Illinois corruption watch, August 2014
At least 84 corruption-related stories have been reported from across the state of Illinois in August alone. Atop August headlines is the recent revelation that a federal grand jury subpoenaed the emails of Gov. Pat Quinn’s ex-chief of staff in relation to Quinn’s anti-violence grant program. The case, which has been referred to by some...
At least 84 corruption-related stories have been reported from across the state of Illinois in August alone.
Atop August headlines is the recent revelation that a federal grand jury subpoenaed the emails of Gov. Pat Quinn’s ex-chief of staff in relation to Quinn’s anti-violence grant program. The case, which has been referred to by some Republicans as an “attempted vote-buying scheme,” has sparked both state and federal investigations.
Unfortunately for Quinn, the anti-violence program probe wasn’t his only corruption-related scandal to hit the headlines.
In a confidential report on improper hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation, or IDOT, obtained by the Chicago Tribune, Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza stated, “The duration and pervasiveness of IDOT’s improper acts have undoubtedly denied countless qualified candidates the opportunity to lawfully obtain state employment on the basis of merit.”
The Quinn administration announced they have adopted hiring reforms and laid off 58 workers who held the in-question “staff assistant” position since the report was released to them in June. Reportedly, many of those workers had connections to top lawmakers including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, state Sen. Kim Lightford and U.S. congressmen Danny Davis, Robin Kelly, Bill and Dan Lipinski.
Quinn wasn’t the only gubernatorial candidate hit with bad headlines. The Illinois Attorney General’s office is looking into a complaint by the Illinois Libertarian Party that individuals tied to the Illinois Republican Party and Bruce Rauner’s gubernatorial campaign used intimidation tactics in an effort to remove Libertarian Party candidates from the ballot.
Another major corruption story was the continuing saga of Chicago’s red-light camera program. In early August, the former CEO of Redflex, Karen Finley, was faced with federal corruption charges for her part in bribing public officials in Chicago who awarded her company with the red-light camera contract.
Separately, the city of Chicago announced plans to expand a review of thousands of red-light camera tickets after a Chicago Tribune investigation showed unusual spikes in tickets written at a number of intersections, suggesting the cameras malfunctioned or were deliberately tampered with in order to garner more tickets.
84. Aug. 30, 2014
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is taking up a complaint filed by the Libertarian Party candidate that voter intimidation tactics were used by Republicans in an attempt to kick the party off the ballot.
The allegation includes a gun-toting private investigator that paid house visits to verify petitions.
The AG’s office confirmed a verbal complaint was made with the public integrity unit.
83. Aug. 29, 2014
On the edge of Chicago’s West Pullman neighborhood, city pipes pump millions of gallons of water a day across the Cal-Sag Channel to the scandal-plagued suburb of Harvey.
For years, Harvey has, in turn, resold the city’s water to its residents, businesses and even to neighboring towns.
But since late 2008, court records show, Harvey has fallen $20 million behind on its water payments to the city, and it has not paid anything since March, prompting Chicago to sue the town for the cash and nearly $4 million in late fees.
82. Aug. 28, 2014
Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence Amer Ahmad — while Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s convicted former city comptroller remains in a Pakistan jail — because it could take years to extradite him and he may never return to the United States.
In a federal court filing in Ohio, prosecutors argued that Ahmad’s absence was “voluntary.” They claim he fled to Pakistan using a fake passport after “numerous” contacts with-pre-trial services immediately after his conviction and after twice being personally advised of the conditions of his bond.
“Ahmad willfully disobeyed the conditions of release set by this court, made false statements to Pre-trial Services, falsified travel documents and fled the United States voluntarily to avoid serving a term of imprisonment,” the court filing states.
81. Aug. 28, 2014
The subject of an I-Team investigation four years ago has been indicted in a federal fraud case. He is the former head of Cook County’s Disaster Grant and Flood Relief Program, Barry Croall.
The flood program was a mess from the start under then-Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, and now the man Stroger put in charge of doling out disaster grants has been busted by the feds. Barry Croall and an associate are charged in a scheme to siphon taxpayer emergency funds into their own pockets.
On Thursday, Croall was arrested on charges that he siphoned hundreds of thousands of program dollars for himself. The last time the I-Team saw Barry Croall was September 2010, when he was pitching prizes to flood victims at the Brookfield Zoo. Croall was manager of Cook County’s $10.3 million program for flood victims.
80. Aug. 28, 2014
We know, we know: Politics ain’t beanbag. But politics doesn’t have to be rotten and nefarious either.
Yet oodles of people who run for office in this state will tell you of strong-arm tactics they endured, sometimes from their own party, to get their names on an Illinois ballot.
It’s shameful. Sincere candidates who believe in public service spend months walking door-to-door collecting signatures — one of the purest elements of democratic elections — only to get kicked off the ballot through dishonest means.
79. Aug. 28, 2014
A Cook County judge Thursday upheld the verdict in a landmark whistleblower case against Chicago State University, ordering the public institution to pay the fired employee more than $3 million and give him back his old job or face further financial penalties.
Chicago State had appealed the verdict on several issues, including that the jury foreman did not disclose during jury selection that he had been sued in a wrongful termination case brought by a relative of a Chicago State trustee. The university also claimed the damages were excessive.
In a 44-page, harshly worded opinion against Chicago State, Cook County Judge James McCarthy said there were no reasons to overturn the verdict and that the large sum was intended to send a message. The jury had found that former university employee James Crowley was fired in 2010 in retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct by top university officials, including Chicago State President Wayne Watson.
78. Aug. 28, 2014
A man who was sent a $5,347 water bill in Homewood is suing the south suburban village, alleging fraud and deceptive practices.
Paul Otubusin said he received a letter from the village in June alerting him that more than $5,000 worth of water had been used at his address in a three-month period and recommended that he check for leaks, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County court.
Otubusin followed the recommendation, found no problems and wrote back to village officials to tell them no leak was present and that “there was no way” he and his daughter could have used that much water, the suit states.
77. Aug. 28, 2014
Prosecutors say a veteran Chicago police commander accused of misconduct chased a suspect into an abandoned building, stuck a gun down his throat and held a stun gun to his groin.
Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Lauren Freeman says DNA found on the gun is a match for the suspect who alleges he was abused during a January 2013 arrest.
Commander Glenn Evans, 52, is facing felony charges related to an excessive-force complaint filed by the man arrested.
76. Aug. 28, 2014
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said Thursday that a backlog at the Illinois State Police crime lab was responsible for a nearly one-year delay in processing key DNA evidence that has led to charges against a Chicago Police commander for allegedly putting a gun in a suspect’s mouth.
Glenn Evans, commander of the Harrison District on the West Side, allegedly put his .45-caliber pistol “deep down” the suspect’s throat last year. Evans also allegedly held a Taser to the man’s groin and threatened to kill him unless he led officers to the gun he was allegedly carrying.
Evans, 52, one of police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s most trusted commanders, was charged Wednesday with official misconduct and aggravated battery, both felonies. He was released Thursday without having to post bond and was able to avoid reporters when he was allowed to go through a ceremonial door rarely used at the courthouse.
75. Aug. 27, 2014
It’s time to pull the plug on the Chicago City Council’s inspector general, an office we not-so-affectionately call the “fake IG.”
The office — dreamed up in 2010 by aldermen who sought to appear reform-minded but actually wanted a do-nothing office with no real power to effectively investigate them — was doomed from the start. It was decried by this page, as well as by many good-government groups.
74. Aug. 27, 2014
If you serve on the College of DuPage board of trustees, your responsibilities include overseeing the finances and guiding the future of the Glen Ellyn-based community college.
You’re also expected to sit down and shut up.
The COD board recently censured one of its members in a resolution that reads like a teeny-bopper temper tantrum.
73. Aug. 27, 2014
Millions of dollars in state grant money was scattered haphazardly over Democratic voting enclaves, where much of it was misspent, lost or otherwise unaccounted for, a state audit says.
Hundreds of applicants were clouted into positions at the Illinois Department of Transportation under a phony job classification meant to circumvent rules against patronage hiring, an inspector general’s investigation concludes.
These are not the sorts of things we expected to see on Gov. Pat Quinn’s watch.
72. Aug. 27, 2014
The GOP candidate for Illinois governor broadened his criticism of state agriculture officials Wednesday, saying the department was “full of cronyism” and has “folks running things that generally don’t have much expertise.”
Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner’s statements at a forum coordinated by the Illinois Farm Bureau, featuring candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, follow comments earlier this month that the agency’s director “must have agriculture experience” — a shot at Agriculture Director Bob Flider, a former Democratic lawmaker who was named to the post after he lost a 2010 re-election race for the Illinois House. Flider had voted, as a lame duck in the House, for Quinn’s 67 percent income tax increase after earlier opposing it.
“The Department of Agriculture has been decimated,” Rauner said. “A lot of the folks with deep expertise have left and been replaced by folks who have been there for other reasons.”
71. Aug. 26, 2014
A top aide to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is leaving the administration amid a politically damaging patronage hiring controversy that already led to the departure of the head of the state’s transportation agency.
Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman said Tuesday that Sean O’Shea, who had served as the governor’s deputy chief of staff since July 2011, will be leaving the administration on Friday for an undisclosed private sector job.
Klinzman said O’Shea’s departure was “in the works for awhile” and not related to patronage issues at the Illinois Department of Transportation. In late June, Ann Schneider, who was Quinn’s transportation secretary since 2011, resigned from her post.
70. Aug. 26, 2014
A suburban man recently arrested on child pornography charges worked for years at a middle school even after he had been ordered to get sex offender treatment, a Tribune review of district and court records shows.
The school district’s hiring decision 12 years ago came to light after the Tinley Park man — now a former employee of the district — was charged in July with 12 counts of possessing child pornography. There is no indication the charges relate to his tenure at the district, which ended in 2008.
The man, Louis Ferguson, 38, has a 2002 criminal conviction that required he get sex offender treatment, yet he was hired by Homer Community Consolidated School District 33C six months after he was sentenced. Ferguson quit the Homer Glen district in 2008 after he was accused of some type of misconduct that the district said it must keep secret under Illinois law.
69. Aug. 26, 2014
Despite the video, Sarah Naughton was acquitted in a criminal trial. However now, she is facing a different judgment – this time from her peers.
People might remember the viral video of then-Assistant State’s Attorney Sarah Naughton outside a Northside lingerie store in 2012.
Store employees called police after they said a heavily intoxicated Naughton caused a commotion in the store, flashed her badge and then bit a security worker.
68. Aug. 25, 2014
Mayor Doug Thomas stepped down Monday after months of public scrutiny regarding pending criminal charges.
The Kincaid Village Board by a 5-0 vote accepted Thomas’ resignation.
At a special meeting Monday, the board also agreed to pay Thomas $1,175 for leaving before his term is finished and appointed David Oller, a computer programmer who has lived in town for 17 years, to serve as mayor until a new leader can be elected April 7.
67. Aug. 25, 2014
Cook County’s internal government watchdog recently won a round in his legal battle for authority to probe the offices of all countywide elected officials, but Assessor Joseph Berrios continues to challenge Inspector General Patrick Blanchard on the issue.
Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama last Thursday ruled Berrios must comply with a Blanchard subpoena of documents relating to an assessor’s office employee who allegedly received a homeowner’s tax exemption to which he was not entitled. Berrios, who is represented by the state’s attorney’s office, intends to appeal, according to a news release issued by Blanchard.
Berrios resisted the initial subpoena, issued in August 2012, saying he was not required to comply as a separately elected countywide official. After months of legal wrangling, in June 2013 Blanchard sued to force Berrios to comply and get a declaration that countywide elected officials are subject to his subpoenas.
66. Aug. 25, 2014
The city’s legislative inspector general says his office is out of money and tired of being roundly ignored by those whose activities he’s supposed to be monitoring. But Faisal Khan is most definitely not shutting up.
In a strongly worded report issued today, Mr. Khan and his spokeswoman said cases of impropriety have been substantiated against four unnamed aldermen or their staffs and sent to the Chicago Board of Ethics for final action.
In one, an aldermanic staffer reportedly was told to pay her boss when she failed to collect petition signatures for the alderman. In another, an alderman’s chief of staff “borrowed” $4,000 from a constituent and was listed in his official capacity on three different political committees for the alderman — both violations of the law
65. Aug. 24, 2014
Pension officials with the Chicago Transit Authority need much more than a Ventra Card for some of the taxpayer-funded travel they’ve been doing in recent years.
The CTA’s retirement plan and health care trust spent close to $60,000 since 2010 to travel to places such as Honolulu, New Orleans, San Diego and Las Vegas for pension-related conferences.
That’s according to public documents the CTA plan turned over only after we sued the agency earlier this year for allegedly violating the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, the state law that guarantees public access to certain government records.
64. Aug. 23, 2014
A Federal grand jury subpoenaed emails of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s former chief of staff and two other onetime top aides as a criminal probe into a botched $54.5 million anti-violence grant program continues ahead of the November election.
The subpoenas, disclosed by the Quinn administration in response to a Tribune open records request, shows the grand jury asking the state for the emails of Jack Lavin, who served as Quinn’s chief operating officer and later as his chief of staff until departing state government last September.
The July 28 subpoenas were requested by Timothy Bass, an assistant U.S. attorney in Springfield who has prosecuted government grant fraud cases. In May, Bass used a subpoena to request the emails of five other key players in the anti-violence program, including the now-retired aide who ran it for Quinn.
63. Aug. 22, 2014
The new Iroquois County Health Department began its operations July 1 as its own single-county department for the first time since 1980 after the Ford-Iroquois County Health Department shut down June 1 amid allegations of misappropriation of funds, mishandling of contract bids and other illegal behavior.
It all started with an anonymous tip from a whistle-blower.
Kirk Allen, head of the Edgar County Watchdogs (an organization founded in 2011 as an effort to hold government accountable), received a tip about possible wrongdoing by members of the health department. Allen said said he suspects the tip came from a neighbor of a department member. He and his Edgar County Watchdogs partner John Kraft began to investigate, filing Freedom of Information Act requests about the board’s meeting minutes and spending records, but noticed parts were missing.
62. Aug. 22, 2014
Jesse Jackson Jr. is out of Congress and in a prison camp, but he hasn’t escaped the wrath of the Federal Election Commission.
On Friday, the FEC announced nearly $18,000 in fines against his campaign committee for failure to file reports.
Jackson, a Democrat from Chicago’s South Side, was sentenced to 30 months in prison a year ago for looting his campaign treasury of about $750,000 to pay for celebrity memorabilia, vacations, furs, restaurant meals, two mounted elk heads and other items.
61. Aug. 22, 2014
Gov. Pat Quinn failed to rein in patronage abuses at the state transportation agency after replacing now-imprisoned Rod Blagojevich, and Quinn’s directors repeatedly hired politically connected workers in violation of the rules, the state’s top ethics investigator found.
Hundreds of people were hired into a special “staff assistant” position without having to go through strict personnel procedures under rules designed to keep politics out of most state hiring, according to a confidential report by Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza obtained by the Tribune.
The rules have been in place since before Blagojevich took office in 2003, but many of those improper hirings at the Illinois Department of Transportation happened under Quinn’s Democratic administration, the report said.
60. Aug. 22, 2014
In a blow to Gov. Pat Quinn, his former transportation secretary has accused his office of pushing “the vast majority” of improper political hires in her agency even though an ethics report released Friday shied away from blaming the governor’s office.
A report by state Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza alleged that “countless” legitimate job applicants for state jobs were sidestepped by hundreds of political appointees installed in state transportation jobs for which politics weren’t supposed to play a role.
Meza’s report centered on four former Illinois Department of Transportation employees, including two ex heads of the sprawling state bureaucracy for presiding over the allegedly improper hiring scheme but largely was silent on the governor’s office playing a direct role.
But former Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said in a rebuttal to Meza’s report that it was the governor’s office and not her personally responsible for filling non-political positions with political hires.
59. Aug. 22, 2014
The Cook County Sheriff’s office has decided not to take any disciplinary action against jail employees, after a 51-year-old visitor was trapped for 32 hours in a small room at the jail last month.
WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports Cook County Jail executive director Cara Smith described the incident as a “perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.”
Farad Polk visited the jail on the evening of July 5 to see his son, and ended up imprisoned himself when he walked into the wrong room. He became trapped in a small visiting room in the super maximum security Division 9 area of the jail for 32 hours, without food, water, or a toilet.
58. Aug. 21, 2014
The alleged bagman in a $2 million bribery scandal over Chicago’s red light camera contract is cooperating with federal authorities and has testified in the ongoing grand jury investigation, the Tribune has learned.
Martin O’Malley, 73, the Chicago-based consultant for Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. since the contract began in 2003, has admitted that much of the $2 million he was paid by the company was used as payoffs to a top city manager who oversaw the traffic camera program from the beginning, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Asked about O’Malley’s cooperation agreement in an interview this week, his attorney acknowledged that O’Malley has testified before the grand jury and admitted his role in the alleged decadelong conspiracy. O’Malley, who is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, is expected to eventually plead guilty in the case.
57. Aug. 20, 2014
The Illinois State Police have refused to release records related to its investigation of a Bloomington police officer despite a July 21 decision from the attorney general ordering the disclosure.
The state police have not returned numerous telephone and e-mail requests from The Pantagraph about records related to the Brent VanHoveln investigation.
Bloomington police asked the agency to conduct the probe, which led to forgery and official misconduct charges against the patrolman. The officer was later fired and has appealed his dismissal with the police union.
56. Aug. 20, 2014
A key House Republican involved in the legislative probe of Gov. Pat Quinn’s 2010 Neighborhood Recovery Initiative announced plans Wednesday to personally visit a state agency to mine additional staff emails involving the program that the lawmaker believes have been withheld improperly by the administration.
55. Aug. 20, 2014
A couple of months after Julieus Hooks signed a political party’s nominating petitions, a man with a gun walked up to Hooks as he left his home in Oak Park.
The man said he was a private investigator. He told Hooks the petition that he had signed was fraudulent and asked him to sign something. Hooks hastily agreed to sign the paper.
“I did not have time to fully review this document because the man with the gun instructed me to sign it, and I was afraid of him and what he may do to me if I refused,” Hooks says.
This isn’t something out of a V.I. Warshawski novel. It’s part of the behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering that Democrats and Republicans alike are engaging in to help boost the chances for their candidates for governor in November.
54. Aug. 20, 2014
The City of Chicago spends millions of taxpayer dollars every year on inspectors general, a post that in the U.S. heralds back to before the Revolutionary War’s Continental Army, and whose local mission today is fighting corruption, fraud and waste in the trenches of municipal government.
In all, there are seven inspectors general (IG) tasked with watching over major institutions such as City Hall, the City Council, city agencies including the park district and public schools, and the Public Building Commission. There’s also a separate state IG that monitors the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
Collectively, these IGs produce hundreds of examinations every year. But a Better Government Association review of publicly available reports finds the local IGs’ track record is, at best, mixed when it come to busting Chicago-scale corruption schemes.
53. Aug. 20, 2014
The Illinois State Police have refused to release records related to its investigation of a Bloomington police officer despite a July 21 decision from the attorney general ordering the disclosure.
The state police have not returned numerous telephone and e-mail requests from The Pantagraph about records related to the Brent VanHoveln investigation.
Bloomington police asked the agency to conduct the probe, which led to forgery and official misconduct charges against the patrolman. The officer was later fired and has appealed his dismissal with the police union.
52. Aug. 20, 2014
A Chicago-area couple says they were “bullied” by police for taking a cellphone video of officers in Garfield Park earlier this month.
Keyia Mandeldove, a massage therapist from Berwyn, was at Garfield Park on August 8 with her massage chair providing free services to community members. Mandeldove’s fiancé, Akula Segal of Chicago’s South Side, was also with her at the park, located on the city’s West Side.
That day, Mandeldove said several police officers arrived at about 7:30 p.m. to do a “sweep” of Garfield Park and to ask those congregating in the area to leave for the night.
51. Aug. 20, 2014
AAR Corp. is a private-airplane maintenance company worth $2 billion.
The state of Illinois has tens of billions of dollars in debt.
But somehow state government found a way to give AAR $15 million.
50. Aug. 19, 2014
According to a federal audit released Aug. 18, Illinois’ Medicaid program routinely over-estimated the amount of funds it needed from federal coffers to the tune of nearly $1 billion from 2010 through 2012.
Over that three-year period, the state would spend the Medicaid money elsewhere and was slow in repaying the federal government, costing federal taxpayers $792,000 in lost interest.
The state took $919 million more from the federal funds for the Medicaid program than it should have from 2010 through 2012, according to the Inspector General’s report.
49. Aug. 18, 2014
Contractors facing scrutiny in an ongoing federal investigation of Concept Schools have been paid nearly $1 million over the past three years for work at three Chicago Public Schools-funded campuses run by the Des Plaines-based charter operator, records show.
In June, the FBI raided 19 Concept Schools locations in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, including the group’s Des Plaines headquarters. Search warrants showed they were seeking records concerning Concept’s use of the federal “E-rate” program and companies hired under that program, which helps pay for high-tech upgrades.
The agents also were looking for records regarding top Concept officials, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last month.
48. Aug. 18, 2014
Federal regulators call it a “fiasco.”
But the City of Harvey’s former comptroller, Joseph Letke, didn’t want to talk under oath about his leading role in an unfolding scandal that has left the poor and crime-plagued south suburb close to financial ruin.
“I respectfully decline to answer on the basis of my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent,” the 55-year-old said.
47. Aug. 18, 2014
Summit’s top municipal bureaucrat – who also is the mayor’s nephew – abruptly resigned amid questions from the Better Government Association and FOX 32 about an apparently unauthorized “loan” he took from village coffers.
Chester “Chet” Strzelczyk, village administrator of the southwest suburb, at first denied taking any loans or pay advances from the municipality that he ran on a day-to-day basis.
46. Aug. 17, 2014
The Chicago Housing Authority is changing a controversial program that paid for low-income residents to live in some of the city’s most expensive apartment buildings, bowing to criticism that it wasted tax dollars.
The CHA said it is tightening the formula it uses to determine the maximum rent it will pay to subsidize people who hold housing vouchers, a change that will effectively make many luxury downtown high-rises off limits. Under the so-called “supervoucher” program, the CHA currently is covering payments approaching $3,000 per month for a few residents to live in high-end buildings like 500 N. Lake Shore Drive and Aqua Tower, which charge some of the highest rents in Chicago.
45. Aug. 15, 2014
A lawsuit which alleges racetrack owners offered to bribe disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to sign legislation that hurt riverboat casinos has been given the green light to go ahead by a federal appeals court.
Previously thrown out by a lower court, the lawsuit filed by four casinos centers around tapes played at Blagojevich’s trial, alleging horseracing executive John Johnston offered Blagojevich campaign donations in 2006 and 2008 to pass legislation that forced them to set aside 3 percent of their revenue for horse racing.
But the 7th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday overruled U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly, saying the casinos must be allowed to pursue their claims about the alleged 2008 bribe.
44. Aug. 14, 2014
A group of Chicago firefighters has hired a lawyer in anticipation of a possible legal challenge to a city hiring policy that will give graduates of Chicago public high schools an advantage in an upcoming Fire Department exam.
The firefighters say the preferential hiring practice that will affect the December exam should be extended to all Chicago residents, including those who, like the children of many firefighters and city workers, attended private high schools. Their legal fight is funded by a $20,000 donation from Firefighters Union Local 2.
The situation points to the competing political constituencies Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces as he approaches his re-election bid in February. Emanuel doesn’t want to anger firefighters, especially so soon after announcing a new contract with the union that was passed overwhelmingly by rank-and-file firefighters and the City Council. He also is loath to pick a fight with voters who choose private schools for their children, among them many of the city workers who are required to live in Chicago.
43. Aug. 14, 2014
The federal indictment announced Wednesday described Martin O’Malley as a “customer liaison” between Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. and its biggest U.S. client, the city of Chicago. A more accurate job title would be “alleged bagman.”
Prosecutors say O’Malley was hired to funnel payments to his longtime friend, John Bills, a Chicago bureaucrat who steered the city’s lucrative red light camera contract to Redflex and oversaw the program for nearly a decade. The men were indicted along with former Redflex CEO Karen Finley, who hired O’Malley and also signed off on hotel stays, golf outings and other personal expenses for Bills, according to prosecutors.
From 2003 to 2011, the feds say, Redflex paid O’Malley nearly $2 million, most of which was passed on to Bills. O’Malley gave Bills hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, wrote checks to cover Bills’ personal debts, bought him a condo in Arizona and wrote $5,500 worth of checks to an unnamed political organization.
42. Aug. 13, 2014
Thousands of Illinois child care providers have stopped paying fees for union representation as part of the continuing statewide and nationwide impact of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision focused primarily on personal care workers.
The decision by the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn and the Service Employees International Union to stop collecting “fair-share” or “agency” fees from home-based child care providers effective July 1 will save the providers up to $10 million a year that had been going to SEIU, according to the conservative-leaning Illinois Policy Institute.
“We’re pleased with this decision by the Quinn administration because it means tens of thousands of day care providers will no longer be forced to support a union against its will,” said Jacob Huebert, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, an offshoot of the not-for-profit institute.
41. Aug. 13, 2014
For at least a decade now, Illinois state troopers have been guilty of racial profiling when conducting “consent searches” of cars and trucks.
The Illinois State Police long ago stopped trying to deny the problem, confronted with annual studies full of statistical proof. Instead, they have tried to train troopers to be more sensitive to racial profiling and quit doing it.
But retraining has not worked, and let’s stop pretending it ever will. The only recourse is for the state police — and police departments across Illinois — to stop doing consent searches altogether. As a crime-busting tactic, consent searches are of limited value. As a transgressor of our civil liberties, they cannot be tolerated.
40. Aug. 13, 2014
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis says Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration should remove a West Side police commander to help avert the sort of violence that has roiled a St. Louis suburb this week.
Davis (D-Chicago) said Harrison District Cmdr. Glenn Evans, who is under criminal investigation for allegedly assaulting an arrested man, should be reassigned until the case is over.
39. Aug. 12, 2014
Activists fighting to keep open two Bronzeville Chicago public schools slated for closure are applauding the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights’ decision earlier this month to investigate those planned closings.
Earlier this year, activists filed a civil rights complaint alleging students at the predominantly African American Dyett High School and Mollison Elementary School are facing discrimination. The group alleged, among other things, that Mollison is overcrowded and understaffed, while kids at Dyett are being unfairly denied art education and physical education — among other things.
38. Aug. 12, 2014
A startling statement was attributed to a judge who reviews red light tickets in Chicago. He reportedly told a courtroom the majority of people he sees don’t deserve the tickets they get.
The argument isn’t about whether a driver ran red, but whether he or she has enough time to stop after the light turns yellow.
“It’s a money-making deal. It’s a scam,” said Wally DeRose.
37. Aug. 12, 2014
A federal investigation in Chicago of one of the nation’s largest red-light camera programs has led to charges against the former CEO of a Phoenix-based company.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says in a Wednesday statement that the former executive at Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., Karen Finley, faces multiple corruption charges.
It accuses her of providing a retired city official around $570,000 in cash and other benefits for inside information helping Redflex land Chicago contracts that grew to $124 million in value.
36. Aug. 12, 2014
The 2013 state education reports required to be completed last October still aren’t finished, and they aren’t expected to be finalized until the new reports are released in roughly two months.
That’s because school district teacher and administrator salary details are still being collected by the Illinois State Board of Education.
“We had problems collecting the information from districts,” said ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus, adding the agency is “still trying to clear up the issues.”
35. Aug. 12, 2014
When conventions and trade shows threaten to leave McCormick Place or Rosemont for Orlando, Las Vegas or elsewhere, officials at the lakefront and suburban convention centers have a carrot to offer to keep those shows here:
A pot of taxpayer money they guard so tightly they’ve tried to keep secret how it’s spent, the Chicago Sun-Times has found.
Over the past three years, $26.5 million from Illinois taxpayers has been spent to lure the International Housewares Association’s trade show, the Radiological Society of North America convention and 79 other shows to McCormick Place under an obscure provision of a 2010 law passed to save Chicago’s convention industry by lowering the cost of union labor, records show.
34. Aug. 11, 2014
A black employee of the University of Illinois at Chicago says work has been “a living hell” – because he says he’s been taunted by co-workers who first used a rope, and now a black Santa Claus, to mock him, reports WBBM’s Steve Miller.
“It’s been a living hell working, the time there with the university, in that motor pool in the garage department,” says Chuck Conner.
33. Aug. 11, 2014
For years, Dr. Michael Reinstein was a prolific prescriber of a dangerous antipsychotic drug in nursing homes and mental health facilities, giving it to more than 50 percent of the patients under his care.
The psychiatrist’s prescriptions of clozapine, known as a risky drug of last resort, were linked to three patients’ deaths and triggered federal accusations of kickbacks and fraud.
Now, the Illinois medical board has indefinitely suspended Reinstein’s license, saying he received $350,000 in illegal payments from the drug’s maker while disregarding its life-threatening effects and alternative treatments. Clozapine can cause seizures, a decrease in white blood cells, inflammation of the heart wall and increased risk of death in elderly patients.
32. Aug. 11, 2014
Our office budget of $354,000 is one of the lowest among city agencies. To put this in perspective, the 2014 city budget assigns more money for whacking weeds on the South Side. Or, it costs more for the city to install two lampposts.
Even though the council acknowledged more money is needed for the office, in typical Chicago fashion, the aldermen first wanted to illegally audit my office before they would increase funding. The council’s agenda is clear. And despite five months of repeated calls and letters to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, he also has chosen not to meet with the legislative inspector general office. Coming from the man who campaigned on ethics reform and real oversight, that blow is significant.
Some aldermen do not even cooperate with the legislative inspector general office. They refuse to provide information, supply records, comply with subpoenas or even be interviewed. The vice chair of the council’s Rules and Ethics Committee once stated she will never cooperate. “Ain’t nobody going to tell me what to do,” said Ald. Carrie M. Austin, 34th.
31. Aug. 9, 2014
Gov. Pat Quinn acknowledged Friday that his administration hasn’t finished reclassifying jobs at the Illinois Department of Transportation to remove them from political hiring.
Earlier this year, the Quinn administration was sued in federal court over alleged patronage hiring at IDOT. Chicago attorney Michael Shakman asked for an investigation and appointment of a monitor to review hiring at IDOT. He filed the suit in response to a Better Government Association investigation that said as many as 200 jobs were filled at IDOT through patronage rather than offered to the general public.
30. Aug. 9, 2014
The white van raced on and off the Dan Ryan Expressway on a flat tire, nearly sideswiping a car and almost hitting two pedestrians.
Behind it giving chase was a Calumet Park police officer — his patrol car lights flashing and siren blaring — despite a department policy forbidding dangerous pursuits in cases like this.
The van plowed through one last red light on the city’s South Side, T-boning a black Lexus with so much force the car flew into the air and slammed into a light pole. The driver of the Lexus was a Chicago cop heading home after his shift. The married father of two was dead at the scene.
29. Aug. 8, 2014
A candidate for Illinois treasurer, Champaign Sen. Mike Frerichs is being asked to explain why he didn’t pay more than $1,800 in back taxes and interest to the Illinois Department of Revenue.
Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Champaign Democratic Sen. Michael Frerichs owes the Champaign County Treasurer $1,814 in back taxes and interest for his legislative office at the Illinois Terminal in Champaign.
The Treasurer’s office says the bills date back to 2008.
28. Aug. 8, 2014
David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, runs a bank that stands to benefit from a proposal for a new charter school that’s set to come before the school board for approval later this month.
27. Aug. 8, 2014
On the heels of announcing his office has earned national accreditation, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell came under attack Friday for breaking budget promises and spending money on such items as Silly Putty.
26. Aug. 8, 2014
The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, Stephen R. Wigginton, announced today, that on Aug. 8, 2014, Jane Johanna Emily, a/k/a Jane Moeller, 42, of St. Louis, Missouri, was sentenced on a three-count indictment charging that she had stolen packages from the United States Mail. The United States District Court in East Saint Louis sentenced Emily to serve five years’ probation with the first six months of which to be served in home detention. She was also ordered to pay a $300.00 fine and pay a special assessment of $300.00.
At her plea Emily, who worked as a customer service supervisor at the United States Post Office in East Saint Louis, admitted that she had opened and stolen mail packages that she believed were carrying controlled substances (drugs). The investigation that resulted in the charges was brought about after a customer contacted the post office in March 2013 regarding a missing parcel that had been seen by other postal employees in her office at the East St. Louis Post Office.
25. Aug. 7, 2014
A high-ranking University of Illinois at Chicago official has lost his position in the wake of a lawsuit accusing the school of violating federal education law by publicly discussing a dissertation and accusations of plagiarism, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Longtime UIC administrator, Lon Kaufman — vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost since appointed by Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares in August 2011 — was recently returned to his status as a tenured professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, according to sources.
24. Aug. 7, 2014
Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign says the 2013 hiring of an $80,000-per-year policy analyst at the state’s transportation agency had nothing to do with politics.
But records show Edward M. Healy, 29, served as chairman of a campaign fund that had close ties to Quinn’s campaign until June of that year.
Healy, who serves as a public transportation policy analyst for the Illinois Department of Transportation, chaired the Stronger Illinois Committee that raised money from labor unions and funneled it to Democratic candidates running in the 2012 election for the General Assembly.
23. Aug. 6, 2014
“Basically, the assessor assesses too high, the property owner has no alternative but to go out and hire one of these politically connected law firms. The firms argue their case before the Board of Review and then the assessments go down. And then the law firms make campaign contributions to the assessor and the board of review members. The only people who benefit from this system are the lawyers and the politicos. Ordinary taxpayers really get the short-end of the stick,” said Nowlan, a retired political science professor at the University of Illinois.
22. Aug. 6, 2014
Mayor Rahm Emanuel would not say Wednesday whether it was appropriate for his City Council leader to push through an ordinance that limited the power of a city watchdog who a week earlier had opened an investigation into the alderman.
21. Aug. 6, 2014
When a good-government campaigner sued Gov. Pat Quinn in April over political hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation, the administration responded that it had already taken action by reviewing and reclassifying jobs, which wouldn’t be subject to political considerations in the future.
But asked to explain what it did, the Quinn administration has refused to identify which jobs were redefined or how state officials determined whether anti-patronage rules applied — because it has made no final decisions.
The administration’s rejection of a Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press, citing a clause in the law that protects preliminary deliberations, contradicts its earlier declaration that it had reviewed job descriptions, reclassified posts, and fixed the political hiring practice after the release of a critical watchdog report last year.
20. Aug. 6, 2014
Illinois school districts have employed hundreds of educators to teach everything from science to special education even though they lacked proper credentials in those subjects, a Tribune investigation has found.
The assignment of teachers not properly trained and credentialed to teach a specific course — a practice that has come under fire nationwide — is facilitated by loopholes in state laws and rules as well as by district hiring practices. It has occurred even when applicants with the required qualifications were available, the newspaper found.
At the same time, the system designed to monitor teacher licensing allows some educators to work for months or even years before getting proper credentials.
19. Aug. 6, 2014
The front gate of the Jardine water filtration plant — one of Chicago’s main potential terrorism targets — was malfunctioning for months this year, raising security concerns among some law enforcement officials.
The Chicago Sun-Times also has discovered a disturbing example of an unauthorized civilian who managed to get past the main vehicle checkpoint for the city’s filtration plant near Navy Pier.
On June 13, security officers at Jardine stopped an Evanston man with a history of trespassing, police said. The man admitted he sneaked onto the restricted property in his car. He tailed an authorized truck through the checkpoint, parked, and walked up to a building where he was detained, police said.
The 45-year-old man wasn’t arrested. The security gate apparently was working at the time, police said.
18. Aug. 5, 2014
The internal watchdog of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is launching an investigation of a Chicago Housing Authority program that pays market-rate rents for poor people to live in some of the city’s most expensive apartment buildings.
HUD Inspector General David Montoya is conducting an audit of the CHA’s use of federally funded housing vouchers to subsidize low-income residents in high-end buildings, according to a Capitol Hill source. Critics of the so-called supervoucher program say it’s a waste of tax dollars and rewards a few lucky tenants at the expense of more than 15,000 people on the CHA’s voucher waiting list.
U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., requested that the inspector general open a probe last week, after Crain’s published a report about the voucher program, saying he was concerned that it created “ripe opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money.”
17. Aug. 5, 2014
A former Lyons police officer has been sentenced to 5 years in prison, for using his badge to steal contraband cigarettes from dealers he was arresting.
WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports 44-year-old Jimmy Rodgers pleaded guilty to extortion in May.
A 14-year veteran of the Lyons Police Department, he was assigned to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration task force investigating illegal cigarette sales. Federal prosecutors alleged, after having confidential sources set up sales of contraband cigarettes to targets of the investigation, he detained and handcuffed suspects, but kept their contraband cigarettes and cash for himself.
16. Aug. 5, 2014
An analysis of excessive-force complaints against hundreds of Chicago police officers is raising more questions about a district commander who is under investigation for allegedly assaulting an arrestee.
The 49-page report, authored by a former Chicago chief epidemiologist, found that Harrison District Cmdr. Glenn Evans had at least 45 excessive-force complaints between January 1988 and December 2008. During those decades, according to the report, Evans had the highest number of complaints among 1,541 officers for whom the city provided data.
The author, Dr. Steven Whitman, compiled and studied five city datasets listing 13,527 excessive-force complaints for the officers. Whitman, who died last month, finished the analysis in 2010 for a lawsuit against one of the cops. The report, obtained by WBEZ, has remained out of public view.
15. Aug. 5, 2014
After aldermen refused to expand his power to investigate them last week, the City Council’s inspector general said it was a sign that aldermen still are not ready for reform.
But there’s little evidence that legislative I.G. Faisal Khan and his small band of minions have the ability to do anything meaningful to help clean up the City Hall cesspool.
Khan’s office easily could generate some bad publicity for council members looking for new four-year terms in February from voters in an anti-incumbent mood.
14. Aug. 5, 2014
A $63,048-a-year payroll auditor for the Chicago Fire Department has filed a federal lawsuit against the city — armed with a finding of discrimination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that upheld her sexual harassment charge against former Fire Commissioner John Brooks.
“Every time I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes. I just want to be made whole because I feel I was so wronged,” Deidre Green, 47, said Tuesday.
“I was sexually harassed. They tried to fire me. I had a semi-nervous breakdown and was off work for two years on medical leave. I only got 67 percent of my pay. I wasn’t the first to go through this and I won’t be the last. If I get some restitution, maybe this behavior will stop. Or maybe other women will have the courage to report it.”
13. Aug. 5, 2014
The mayor of Park Ridge has jumped into the fray over the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, saying its chairwoman should resign because she represents a suburb that will benefit from flight path changes that have bombarded other areas with new jet noise.
Park Ridge’s Dave Schmidt is the first mayor to publicly join the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition in calling for the resignation of noise commission chairwoman Arlene Mulder, who had served as mayor of Arlington Heights for 20 years, until 2013.
As one of 52 members of the commission, Mulder represents a suburb that will see far less noise once O’Hare’s $8 billion runway overhaul is completed, Schmidt told the Chicago Sun-Times.
12. Aug. 5, 2014
If there is a takeaway from the recent beer ticket ethics hubbub at the Illinois State Fair, it’s that all state employees must pay attention to Illinois’ ethics guidelines because someone may very well come after them — even if it’s over accepting beer tickets no one asked for in the first place.
Illinois State Fair Director Amy Bliefnick, who has had the job since 2005, was cited by Illinois’ Executive Ethics Commission for accepting $540 worth of free beer tickets from a beer vendor during the 2013 state fair.
Doing so violated the state’s gift ban that prohibits state employees from seeking or accepting gifts from a state vendor — something that is explained in the required yearly ethics training all state employees must undergo.
11. Aug. 4, 2014
Getting riders to their destinations safely and on time. That’s Metra’s mission but now you could add another responsibility — saving people from confusion.
Illinois Inspector General Ricardo Meza opened a can of worms last week when his office chided Metra for keeping false records of the hours engineers or conductors worked.
State investigators also disclosed a practice of swapping shifts at Metra, where one employee would pay another under the table for picking up his or her assignments.
10. Aug. 4, 2014
Federal prosecutors plan to drop all felony bank fraud charges against state Rep. LaShawn Ford, NBC Chicago learned Monday. He is expected to plead only to one count of misdemeanor income tax charge violation.
Dropping all felony charges is something the Feds virtually never do.
The west side Democrat was indicted on November 29, 2012, charged by the federal government with 17 counts of bank fraud.
Ford secured a $1.5 million line of credit from the ShoreBank to rehab property on the west side but instead used some of the money to pay off a car loan and gambling bills among other personal items, the government contended.
9. Aug. 4, 2014
Every year, Tinley Park officials spend tens of thousands of dollars printing three newsletters that tout the town’s virtues.
In a recent edition of the Tinley Park Exchange, Mayor Ed Zabrocki lauded the village’s “conservative financial management” and boasted of cost-cutting measures during the recession.
But a Tribune analysis of Tinley Park’s expenses for the newsletter and other printing shows the village has awarded no-bid projects to a political insider’s company, and experts question the transparency of those deals.
Since 2004, Tinley Park has spent more than $1 million on jobs from Crossmark Printing, a business owned by the mayor’s most recent campaign manager. Crossmark’s owner, Marty Ward, is also a longtime village commissioner.
8. Aug. 3, 2014
After getting arrested for driving a stolen U-Haul truck on his own time, Kevin M. Austin was fired from his job as a laborer with the city of Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation.
That landed Austin on City Hall’s “do-not-hire” list, a roster of 492 crooked alderman, bribe-taking bureaucrats and other public servants whose misdeeds cost them their jobs.
Austin went on the list effective Nov. 17, 2006, the date he was fired. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration rehired Austin on Dec. 4, 2012, as a truck driver for Streets and San — a $63,777-a-year job he was fired from on July 24, after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation found he was working for the city despite having been on the “do-not-hire” list for years.
7. Aug. 2, 2014
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has nearly doubled to 16,000 the number of red light camera tickets now eligible for review after a Tribune investigation that found suspicious ticket spikes throughout Chicago, but city officials continue to sidestep broader questions about the system’s operation.
In the two weeks since the investigation was published, the mayor and his transportation chief, Rebekah Scheinfeld, have declined to address the issue of the fundamental soundness of a program prone to wild swings in ticketing that officials still cannot explain.
Instead, they are increasing their focus on whether drivers broke the law at a dozen intersections cited by the Tribune as the strongest examples of the problems.
6. Aug. 1, 2014
Gov. Pat Quinn’s aides sought to pump up an anti-violence program ahead of his November 2010 election bid, they decided to add to the pot $3.76 million in federal disaster recovery funds from Hurricane Ike to make loans to small businesses.
In the rush to get the program launched, the Quinn administration hired a financially troubled West Side business development group to dole out loans, despite concluding the organization had recently misspent state grant funds.
The group, Chicago Community Ventures, did not make a single loan but was allowed to keep more than $150,000 when the contract was nixed, the Tribune has found.
5. Aug. 1, 2014
A powerful Chicago alderman’s sister who failed Chicago Public Schools’ selection test for principals twice will become the new principal at Gray Elementary thanks to changes in the district’s hiring policy made in July.
Catherine Sugrue has been an assistant principal at the Portage Park school for a year. She is the sister of Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader.
Gray’s Local School Council selected Sugrue as principal in the spring. The district did not allow the promotion to go through because Sugrue had failed a principal eligibility assessment twice in the last 12 months, making her ineligible for the position. Officials said she could retake the assessment in three years.
4. Aug. 1, 2014
The Aurora Police Department has arrested a 51-year-old Aurora woman who was wanted on an arrest warrant stemming from a grand jury indictment for alleged misuse of public funds.
Maria S. Campos, 51, of the 900 block of Fulton Street, Aurora, was arrested by Aurora police Tuesday at her home. She is facing 28 counts of public contractor misconduct and two counts of felony theft after a Kane County Grand Jury indicted her on July 22.
The investigation into Campos’ alleged crimes began in August 2012 after city officials informed Aurora police that they discovered financial discrepancies in the 2nd Ward Senior Assistance Program, a program offered to qualified seniors in Aurora’s 2nd Ward, said Aurora spokesman Dan Ferrelli.
3. Aug. 1, 2014
Just how dumb does the Chicago City Council believe its constituents to be?
Really, really dumb.
Aldermen on Wednesday approved an ordinance that weakens their own inspector general. They hope Chicago voters will believe the baloney that the City Council was merely “closing a loophole.” That’s quite a chunk of Oscar Mayer to choke down.
2. Aug. 1, 2014
Old emails have new relevance in the case of David Koschman.
The Chicago Sun-Times, led by the Novak/Fusco team, has obtained 990 pages of internal emails under the Freedom of Information Act from the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
The emails make interesting reading considering what we now know: That the 2004 punch that ended 21-year-old David Koschman’s life was delivered by former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew, R.J. Vanecko, whom neither the Chicago Police Department nor prosecutors saw fit to charge. And not until the Sun-Times started peeling back the layers of this awful case and Judge Michael P. Toomin appointed Dan K. Webb as special prosecutor was Vanecko charged in 2012 and convicted this year.
Now comes David’s mother, Nanci Koschman, in a lawsuit. A hearing is set for Aug. 28 before federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.
1. Aug. 1, 2014
The House Ethics Committee is expanding a probe of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s personal and political finances, an inquiry that follows a BGA/Chicago Sun-Times investigation.
The Dec. 2013 BGA/Sun-Times investigation examined Rush’s campaign spending, his personal finances and nonprofit organizations that he started.
In a statement, the Ethics Committee today said it was extending its inquiry of Rush, which began earlier this year with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The Ethics Committee statement added that an extension of the Rush investigation does “not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”