Local corruption hits Chicago, suburbs and downstate communities

November was a sad reminder of the corruption at various levels of Illinois government from retired House Speaker Denny Hastert to the small Village of Bellwood.

 

Local governments in Illinois took the spotlight for worst offenders in corruption and mismanagement for the month of November.

  • A former Bellwood village manager was given two years of probation for stealing from the village. During his time as the village manager and chief financial officer, he gave himself hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pay raises, bonuses, and increased his pension.

In all of these instances of theft, backdoor deals and mismanagement, taxpayers are the ones who are stuck footing the bill. Here are other instances of corruption for the month of November:

Nov. 1, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: Protest vote against $2M settlement for whistleblowing cops

A former Chicago Police officer-turned firefighter whose ward is home to scores of cops cast a lonely protest vote Tuesday against a $2 million settlement for a pair of police officers who claim they were blackballed by their colleagues for blowing the whistle on police corruption.

The settlement with police partners Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria averted the need for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to comply with a federal judge’s order to testify about the code of silence that the mayor has acknowledged exists in the Chicago Police Department.

Nov. 8, 2016 – The Pantagraph: Jurors hear recording of trooper accused in revenge scheme

An Illinois state trooper is on trial for allegedly bribing a police officer to ticket his former girlfriend.

Jurors in Vermilion County on Monday heard 2014 recordings of 46-year-old trooper Keith Lumsargis telling a Tilton police officer where and when his ex-girlfriend would be driving. The trooper is accused of offering a steak dinner in exchange for helping him get back at the woman for breaking up with him.

Nov. 10, 2016 – Crain’s Chicago Business: Ex-congressman Aaron Schock indicted

The Illinois congressman who resigned amid scrutiny of lavish spending—including remodeling his Capitol Hill office in the style of the television series “Downton Abbey”—was indicted today on 24 federal counts, including wire fraud and theft of funds.

The 52-page indictment charges Aaron Schock with nine counts of wire fraud, five of falsification of election commission filings, six of filing false federal income tax returns, two of making false statements, and one each of mail fraud and theft of government funds.

Nov. 10, 2016 – Red light cameras figure gets 2 1/2 years in prison for massive bribe scheme

The three-year federal prosecution of Chicago’s red light camera program came to an apparent conclusion Thursday as a federal judge blasted the corporate and government corruption at the heart of the decade-long scheme while sentencing the former CEO of the camera vendor to 2 1/2 years in prison.

Karen Finley, who headed Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. through much of the $2 million bribery scandal, marks the third and final defendant to be sentenced in the probe.

Nov. 18, 2016 – Project Six: Conflicted: How a Chicago alderman and his lobbyist chief of staff are skirting ethics law

“Do you have any conflicts of interest that would be an issue with you taking this job?”

Many people have probably asked or been asked this question in a job interview. It’s a responsible way to head off any potential ethical conflicts and a common sense, routine pre-employment question—except in the office of one of Chicago’s most powerful aldermen.

Project Six has found that Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) employs a registered lobbyist who represents some of the largest real estate developers in the city as his chief of staff. Aside from being ripe with potential ethical conflicts, tax dollars have likely been put at risk because a registered lobbyist has the direct authority to negotiate for both sides of zoning and real estate deals in the heart of Chicago.

Nov. 22, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: ‘Fast Eddie’ Vrdolyak arraigned, pleads ‘not guilty’

Former Chicago Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak’s defense attorney left the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Tuesday without explaining how his client landed a piece of Illinois’ massive settlement with tobacco companies two decades ago.

Vrdolyak, a onetime powerhouse 10th Ward politician, was quietly charged earlier this month in a 19-page federal indictment that outlined his role in a scheme to pocket millions from the $9.3 billion settlement reached in 1998. The indictment alleges that Vrdolyak was promised $65 million from the settlement even though he “did no work on the Tobacco Lawsuit.”

It’s not clear how much money Vrdolyak made from the settlement, but federal prosecutors told a judge in 2010 that Vrdolyak “has a guaranteed income stream of $260,000 per year . . . until 2023 from tobacco-related litigation.”

The indictment charges Vrdolyak, who turns 79 next month, with impeding the IRS and tax evasion. He faces a maximum of eight years in prison for allegedly trying to help his co-defendant, attorney Daniel Soso of Alsip, dodge federal income taxes.

He appeared at the federal courthouse Tuesday for arraignment, pleading not guilty in front of U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu said during the hearing that prosecutors have more than 150,000 pages of evidence to turn over to Vrdolyak’s legal team. …

… A member of the City Council from 1971 to 1987, Vrdolyak earned the nickname “Fast Eddie” for his back-room deals and reputation for dancing on the edge of the law. A federal judge initially handed him a big break in 2009, giving him no prison time for his role in a financial scam with corrupt influence peddler Stuart Levine. But prosecutors appealed, and another judge ultimately sentenced Vrdolyak to 10 months in prison followed by 10 months of home confinement and work release.

Nov. 26, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: WATCHDOGS: Political insiders cashed in on failed O’Hare project

He was a twenty-something wannabe developer, the son of immigrants from India, and he dreamed of building a $900 million hotel and convention complex near O’Hare Airport.

He assembled a team of political heavyweights, including Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, and traveled to China to get investors.

Now, the land sits empty, and Anshoo Sethi awaits sentencing, possibly this week, after pleading guilty to wire fraud.

He’s admitted his role in what federal authorities call a scheme to use fraudulent documents to raise $160 million from Chinese investors willing to bankroll his project in exchange for permanent United States residency under the U.S. government’s much-maligned EB-5 visa program. The program grants residency to foreigners who invest in economic development projects.

Nov. 28, 2016 – Chicago Tribune: Bellwood school district faces more questions on spending

Officials from a small, cash-strapped suburban school district have been under scrutiny this year for what critics say is excessive spending, from extensive travel, to adding friends and family to the payroll, to secretly padding the superintendent’s pension.

Now, they are facing new questions about how the district has shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for taxi services in recent years under a no-bid arrangement.

Since the 2011 school year began, Bellwood School District 88 has paid People Cab Co. $605,000 to shuttle homeless and special education students to and from school. More than half — or $311,000 — of those expenses were authorized by the board during the past two school years alone, records obtained by the Tribune show.

Bellwood’s taxi bills far outpace those of surrounding districts, state education records show.

During the 2015 school year, the most current statewide data available, for example, Bellwood spent three times as much transporting special-needs students to school than the five neighboring school districts combined. Enrollment in those districts — which draw students from Berkeley, Maywood, Melrose Park, Westchester, Hillside and Broadview — is nearly four times larger than Bellwood, state records show.

In response to the hefty transportation bills, some school board members have called for the taxi service contract to be put out for bid, an idea that has been met with stiff resistance by the board’s president, Marilyn Thurman.

Nov. 28, 2016 – Sauk Valley News: Imprisoned Hastert fights for tax-covered pension

Dennis Hastert is serving a 15-month prison term in a hush-money case that stemmed from his sexual abuse of students when he taught at an Illinois public school over 35 years ago. The ex-U.S. House speaker is now pointing to a technicality to argue that a state body should restore his $17,000-a-year teacher’s pension that it yanked after his April 27 sentencing.

A recent letter from Hastert’s lawyer to the agency overseeing the pensions notes his conviction was not for sexual abuse when he was at Yorkville High School from 1965 to 1981: It was for one count of violating banking law as Hastert withdrew cash from 2010 to 2014 as he sought to pay one victim $3.5 million to ensure his silence. On those grounds, the letter argues, his teacher’s pension can’t be revoked.

Nov. 30, 2016 – Bellville News Democrat: Township supervisor to plead guilty to misspending public money

East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton is expected to plead guilty to wire fraud charges Thursday in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

Hamilton, 63, was charged earlier this month. He waived indictment and announced his intent to plead guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan. The hearing begins at 10 a.m. Reporters will be tweeting live from the courthouse.

A months-long investigation by the Belleville News-Democrat reported that Hamilton spent more than $230,000 on a taxpayer-supported American Express card from January 2012 to June 2016. The investigation showed that Hamilton used the credit card to pay for trips to Las Vegas and elsewhere, thousands of dollars in gasoline for his personal vehicle, $34 car washes, flowers and gifts for political allies, restaurant tabs and other purchases.

Nov. 30, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: Former Bellwood official gets probation for stealing from village

A former Bellwood official was sentenced to two years of probation Wednesday after he admitted he stole money from the village coffers.

Roy McCampbell, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft before Cook County Judge Timothy James Joyce, also was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution, according to court records.

McCampbell, who was the village manager and chief financial officer, granted himself numerous unauthorized pay raises and bilked the town of Bellwood for hundreds of thousands of dollars, outgoing Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said at the time of his 2012 arrest.

McCampbell, a licensed attorney, drafted new contracts for himself, adding raises, increasing the size of his stipends, amount of annual sick and vacation days and deferred compensation payments, prosecutors said.

The investigation also revealed that he was able to illicitly use taxpayer funds to boost his pension and that he had fraudulently expanded the village’s health insurance plan to pay for a variety of treatments for his family, including horse therapy for his children and to purchase home exercise equipment.

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