Illinois Corruption Watch, May 2014

Brian Costin

Open government and government transparency expert

Brian Costin
June 4, 2014

Illinois Corruption Watch, May 2014

In completing our second month of the new “Illinois Corruption Watch” project, we are shocked at the volume of corruption stories being reported across the state. In just two months we have found reports of 101 different corruption-related stories; 45 in April and 56 in May. It’s no wonder Illinois citizens have by far the...

In completing our second month of the new “Illinois Corruption Watch” project, we are shocked at the volume of corruption stories being reported across the state.

In just two months we have found reports of 101 different corruption-related stories; 45 in April and 56 in May.

It’s no wonder Illinois citizens have by far the lowest trust in state government in the nation, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

Below you will find 56 unique reports of corruption in Illinois. They range from alleged corruption in a local VA hospital, to an Illinois state representative’s trial on federal bribery charges, to an audit revealing that the state paid out $12 million in Medicaid costs to dead people. And that’s only the beginning.

The first step in fighting corruption is recognizing the problem. While there were a number of good government bills to advance during the 2014 legislative session, these corruption stories show that there is still so much more to be done.

56. May 30, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Naperville investigating allegations of bullying, drug use by city employees

Naperville officials are investigating a complaint by a former city employee against Human Resources Department leaders after allegedly witnessing employees being bullied, derogatory language being used and drugs being taken at work conferences.

One of the leaders of the Human Resources Department named in the complaint has resigned, said Communications Manager Linda LaCloche. The other has been reassigned, City Manager Doug Krieger said Thursday. He said the reassignment is unrelated to the complaint.

The former employee detailed grievances in a three-page letter to the mayor and City Council dated May 2, which the person noted was the day he or she was resigning. It was obtained by the Tribune through a Freedom of Information request.

55. May 30, 2014

CBS-2 Chicago: Confidential records left behind after mental health centers closed

Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration closed three health facilities in 2012 but left behind tractors and a forklift, an unidentified medical specimen and boxes full of confidential patient and employee records, an audit released Thursday said.

The Department of Human Services also failed to properly announce the closures — another state agency even delivered $1,000 worth of bread and juice to one facility a month after it closed, according to the report by Auditor General William Holland.

Quinn closed mental health centers in Tinley Park and Rockford and a developmental center in Jacksonville to save money and change client care to community-based settings.

But shutdowns were so shoddy, 10 percent of Tinley Park’s inventory and 9 percent of the inventory at Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford — worth over $200,000 — was lost, from a $300 video game system to a $29,000 refrigerated van.

54. May 29, 2014

Sun-Times: Audit: State paid $12 million in health costs – for dead people

Cook County has long been ridiculed for allowing dead people cast votes, but the state may have just garnered a new distinction.

It paid $12 million in health care for people who were already dead — including in one case, for a person who had died in 1989.

A new financial audit released by Auditor General Bill Holland’s office on Thursday found that the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services had 8,232 people still on Medicaid rolls qualifying for benefits, even though they were dead.

53. May 29, 2014

CBS-2: Bribery trial starts for Rep. Derrick Smith

Lawmakers in Springfield scrambling to push through bills in the final days of the spring session are being forced to make do without state Rep. Derrick Smith, whose corruption trial began Wednesday in Chicago.

Smith, 50, is accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe from a day care center seeking a $50,000 state grant — though the facility turned out to be fictitious and part of an FBI sting.

Jury selection in the Chicago Democrat’s trial started Wednesday, and opening statements are expected to be delivered Thursday. Smith has pleaded not guilty to bribery, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

52. May 29, 2014

NBC 5: Chicago: Prosecutor: FBI has recording of lawmaker seeking bribe

The bribery trial of Illinois State Rep. Derrick Smith began Thursday with opening statements.

A prosecutor told the jurors, who were selected Wednesday, that the FBI has a secretly recorded conversation of Rep. Derrick Smith seeking the bribe.

The 50-year-old Chicago-area Democrat has pleaded not guilty to extortion and bribery, which alone carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. He’s accused of pocketing $7,000 in kickbacks to write what he thought was a letter of support for a day care center’s state grant application.

Government filings say the Chicago Democrat spoke at length to FBI agents after his 2012 arrest. They describe him as distraught, cursing as he told investigators he’d taken the bribe.

51. May 29, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times: $892,000 verdict in wrongful arrest suit; officers owe $96,000 of that

Padilla spent nine months behind bars before prosecutors dropped the case. He sued the city, saying he’d been framed.

Last week, a federal jury took the unusual step of ordering the five Chicago Police officers named in the lawsuit to pay $96,000 in punitive damages out of their own pockets. The verdict said the city must pay an additional $796,000 in compensatory damages. The judge previously found Padilla’s civil rights were violated.

50. May 28, 2014

CBS-2: Lawmakers grill reps from anti-violence program at hearing

Illinois lawmakers grilled representatives of Governor Quinn’s $55 million controversial anti-violence program during a hearing Wednesday morning.

Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington), the chairman of the committee reviewing an audit critical of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, says lawmakers still don’t know much about the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

“We don’t know whether this thing even works even though we are about to go next door and vote on a budget that includes the same type of money in it as this waste, shameful, useless piece of taxpayer dollars that is hidden in a notion of violence prevention,” said Barickman.

49. May 28, 2014

Daily Herald: Three Lake County jail guards fired after inmate’s death

Three Lake County jail officers have been fired and a sergeant was demoted this week following investigations into a 2011 confrontation with an inmate that led to his paralysis and eventual death, authorities announced Wednesday.

Six other jail employees also face disciplinary action in the case, which involved a homeless man named Eugene Gruber, Undersheriff Raymond J. Rose said.

48. May 27, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times: Gun charges dropped against ex-Ald. Sharon

Prosecutors dropped gun charges against former Ald. Sharon Dixon (24th) Tuesday, but she has agreed to seek treatment in a 90-day inpatient program.

Last year, a Cook County judge ruled that Dixon was unfit to stand trial on charges alleging she approached Chicago Police officers outside the 10th district with a loaded gun in the spring of 2013.

Dixon, 51, was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and possessing a firearm without a license for the May 4, 2013 incident.

47. May 27, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Harvey’s ex-spokeswoman calls suburb ‘dangerous’

For years Sandra Alvarado was a top aide, spokeswoman and girlfriend to one of the area’s most controversial mayors. Then last month she abruptly quit and said Harvey officials ran a “dangerous organization” that routinely ignored illegal acts.

In an about-face for someone who spent a decade defending the suburb in scandal after scandal, Alvarado sent a scathing email to Mayor Eric Kellogg and other top aides in which she implied that she was now speaking with outside investigators.

“Where can individuals that are elected, appointed or hired to service the public, behave lawlessly? … In the City of Harvey, that’s where,” Alvarado wrote in the email last month, adding that city officials “are aware of illegal and immoral acts and do absolutely nothing about it.”

When it rains it pours in Illinois. We found 45 different news stories relating to Illinois corruption in just the month of April.

They continue to pile up in the first half of May, with 46 new news stories on corruption already.

This includes tales of patronage hiring (again), using public resources for political campaigns (again), a politician who has to pay a $550,000 federal corruption fine and a story about secret waitlists on veterans at an Illinois VA Hospital.

46. May 23, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Child porn charge doesn’t stop state pension

A former state lawmaker who is accused of trading child pornography online has started collecting a state pension of nearly $15,000 a year — an amount he bumped up by purchasing credit for time he didn’t work.

Ex-Rep. Keith Farnham, an Elgin Democrat, is the latest Illinois lawmaker to rake in pension checks while facing federal criminal charges. Former Democratic Rep. Connie Howard of Chicago stands to reap $115,000 in the two years between her resignation and sentencing this summer.

It’s allowed under state law; former public officials don’t automatically lose their state pensions until sentencing is on the books. One watchdog group, however, says the pension checks of ex-lawmakers facing criminal charges should be frozen at the minimal monthly level while their cases play out. And making payments to boost an annual pension, as Farnham did, should be banned pending the outcome of a criminal case, according to the group.

In Illinois, questions about crime, punishment and pensions are more than academic. Two sitting Chicago Democrats — Reps. Derrick Smith and LaShawn Ford — are facing separate federal corruption trials. Smith’s bribery trial begins next week despite his attempt to have it delayed because it overlaps with the final scheduled week of the spring legislative session. Ford, at one time also scheduled for trial next week, won a delay in his bank fraud case.

45. May 22, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Ex-Burnham clerk pleads guilty to stealing more than $700,000

The former longtime village clerk of south suburban Burnham pleaded guilty today to stealing more than $700,000 from the tiny town’s coffers and using much of the cash to fund gambling trips to nearby Indiana casinos.

Nancy Dobrowski, 70, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras to one count each of wire fraud and filing a false income tax return. According to her plea agreement with prosecutors, she faces from 3 to about 4 years in prison at her scheduled Sept. 9 sentencing and must pay more than $700,000 in restitution to the village, including about $50,000 in ill-gotten pension funds.

Dobrowksi also owes more than $200,000 to the Internal Revenue Service in lost tax revenue, according to the plea deal.

44. May 22, 2014

Illinois Policy Institute: Burnham shuts down public website for ‘maintenance’ in wake of corruption scandal

In the wake of a corruption scandal, the village of Burnham has taken down all public information from its website and placed the site in “Maintenance Mode.”

The scandal came about after the village’s former clerk pleaded guilty to stealing more than $700,000 from local taxpayers, and an online transparency inquiry by the Illinois Policy Institute found that the village wasn’t complying with key transparency laws.

43. May 21, 2014

Crain’s: Watchdog sues CTA pension fund over secrecy

The Better Government Association sued the Chicago Transit Authority’s pension plan today, contending that the $1.5 billion retirement system repeatedly has failed to comply with the state’s open records law.

In an action filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the BGA asserts that the fund “willfully and intentionally” violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act by refusing to provide the watchdog group with records of expense reimbursements, gifts and other perks that have been bestowed on the fund’s executive director.

The fund even failed to provide such basic information as the name and contact data for its FOIA officer on its website, as is required by law, BGA says.

42. May 21, 2014

ABC I-Team: Treasure hunt turns up millions in taxpayer-funded trinkets

Our treasure hunt turned up key rings, mugs, notebooks, pens, golf umbrellas and stress balls – items bought with your tax money by the government to promote the government. And, this is the same government $17 trillion in debt.

Our trip around the world to find your tax dollars starts at this strip mall in west suburban Geneva. Headquartered here is a company called Amerimac, paid millions for what the government calls promotional items, including this broccoli-shaped squeezable branded by the U.S. Agriculture Department and intended to relieve stress. Two-and-a-half years ago President Obama signed an executive order to slash spending on these trinkets.

“From the day I took office I made a commitment to the American people that we would do a better job rooting out wasteful spending,” said Obama.

41. May 21, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Warrantless searches draw criticism

Cook County probation officers have for years quietly teamed up with law enforcement to go into probationers’ homes without warrants, looking for guns, drugs and information and leading to questionable and illegal searches, the Tribune has found.

Operating with little oversight, in some cases their actions have triggered accusations that drugs were planted, money was stolen and probationers were threatened with jail if they refused to become informants for Chicago police or the FBI.

The impact has been lasting for some: a promotion missed, a job lost, a dying brother unvisited, months spent in jail.

40. May 21, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Chief judge orders outside investigation into Cook County probation department

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans on Wednesday hired a well-known law firm to investigate allegations that the court’s probation department has improperly teamed up on searches of probationers’ homes with Chicago police and the FBI.

Evans’ decision to bring in an outside law firm is the result of a Tribune investigation published Wednesday that found the Adult Probation Department for years has quietly worked with law enforcement to go into probationers’ homes without warrants, looking for guns, drugs and information and leading to questionable and illegal searches.

Their actions, in some cases, had triggered accusations that drugs were planted, money was stolen and probationers were threatened with jail if they refused to become informants for Chicago police and the FBI.

39. May 20, 2014

BGA and FOX 32: Brown’s Inside Pitch

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and husband Benton Cook III already are facing scrutiny for their involvement in a state-government grant program and a land deal with a campaign donor.

On Monday, the Better Government Association and FOX 32 raised new ethical questions for Brown after finding that she solicited her government employees to participate in an outside business venture and, separately, that her daughter’s church ended up with a $250,000 grant as part of a now-defunct Quinn administration program now under state and federal investigation.

38. May 20, 2014

Chicago Tribune: State rep, potentially key vote in tax hike,seeks to postpone bribery trial

Lame duck state Rep. Derrick Smith, potentially a key vote in a bid to make a temporary tax hike permanent, has asked a federal judge to postpone his trial on bribery charges next week so he can finish out the legislative session in Springfield.

Smith is scheduled to go on trial May 28 on charges he pocketed a $7,000 kickback in return for writing a letter supporting a day care operator’s bid for a $50,000 state grant. The trial has already been delayed twice while lawyers sorted out pretrial issues.

In a motion filed last week, the West Side legislator asked U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman to again reset the trial for June 2 due to “significant pieces of legislation to be voted upon” in the House before the traditional end of the session by May 31.

37. May 19, 2014

WGN-TV: New hate crime lawsuit vs. Chicago Police

The manager of a tanning salon in the Noble Square neighborhood is suing the City of Chicago and ten police officers for excessive force, a hate crime and an alleged cover-up, and it was captured on surveillance video.

32-year-old Jianqing “Jessica” Klyzek was working at Copper Tan and Spa, at 1052 N. Milwaukee Ave. last summer when police raided the salon; they said an employee offered a sex act to an undercover officer.

The surveillance video appears to show one officer hitting Klyzek in the back of the head as she kneeled on the floor in handcuffs; another officer is heard making profane, racially charged comments to Klyzek.

36. May 19, 2014

ABC-7 I-Team: Toni Preckwinkle’s SUV caught by Chicago speed cameras

Another high profile politician’s SUV is caught by Chicago’s speed cameras. It comes after we first revealed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s motorcade racked up nearly two dozen red light and speed camera tickets.

The I-Team tracked Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s vehicle and went to the city’s website to see whether the president’s personal protectors follow the same rules as the rest of us. Her vehicle has been cited for speeding more often than the mayor’s cars. His cars had more red light tickets. And like the mayor, her official vehicle has so many violations, it’s eligible for the boot.

35. May 19, 2014

Sun-Times: 5th anniversary of anti-corruption campaign isn’t cause for celebration

This spring marks the fifth anniversary of a valiant campaign to eliminate the “culture of corruption” that’s ripped off Illinois taxpayers and citizens for decades.

Sadly, it’s not a celebration because it didn’t produce enough government reform.

But it’s worth remembering because it’s still an important cause, and there’s so much left to do.

34. May 18, 2014

Better Government Association: Lucrative Loophole For Rahm

Mayor Emanuel pledged not to accept campaign donations from city vendors, but he still takes money from employees of those vendors, which has helped pack his war chest.

On his first day in office in 2011, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order saying he wouldn’t accept campaign donations from contractors doing business with the city.

But taking money from employees of those contractors? A different story by Emanuel’s standards.

33. May 17, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Colorful past for insider at center of red light probe

John Bills fits right in to the world of colorful characters who do the heavy lifting for Chicago politicians every election — raising donations, knocking on doors and delivering all of the vote.

But in Bills’ case, the colors have often been a bit brighter. A South Side native, his family history is dotted with connections to organized crime. A huge White Sox fan, he got a job with the club, celebrated the World Series victory on the field with players and still sports a replica championship ring.

A veteran political worker for House Speaker Michael Madigan, he earned a reputation as a top fundraiser and vote-getter in the vaunted 13th Ward Democratic Organization who fell in and out of favor with his boss and with fellow precinct captains who turned to him when they couldn’t make their numbers.

32. May 16, 2014

Illinois News Network: Political patronage dominates veteran grants to colleges

A dispute broke out in the Illinois House this week around the dispersal of grant money to community colleges that pay for veteran tuition waivers.

Representatives asked multiple times on the House floor how colleges got on the list to receive Illinois Veterans’ Grants.

This year the appropriation bill HB6025 awarded $1.25 million veterans grant to 18 of the 43 public community colleges in Illinois.

“I’m just wondering how you get on this list,” said state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton. “We are getting no compensation for our veterans and yet 18 colleges are, so who made the list? … To me this looks awfully political.”

31. May 14, 2014

FOX 2 St. Louis: HUD under fire for East St. Louis Housing Authority mismanagement

The Housing Authority has mismanaged millions of your dollars while the top managers are making big bucks. The Housing Authority’s Executive Director is paid $138,000 a year.

The Housing Authority has been under HUD’s oversight because of its trouble. But that oversight has lasted for 26 years.

According to a Inspector General’s Report, despite the oversight over all those years, not much in the way of progress has been made.

The Inspector General’s Report criticizes HUD oversight as inadequate saying significant problems remain with the management of the agency.

30. May 13, 2014

Bloomington Pantagraph: Woodford official charged with illegal electioneering

A Woodford County Board member has been charged with illegal electioneering.

The charge against Don Cremeens accuses him of “engaging in a political discussion within 100 feet of a polling place,” a Class A misdemeanor, said State’s Attorney Greg Minger.

The charge is the result of an investigation conducted by Minger’s office following a written complaint filed by County Board Chairman Stan Glazier. The complaint alleged illegal electioneering in the county courthouse in Eureka during the early voting process.

29. May 1, 2014

The Southern Illinoisan: Illinois teacher accused of in-school bomb threat

A western Illinois high school special education teacher is jailed on $500,000 bond and on paid administrative leave after being accused of making a bomb threat at her own school.

Illinois State Police say 36-year-old Michelle L. Smith of Jerseyville is charged in Calhoun County with falsely making a terrorist threat.

Authorities accuse Smith of leaving a typed letter Monday in a bathroom at the roughly 170-student Calhoun County High School. Police say the note indicated a bomb had been placed in the Hardin school, which was evacuated. No explosive device was found.

28. May 16, 2014

Sun-Times: Metra top cop tapped because of experience, not clout, Quinn says

Sneed is told Metra’s new Police Chief Joseph Perez was once head of Gov. Pat Quinn’s bodyguard detail.

Hmmm. And the choice of Perez, a former State Police commander, has prompted a gaggle of Quinn’s GOP critics to detect the scent of clout.

27. May 16, 2014

Sun-Times: City earned freedom from Shakman – now it must earn our trust

After the big announcement Thursday that Shakman was ready to declare final victory in the historic legal battle he started in 1969, somebody asked me if the city could now be trusted to properly conduct hiring without returning to the days of patronage.

The obvious answer is no. It can’t.

After all, it was just a day earlier that a former patronage hack was arrested for what’s alleged to be one of the great fixes in city history—steering the red light-camera contract to a company for what prosecutors say were hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

26. May 15, 2014

WGN News: Pension Problems: State worker’s payout 7 times larger than expected

As if the state’s pension debt isn’t enough there are now more problems.  This time it has to do with the pension payouts.  An error causes a former state employee to collect a pension nearly 7 times what was supposed to be paid out.

Bill Zettler wrote “Illinois Pension Scam”, a 300 page book on the state’s pension issue.  He’s also the Director of Research for the Family Taxpayers Foundation.  For a decade he’s poured over the benefits of thousands of the state’s retirees and he says in this case the mistake was very obvious.  Zettler says “This woman worked less than 10 years and her pension was over $130,000 a year, that doesn’t sound right to me.”

The State Employee Retirement System confirming there has been a mistake.  A nearly $137,000 dollar yearly pension was way off.  It should’ve been about $20,000 per year for 63-year-old Carolyn Brown Hodge since she contributed $25,000 over her 10 year employment with the state.

Brown Hodge was once Governor Quinn’s Deputy Chief of Staff.  She resigned in late 2009 and later retired after an Ethics Commission fined her $1,000 for using state property for political work.  Back then, she didn’t feel she did anything wrong but resigned to avoid any “cloud” over Quinn’s administration.

25. May 15, 2014

Fox News: Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago scrutinized over alleged secret waitlist

Federal investigators have visited a veterans hospital in suburban Chicago to look into an allegation that secret lists were used to conceal long patient wait times for appointments.

Auditors from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General visited the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital on Wednesday. Their visit was part of a nationwide review of VA facilities triggered by similar claims involving a hospital in Phoenix where a former clinic director said up to 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment.

The uproar has led to calls for the Veterans Affairs secretary to resign, and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk says the claims targeting the Hines hospital are credible enough to warrant an expansion of the formal investigation targeting the Phoenix hospital.

24. May 15, 2014

Sun-Times: Jesse Jackson Jr. refinances home to pay feds $550k

Imprisoned former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is refinancing a home so he can pay up what he owes the feds as a result of his corruption conviction.

A federal court filing indicates Jackson is closing on a home refinancing and will pay $550,000 through a wire transfer to U.S. Marshals by June 1. The court filing indicates that Jackson had already written a check to the feds for $200,000 last year.

Jackson is serving a 30-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to looting his campaign fund of $750,000. He was ordered to pay that amount in government forfeiture.

23. May 14, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Charges filed against ex-City Hall manager of red-light camera program

The former City Hall manager who ran Chicago’s red-light camera program was arrested today on federal charges related to the investigation of an alleged $2 million bribery scheme involving the city’s longtime vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems.

A federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court today accused John Bills of taking money and other benefits related to the contract with Redlfex. Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired  the company amid the bribery scandal.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Phoenix-based Redflex funneled cash and other benefits, including an Arizona condominium, to Bills since before the contract was signed in 2003.

(U.S. Attorney’s Office press release)

22. May 12, 2014

Daily Herald: Illinois tollway director also leads local union

An Illinois tollway director appointed by Pat Quinn also heads a union that is a major financial player in the governor’s re-election campaign, most recently giving $250,000 to the cause in January.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, whose president is tollway Director James Sweeney, has donated more than $450,000 to Quinn’s campaign fund since the 2010 election, state records show. Sweeney also is chairman of the Chicagoland Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC that contributed $150,000 to Taxpayers for Quinn in 2010 and 2011.

The contributions don’t breach any ethics laws but they’re troublesome, some government experts say, particularly given past cronyism at the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.

21. May 11, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times: UNO paid fired teacher $150K to settle case, records show

Gym teacher David Corral made news when he filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 against the taxpayer-funded charter-school network run by the clout-heavy United Neighborhood Organization, claiming he was wrongly fired for reporting the assault of a student at UNO’s Major Hector P. Garcia M.D. High School on the Southwest Side.

UNO’s then-leader Juan Rangel said Corral deserved to be fired for failing to prevent the November 2009 locker-room incident in the first place.

But a federal judge denied UNO’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit last year. And months later, Corral got $150,000 under a sealed settlement that avoided a trial, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

20. May 9, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times: Brown’s proxy vote sent state money to group where husband worked

Not long after taking over the budget committee of a state agency, Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown voted by proxy to channel $5 million to a West Side nonprofit to help continue funding Gov. Pat Quinn’s now-disbanded Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

That vote by Brown came at the same time the nonprofit, Chicago Area Project, employed her husband, Benton Cook III, to oversee millions of dollars in Neighborhood Recovery Initiative programming. The organization subsidized his paycheck with state anti-violence grant money.

19. May 8, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Former Government mole to plead guilty to federal fraud charges

A Chicago real estate developer in hot water over allegations he violated bond restrictions will surrender to authorities next week and plans to plead guilty to fraud charges, his attorneys said in court today.

Prosecutors had alleged that John Thomas, a convicted felon who worked undercover as a government mole in past high-profile corruption investigations, had improperly contacted a government witness since he was released to home confinement following his arrest last month on charges he stole $340,000 in public funds for the redevelopment of a marina in suburban Riverdale.

April 2014 Illinois Corruption Watch

In April, we found 45 different news stories relating to Illinois corruption. Unfortunately, the stories just continue to pile up in early May, with 18 new stories through May 8 alone, including tales of patronage hiring and more.

New stories include six-figure thefts by government employees, candidates using public resources for political campaigns, and more bad news for Gov. Pat Quinn’s troubled anti-violence program. Reporters also shed light on unemployment fraud, gun running, red-light camera hijinks and a $12 million fine for construction contract fraud.

No wonder Illinois residents have the lowest trust levels of government in the country, and are showing overwhelmingly support reform initiatives such as term limits and redistricting reform.

18.  May 8, 2014

State Journal-Register: IDOT: Rehiring alleged patronage jobs too costly

The Illinois transportation secretary says it would be too difficult to reopen the hiring process for jobs contested in a federal lawsuit.

A Chicago lawyer has sued, claiming the Illinois Department of Transportation filled hundreds of jobs without following hiring rules that ban considering politics or loyalty.

Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider told a Senate appropriations committee Thursday that people in those jobs are union members and repeating the hiring process would lead to costly lawsuits.

Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine says taking no action could lead to future illegal patronage hiring.

17.  May 7, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times: An architect of Quinn’s troubled crime program now running Rahm’s

The head of a new city alliance with business titans to reduce gun violence in Chicago was one of the architects of the governor’s scandal-plagued Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

Toni Irving, the head of Get In Chicago, was a deputy chief of staff for Gov. Pat Quinn when the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was formed in 2010.

Irving acknowledged in an interview she helped come up with the ideas for the program, which is now under investigation by federal and Cook County prosecutors. An audit by the state’s auditor general slammed the program earlier this year, concluding Quinn’s administration didn’t “adequately monitor” how state grant dollars were spent; community organizations that hired people with those grants weren’t maintaining time sheets, and city aldermen dictated where the money was to be steered.

16.  May 7, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times: Feds: Fraudster John Thomas slips house arrest for mistress tryst

Fraudster John Thomas was supposed to be under house arrest under the watchful eye of his long-suffering wife while he awaits trial.

But instead the convicted felon slipped out and tried to arrange a secret tryst with his mistress at his dentist’s office, the feds say.

And when he finally met up with his lover and learned that she was a witness against him, he tried to sway her by promising he’d buy her a house and a car, telling her he “intended to leave his wife for her,” according to court papers filed by prosecutors Wednesday.

But that was just one of countless violations of a federal judge’s orders Thomas has allegedly pulled off in the two weeks since he was charged with stealing $370,000 in tax increment financing from the south suburb of Riverdale.

15.  May 6, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Former longtime Burnham clerk charged with stealing $650K

A former longtime village clerk of Burnham was charged today with stealing more than $650,000 from the small south suburb and using most of the cash to gamble at casinos.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Nancy Dobrowski, 70, is expected to plead guilty to one count each of wire fraud and filing a false federal income tax return.

Dobrowski served as Burnham’s elected clerk from 1980 until she abruptly resigned last May after FBI agents raided the village hall.

14.  May 6, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Lawmakers deal Quinn blow on troubled grant program

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s troubled $55 million anti-violence program is now the subject of a third inquiry, this time by a panel of state lawmakers who want answers on what went wrong.

The blow dealt by legislators from both political parties came as a re-election seeking Quinn tried Tuesday to distance himself from Democratic Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown in a still-developing grant probe in which questions have arisen about the involvement of Brown and her husband.

13. May 5, 2014:

Kane County Chronicle: Cunningham used county email address for campaign: ‘I was wrong’

While a deputy in Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham’s office was suspended for five days after using the county’s server to work on Cunningham’s re-election campaign, emails show Cunningham himself used the county server to do campaign work.

“I was wrong,” Cunningham said. “I screwed up. There is no excuse for it. I apologize for it. I don’t know what else I can say.”

The state’s campaign disclosure law states candidates and those working on their campaigns cannot use taxpayer resources for political purposes, said Tom Newman, deputy director of campaign disclosure for the Illinois State Board of Elections.

12. May 5, 2014

Elgin Courier-News: Kane officials launch personnel probe of Animal Control director

Kane County Animal Control Director Robert Sauceda is on administrative leave amid a probe by county officials, sources said.

Sauceda, who serves as a South Elgin village trustee, was escorted out of Animal Control’s offices late Friday, multiple sources said. He was named director in November 2013 after he turned around the department’s troubled finances. He had been billing manager since early 2013.

11.  May 5, 2014

Dispatch-Argus: Illinois cracking down on unemployment fraud

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says that so far this year it has collected $26 million in federal tax refunds from people who knowingly collected unemployment insurance while working. The department says they’ve collected more than $120 million over the length of the 3-year-old program.

State officials say people who owe IDES money because of fraud won’t receive future benefits until their debts are paid.

10.  May 5, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Emanuel accepted free transportation, sports tickets in 2013

Mayor Rahm Emanuel accepted free transportation, sports tickets and a stay as a house guest from friends and political supporters last year, but the number of gift givers was fewer than in years past.

The mayor is required to disclose gifts valued at more than $500 in his annual economic interest statement, and his new filing covering 2013 lists gifts from five individuals. That’s down from 12 in 2012 and 19 in 2011.

The most recent statement, which met the May 1 reporting deadline, includes gifts from those who’ve shown up on the form in the past.

9.  May 5, 2014

Chicago Tribune: House ethics panel extends review of Gutierrez hiring of lobbyist

The House Ethics Committee said Monday it would continue to review Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s hiring of an Illinois lobbyist who was paid more than $590,000 to perform extensive duties for his congressional office.

The lobbyist, Doug Scofield of The Scofield Company in Oak Park, for years was Gutierrez’s chief of staff in Congress. He left in 2002 to work briefly for Rod Blagojevich when he first won the Illinois governor’s job. But Scofield soon quit and in 2003 began assisting Gutierrez as a contractor paid from $4,500 to $6,000 a month.

House rules say contractors may not handle legislative or financial matters, but can perform such duties as staff training and data entry. Unlike contractors, House employees must undergo ethics training and senior employees must submit personal financial disclosures.

8.  May 5, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Former prison guard pleads guilty to federal gunrunning charges

Dwayne Meeks, once a state correctional officer, thought the machine guns and military-style assault rifles he was selling to a former inmate were going to be used in Chicago’s ongoing street violence, federal prosecutors say.

“He ready,” the convicted felon, a supposed middleman for a gang member, allegedly told Meeks in 2012 about his contact’s urgent need for high-powered weaponry. “There’s so much (violence) going on up here, it’s crazy.”

It turned out the former inmate was working undercover for the FBI and secretly recording their conversations.

7.  May 5, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times: Dorothy Brown helped run group that got state anti-violence grant

Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown had a direct managerial role in a not-for-profit group that got an anti-violence grant from Gov. Pat Quinn’s now-disbanded Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, state records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

The group, Dream Catchers Community Development Corp., was founded by Brown’s husband, Benton Cook III. It was asked to return unexpended grant money after having its contract terminated in 2011 by Chicago Area Project, a larger not-for-profit that had been overseeing organizations that had received money through the Quinn anti-violence initiative.

6.  May 5, 2014

ABC-7: Chicago Mayor’s motocade caught on tape speeding, red light violations

Despite Rahm Emanuel’s contention that red light and speed cameras are “all about safety,” the ABC7 Eyewitness News I-Team learned those same cameras regularly catch the mayor’s motorcade running red and speeding.

Since 2012, the cameras have caught the mayor’s motorcade speeding near schools and parks or running red lights nearly two dozen times. The city’s website shows all of the tickets were “dismissed.” No one paid a dime in fines. If you racked up the same amount of violations: it would’ve cost you at least $1,700, more if you got booted.

Monday night, Mayor Emanuel is responding to our (ABC-7’s) report, instructing his bodyguards to stop speeding and running red lights.

5.  May 3, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times: Suit claims Daley called inspector general his ‘worst mistake’

A lawsuit filed by an aide to former Mayor Richard M. Daley claims the mayor once said creating the Inspector General’s Office was “the worst mistake [he] ever made.”

Anthony Boswell, the former head of the now-disbanded Office of Compliance, claims in the suit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court that although the city hired him to fight political corruption, “it never intended to stem political nepotism” and just wanted “a rubber stamp.”

Daley created the office in 2007 to get around an inspector general who had embarrassed him.

4.  May 2, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Ex-Country Club Hills police chief gets 5 years in grant scam

The former police chief of County Club Hills was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for diverting $917,000 from a state job-training grant to help remodel her home, travel to Las Vegas and distribute cash to her family and friends.

Regina Evans, 51, tearfully begged U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough to not “take my life away,” before the sentence was handed down. Federal prosecutors had sought a prison sentence of more than 10 years.

After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass said the investigation that led to Evans conviction and has also taken down former state Rep. Connie Howard, Jeri Wright, the daughter of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and a top state public health official, is ongoing.

3.  May 1, 2014

Better Government Association: Where’s Lisa?

Illinois has some of the worst public corruption in the nation. Attorney General Lisa Madigan pledged to combat it, but critics say she’s fallen short. Her aides say state law restricts what she can do.

But while Lisa Madigan has made a name for herself embracing consumer-oriented causes – taking on, for instance, companies trying to rip off taxpayers – her office has done little to prosecute public corruption in Illinois, at least when it comes to the bigger fish in government, the Better Government Association and FOX 32 found.

That’s led critics – Republicans and even some Democrats – to question her commitment and motives.

“You go back to 2002, there’s been a lot of scandal, a lot of corruption in this state,” said state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine.) “And we’ve got radio silence from the person elected to be our corruption watchdog, the attorney general.”

2.  May 1, 2014

Chicago Tribune: Former death row inmate awarded $80,000 in court fight

A federal jury today awarded just $80,000 in damages to a former El Rukn gang member who claimed he was framed in an infamous 1984 double murder that sent him to death row.

Attorneys for Nathson Fields had argued that Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors had conspired to pin the unsolved slayings of two El Rukn rivals on him, including burying a “street file” that could have helped Fields’ defense.

The jury, however, found a lone police former detective — Sgt. David O’Callaghan — liable for violating Fields’ due process rights to a fair trial during the original investigation. According to trial testimony, O’Callaghan coached witnesses to point out Fields in lineups as the man they saw running from the scene of the murders, even though the gunmen wore ski masks.

1.  May 1, 2014

Chicago Tribune: McHugh Construction to pay $12 million fine as part of federal, state probe

One of Chicago’s most clout-heavy construction companies has agreed to pay more than $12 million in penalties after it was snared in a probe into whether a woman-owned business was really an illegal front to win government contracts.

Court papers revealed today that a project manager for a minority-owned subcontractor blew the whistle on the wrongdoing. (U.S. State’s Attorney Office release)

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