marmer, “recused himself” and had no role in choosing the firm.

But the newly obtained documents show Marmer reviewed drafts of a lawsuit the firm was preparing to file on behalf of CPS and sent revisions of the planned suit to Jenner & Block lawyers.

The records also show Claypool knew Marmer was communicating with Jenner & Block about the case.

Both Marmer and Claypool previously worked for Jenner & Block.

Marmer is getting $1 million in severance from the firm in five yearly installments due to end in 2018.

Under CPS’ ethics code, employees are barred from exercising any sort of “contract management authority” over a schools contractor “with whom the employee has a business relationship.”

Oct. 3, 2016 – Chicago Reader: City Hall reacts to Reader revelations about the Chicago Police Department’s secret budget

The Chicago Reader’s investigation into the Chicago Police Department’s use of civil forfeiture caused a stir in a City Council Finance Committee meeting last Friday.

The revelation that CPD maintains a secret slush fund of tens of millions of dollars outside of its City Council-approved public budget surprised the city’s longest-serving alderman, Ed Burke, and elicited a statement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget director that City Hall is working to bring oversight and transparency to the fund.

Published on September 29, “Inside the Chicago Police Department’s secret budget”—a collaboration between the Reader, the transparency advocates at Lucy Parsons Labs, and the records request website MuckRock—revealed that CPD has brought in close to $72 million in forfeiture proceeds (both cash and assets) since 2009. The department has used its share of that money (nearly $47 million) to fund the day-to-day operations of its drug- and gang-related investigative units and to buy controversial surveillance equipment.

Reading aloud from the story at the committee meeting Friday, Alderman Burke said, “The department has made 4,700 individual purchases since 2009 totaling—are you listening?—$36.8 million,” according to Fran Spielman’s account of the meeting for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Burke continued, “I’ve been here for 47 years. Gone through 47 budget hearings. And I can’t recall once that this has been disclosed to the City Council.”

Oct. 6, 2016 – Chicago Sun-times: 4 CPS high schools dramatically inflated student attendance: IG

Administrators at four Chicago public high schools inflated annual student attendance rates over the last four years by systematically falsifying daily attendance records, making it appear as if dramatically more students attended class than actually did, according to a CPS inspector general report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The schools engineered the appearance of significantly improved attendance rates,” the inspector general said in the report to be released Thursday.

The schools, on the South and West sides, boosted annual attendance rates by about 10 to 20 percentage points, allegedly through fraud. While the report discovered the fraud for different time periods at the schools, the earliest it found problems was the 2012-2013 school year, the latest 2015-2016.

Oct. 8, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: WATCHDOGS: Taxpayers may be out $8M on site tied to Daley nephews

Over the past nine years, two nephews of former Mayor Richard M. Daley have been involved in separate plans to redevelop a rundown warehouse on 15 acres of polluted land in Little Village just north of the Stevenson Expressway.

It hasn’t turned out well for Chicago taxpayers.

First, taxpayers have to make up for $4.2 million in city pension money invested on behalf of teachers, police officers and other city workers that ended up squandered on failed development plans involving Daley’s oldest nephew, Robert G. Vanecko.

Now, taxpayers stand to lose another $4.1 million on the same property at 3348 S. Pulaski Rd. That’s the amount of a property-tax break given to a second redevelopment deal for the site.

This one involves Vanecko’s first cousin, Patrick Daley Thompson, an attorney who helped the developers get the tax cut last year shortly before he was elected alderman of the 11th ward — the family’s power base for six decades.

Oct. 11, 2016 – Daily Herald: Lauzen handing off projects after OKing illegal contracts

In the wake of illegal actions by Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, county officials will discuss just how much power Lauzen has.

Lauzen called for the discussion himself at Tuesday’s county board meeting.

“We will have a discussion on county structure,” Lauzen said. “I think we’ve had a shift about where we stand on that. I received clear feedback a week ago. I take it to heart. All of us, including me, want to do our best.”

Last week’s feedback came in the form of a full recounting of Lauzen’s hiring of an outside law firm to perform consulting work. The consulting, which State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said clearly entailed unauthorized legal work, involve three projects Lauzen hopes will create new revenue to defer the need for future tax increases.

McMahon said Lauzen illegally hired the firm and spent taxpayer money without the knowledge and permission of his office or the county board and without a competitive bidding process. At least part of the work involved using taxpayer money to benefit a private waste-to-fuel enterprise, McMahon said in a memo to county board members.

Oct. 13, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: Emanuel gives pay raises to mayor’s office staff

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is giving sizeable pay raises to his personal staff — even as he continues to freeze the salaries of city department heads.

Tucked away in Emanuel’s proposed, 2017 budget is a new, $112,000-a-year assistant to the mayor and pay raises as high as 30 percent for existing members of the mayor’s staff.

The overall budget for the mayor’s office will rise by 5 percent — from $5.96 million this year to $6.28 million in 2017. That’s even after there is only one addition to a mayor’s office staff that currently includes 68 employees.

But, 45 members of Emanuel’s staff are in line for pay raises, some of them sizeable increases. There are a handful of small salary reductions.

The deputy chief-of-staff who fills the line-item jumping by $30,012-a-year—to $185,004-a-year—is Andrea Zopp.

Oct. 18, 2016 – United Stated Department of Justice: Owner of Education-Services Companies Pleads Guilty to Offering Bribes and Kickbacks to Chicago Public Schools Chief in Exchange for Contract

The owner of two education-services companies admitted in federal court today that he offered bribes and kickbacks to former Chicago Public Schools chief BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT in exchange for obtaining a $2.09 million contract to train principals.

GARY SOLOMON admitted in a written plea agreement that he offered bribes and kickbacks to then-CPS chief Byrd-Bennett in exchange for her efforts to steer the sole-source contract to Solomon’s companies, THE SUPES ACADEMY LLC and SYNESI ASSOCIATES LLC. Byrd-Bennett had previously worked for the companies, and her fraudulent arrangement with Solomon called for her to return there as a consultant upon leaving CPS, according to the plea agreement. Solomon maintained a line item within the companies’ internal financial statements to set aside the kickback money, which would be paid to Byrd-Bennett in the form of a one-time signing bonus on her first day back, the plea agreement states. Solomon told Byrd-Bennett in an email, “If you only join for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day. Regardless, it will be paid out on day one.”

Oct. 19, 2016 – Chicago Now: Chicago alderman under FBI investigation for misuse of campaign funds

Alderman Willie Cochran, 20th Ward, is under federal investigation for his use of campaign funds, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Sun-Times previously reported Cochran paid himself more than $115,000 from his campaign funds over a three-year period.

Chicago City Council is one of the most corrupt political bodies in the nation. Over the past 40 years, 33 of some 200 aldermen have been convicted on corruption charges.

This culture of misconduct shows no signs of slowing down. And the lack of seriousness in tackling ethics reform – or even enforcing rules on the books – within city government is disturbing.

Oct. 20, 2016 – United Stated Department of Justice: Former City of Chicago Building Inspector Pleads Guilty to Soliciting Bribe from Property Owner to Allow Renovations Without a Permit

A former building inspector for the City of Chicago admitted in federal court today that he solicited a $300 bribe from a property owner in exchange for allowing renovation work without a permit.

ROBERTO URIBE, 55, of Frankfort, demanded the bribe from an owner of a two-story building in Chicago, according to a written plea agreement. Unbeknownst to Uribe, the building owner was cooperating with federal authorities and had surreptitiously recorded the bribery demand.

In a recorded conversation on Nov. 9, 2015, Uribe boasted of his ability to shut down the renovation work unless the owner paid him $300. “So now, what’s happening now is you’re gonna give me some appreciation, and you’re gonna hurry up and get this done,” Uribe told the building owner, according to the plea agreement. “And that appreciation is gonna be $300. Now how quickly can you get me my money to keep my mouth shut?”

A few days later, the property owner paid $300 in cash to Uribe during a meeting at the property, the plea agreement states. The property owner was equipped with a recording device that recorded this meeting.

Oct. 28, 2016 – The Newspaper: Chicago, Illinois Seeks Gag Order In Redflex Corruption Case

Worried at the prospect of embarrassing information leaking out of its court case against Redflex Traffic Systems, the city of Chicago, Illinois on Thursday asked US District Court Judge John J. Tharp Jr to impose an order blocking public access to material marked “confidential” during the discovery phase of the trial. The Australian red light camera vendor shared the city’s desire to secrecy.

“Through their discovery requests, the parties seek information regarding the confidential information of Redflex and the city of Chicago, including non-public financial information, customer information, marketing and pricing information,” Chicago attorney Anthony J. Masciopinto and Redflex attorney William B. Berndt wrote to the court on Thursday.

Under the proposed order, the public would be denied access to the behind-the-scenes information about how Redflex inked the lucrative $125 million deal with the Windy City under false pretenses. Now the city wants to recover those millions from Redflex by charging them with violating a municipal ethics law. Redflex had gambled that it would get away with securing the country’s most lucrative red light camera contract by dishing out $2 million in bribes. Redflex pocketed $125,904,645 from the scheme, while Chicago collected $500 million.

Oct. 28, 2016 – Chicago Tribune: Emanuel’s Law Department sanctioned again for not disclosing police files

A federal judge sanctioned the city this week, making it the seventh time since 2011 that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Law Department has been punished for not turning over potential evidence in a police misconduct lawsuit.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox on Thursday ordered the city to the pay fees and costs for a second deposition of a Chicago police officer accused of using a Taser on a pregnant woman. The woman, Elaina Turner, suffered a miscarriage soon after the August 2013 incident, according to her lawsuit.

As part of the routine exchange of evidence known as discovery, the city was required to give Turner’s lawyers all documents related to Officer Patrick J. Kelly’s disciplinary history. But it failed to turn over records showing that Kelly was involved in a fatal on-duty shooting in 2014. Her lawsuit was filed in 2015.

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