May Corruption Watch

May Corruption Watch

May’s corruption headlines show the steep cost nontransparent government can have on taxpayers.

Government corruption comes with a cost.

Chicago taxpayers, particularly, feel the high cost of corruption and mismanagement within city government. In fact, corruption has become so rampant in Chicago that there is now a walking tour dedicated to Chicago’s notorious history of corruption. The price tag for this distinction is sobering – in May alone, four police misconduct cases cost taxpayers $5.2 million.

Taxpayers in Illinois are already burdened with some of the highest taxes in the nation, including property taxes and sales taxes. It is unfair Illinoisans have to endure the burden of paying for corruption as well.

Here are some corruption cases in the month of May:

  • Chicago taxpayers have to pay $3.2 million for two settlement cases regarding police misconduct.
  • Chicago taxpayers also have to pay $2 million for another settlement to two Chicago police officers alleging they were blackballed for blowing the whistle on corruption.
  • A U.S. district judge ordered John Bills, a former Illinois transportation official, to pay back over $680,000 he received from his role in the Redflex Traffic Systems scandal. He took bribes in return for ensuring Redflex would receive the contract for the Chicago red light camera program.
  • The mayor of Harvey has been fined $10,000 for his role in a scheme that misled investors into lending to the city for a development project that kicked back $800,000 to an insider. The mayor has also been banned from any future involvement in issuing municipal bonds.

Political corruption, theft and mismanagement hurt Illinois residents, especially when it comes to paying for it. Here are other corruption stories for the month of May:

May 4, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: Fed probe doesn’t faze Dorothy Brown, who just asked for a raise

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown — whose office is under federal investigation for the possible purchasing of jobs and promotions — wants a raise.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the 17 elected commissioners who make up the county board, Brown hints that gender bias might explain why she makes only $105,000….

… “I humbly and respectfully ask that you consider as an add-on to the May 11, 2016, Cook County Board Agenda an Ordinance that would adjust the salary of the position of Clerk of the Circuit Court with an amount that you feel would be fair and equitable to close the disparity gap,” Brown states in the letter.

Preckwinkle flatly scuttled the idea Wednesday afternoon. She will not raise the topic at the next county board meeting, she said through her spokesman Frank Shuftan.

“The Clerk of the Circuit Court’s salary, like the salaries of all separately elected County officials, is set by law. Clerk Brown’s salary is the same as that of the County Treasurer, the County Clerk and the County Recorder of Deeds. It is more than the salaries of County Board Commissioners and Board of Review Commissioners. These are very difficult fiscal times for Cook County and all local governments, and not the appropriate time to discuss raises for elected officials,” Shuftan said.

May 5, 2016 – Illinois GOP lawmakers want auditor spending answers

A group of Republican lawmakers attempted to turn up the election-year heat Thursday on the state’s chief fiscal monitor, demanding that Auditor General Frank Mautino answer questions about his campaign spending as a legislator.

First-term Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville, who faces a Democratic challenger in November, said at a state Capitol news conference that he and 19 colleagues sought answers Thursday in their third recent letter to Mautino that read, “The people of Illinois are tired of the many corruption scandals they’ve had to endure in recent years.”

Mautino was a Democratic deputy majority leader in the House for 24 years before the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, appointed him to a 10-year term last fall as auditor general. The Spring Valley politician replaced the retiring William Holland to examine state government spending and compliance with rules and regulations.

Early this year, a citizen group called the Edgar County Watchdogs, the Springfield-based newspaper Illinois Times and the watchdog Better Government Association reported seemingly exorbitant spending by the Mautino campaign, including $214,000 on gas and repairs at a single Spring Valley service station owned by a city alderman. And the campaign paid $274,000 to a local bank beginning in 1999, including $94,000 in repayments on a loan for $26,000.

May 7, 2016 – Chicago Sun-Times: WATCHDOGS: Federal funds for clout school operator despite probe

Des Plaines-based Concept Schools applied for and was awarded a nearly $340,000 federal grant for a new school on the Southwest Side despite being under investigation over allegations the clout-heavy charter-school operator was involved in defrauding a federal grant program, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.

Concept — whose privately run, publicly financed schools include four campuses in Chicago — applied to the U.S. Department of Education for the money five weeks after the FBI and other federal agencies raided Concept locations across the Midwest on June 4, 2014.

May 7, 2016 – The State Journal-Register: Work 1,000 hours a year for pension? Several Sangamon County Board members didn’t know

More than half of the Sangamon County Board members are enrolled in a pension system mostly intended for full-time employees of local governments, which would require them to work hundreds of hours per year in that role.

But several board members say they didn’t even know about the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pension’s work requirement, which is 600 or 1,000 hours of time each year. Crossing 1,000 hours means an average of more than 19 hours a week — or 20 hours a week for 50 weeks a year.

Some say they’re not sure they or their colleagues are meeting that threshold.

“My guess is probably a few committee chairs and … definitely Chairman (Andy) Van Meter would be the only ones that would probably meet that threshold,” said board member Tony DelGiorno, D-District 22. He said he only learned in recent weeks of the 1,000-hour requirement in place for most members of the county board.

The issue has been spotlighted recently after state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, questioned if board members in his home county of McHenry were actually working 1,000 hours. Most members of that 24-member body are in the pension system.

May 16, 2016 – Chicago Tribune: City Council poised to OK $3.2 million in police misconduct settlements

Chicago taxpayers can expect to shell out $3.2 million to settle two more lawsuits accusing police of misconduct in fatal shootings, one of which has a link to the officer who now faces murder charges in the Laquan McDonald case.

In what’s become a familiar routine, the City Council Finance Committee on Monday recommended approval of the two settlements, adding to the tally of more than $500 million in police misconduct payouts racked up since 2004.

Those kind of settlements have received added attention since the November release of a disturbing dashboard camera video of white police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald, a black teen. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration took the extra step this time of briefing aldermen on the issue before the committee hearing.

Aldermen endorsed paying out $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit involving a case in which Van Dyke played a minor role: the September 2005 shooting of Emmanuel Lopez, a 23-year-old janitor who was killed following a hit-and-run fender bender while on his way to his overnight shift at a sausage factory.

May 16, 2016 – The State Journal-Register: Auditor General Frank Mautino ordered to explain campaign spending

The Illinois State Board of Elections has ordered Auditor General Frank Mautino to provide more detail about his campaign spending as a state legislator.

The board decided Monday to set July 1 as the deadline for the Democrat from Spring Valley to explain campaign expenditures which are the subject of a citizen’s complaint.

Assistant Executive Director Jim Tenuto says staff will review the amended reports to determine whether further action is required.

Mautino was a state representative for 24 years before he was appointed auditor general last fall.

The board narrowed its review to two areas. They include a bank’s campaign “reimbursements” without explanation and hundreds of thousands of dollars for gas and repairs at a single service station.

May 17, 2016 – Chicago Tribune: Downtown alderman warns of Emanuel ‘slush fund’

Decrying the possibility of a new mayoral “slush fund,” a downtown alderman on Tuesday failed to delay Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to shift downtown development funds to struggling neighborhoods, but the battle may not be over.

Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, said he backed the concept, but wanted to put off consideration until next month so the proposal could be altered to provide outside spending review and give aldermen more oversight. As written, it could turn into “a slush fund” controlled by the administration, he said.

Despite his concerns, the Zoning Committee voted 12-2 to advance the plan. It’s slated for a full City Council vote Wednesday, provided Reilly doesn’t attempt a procedural maneuver that would get him the delay he seeks.

Reilly said he was troubled by the $250,000 threshold for City Council review of grants to private projects, saying it left too much control in the hands of the mayor. But City Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman said aldermen would periodically vote on spending of smaller sums once they are put together as part of bigger spending plans

May 19, 2016 – Chicago Tribune: Harvey mayor fined, banned from future bond deals after hotel ‘scheme’

The mayor of Harvey has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for his role in allegedly tricking investors into lending his town millions for what turned out to be a sketchy development deal that enriched a key insider, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced Thursday.

Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg agreed to pay the fine for what the SEC described in court filings as a “scheme” claiming an old truckers hotel next to a strip club was going to be redeveloped from money borrowed from 2008 through 2010. The hotel remains half-gutted — with some cash diverted to make Harvey payroll while a then-top mayoral aide, Joseph Letke, made $800,000 in fees from all sides of the deal, according to court filings. The deal turned into a “fiasco” for investors and residents, the SEC wrote in court documents.

As part of a settlement that must still be approved by a judge, Kellogg, mayor of Harvey since 2003, would also be barred from ever participating in the issuance of municipal bonds — which is one of the most common ways municipalities borrow money.

May 22, 2016 – Better Government Association: Cicero pays printing firm millions in no-bid deal

Cicero’s municipal government has paid a printing company $5.6 million since Town President Larry Dominick took office more than a decade ago – but there’s no record the company was subjected to a competitive bidding process, or even has a written contract.

There is, however, record of something else: More than $122,000 in campaign donations made by the firm, Diamond Graphics, to Dominick’s campaign fund since he took over leadership of the western suburb in 2005, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Dominick’s spokesman adamantly denied there was any pay to play with Diamond, run by a Dominick political ally, Paul DiMenna, who declined to comment.

May 23, 2016 – Crain’s Chicago Business: Supreme Court rejects Blagojevich again

The Supreme Court won’t reconsider its decision to reject former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appeal of his corruption convictions.

The justices on Monday denied without comment a long-shot petition urging the court to take another look at the case.

The court first turned down Blagojevich’s appeal on March 28. He challenged an appeals court ruling that said Blagojevich crossed the line when he sought money in exchange for naming someone to fill the vacant Senate seat once occupied by President Barack Obama.

May 24, 2016 – Daily Southtown: Feds investigating Lincoln-Way, issue grand jury subpoena

Lincoln-Way High School District 210 has come under federal scrutiny, with a grand jury seeking information about the former superintendent’s compensation, as well as records related to the spending of bond money and student activity funds, the Daily Southtown has learned.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is seeking nearly a dozen categories of records, many of them relating to former Superintendent Lawrence Wyllie, who led the district from 1989-2013, a copy of the subpoena shows.

A Daily Southtown investigation in recent months has revealed questionable financial practices at Lincoln-Way, private uses of public resources and deals benefiting insiders at the district.

The grand jury subpoena, dated May 4, seeks copies of all salary and compensation records for Wyllie, including a controversial annuity that Lincoln-Way’s school board awarded him without public input.

May 24, 2016 – Illinois Policy Institute: Auditor General: Illinois Lottery made illegal $20 million prepayment just ahead of budget stalemate

The Illinois Lottery made $20 million in prepayments to the Multi-State Lottery Association June 30, 2015, in violation of state finance laws, according to the Illinois auditor general.

The Illinois auditor general issued a report that found the Illinois Lottery made two $10 million payments so that in the absence of a state budget, Illinois could continue to participate in the Mega Millions and Powerball games run by the Multi-State Lottery Association.

According to the auditor general’s report, Illinois law requires agencies to make payments only for the years in which funds are appropriated, and Illinois Lottery’s prepayment of amounts due in fiscal year 2016 from fiscal year 2015 funds “violate[d] the State Finance Act and diminishe[d] the oversight and authority of the budgeting and appropriation process set forth by the legislature.”

May 24, 2016 – WTHITV: Illinois woman sentenced for fraud after stealing $444,000

An Illinois woman is sentenced to prison, and must pay back $444,000 in taxpayer money she stole from a fire department.

Tammy Kellerman was sentenced to 33 months in prison Tuesday in the United States District Court in Benton.

Kellerman served as a bookkeeper for the Pinckneyville Rural Fire Protection District (PRFPD.)

According to Acting United States Attorney of Southern District of Illinois, James L. Porter, Kellerman used her position with PRFPD to steal funds from PRFPD between 2004 and 2013.

Charging information accused her of sending unauthorized checks drawn on PRFPD’s bank account through the United States mail to pay her personal credit card bills and other expenses. Then, she made false entries in PRFPD’s accounting software to conceal her theft from the board.

May 25, 2016 – Illinois Policy Institute: Madigan’s rules: how one man controls Illinois

On a single day in 2011, Illinois lawmakers introduced and passed the largest tax hike in modern state history in a matter of hours.

And on May 25, 2016, House Democrats introduced and passed a 500-page bill in an evening.

Something is wrong with Illinois democracy. Beyond the budget battle, the Land of Lincoln has failed to create enough decent jobs, failed to provide quality care to the state’s most vulnerable residents, and has shackled its children to debt they can never pay.

Contrary to what many people may think, this is not a bug within Illinois’ legislative process. Rather, it is a feature of House Speaker Mike Madigan’s iron grip over it.

May 26, 2016 – Chicago Tribune: Feds investigating how nearly $5,000 check ends up in alderman’s hands

Federal authorities are investigating how a West Side alderman ended up with a check for nearly $5,000 from a woman charged with improperly spending state grant money meant for a jobs program for youths.

A criminal complaint laying out the charges against the nonprofit chief identified the recipient of the check only as “Individual A,” but the Tribune has learned that the money went to Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th.

Days after the nonprofit chief was arrested late last month, an FBI agent approached Ervin to discuss the grant, but he declined to do so without legal representation, a source close to the alderman said Wednesday.

May 30, 2016 – Chicago Tribune: Editorial: Chicago police contracts: An untenable bargain

In Chicago, police officers rarely pay for their misconduct. Taxpayers do.

Again and again, cops accused of abusing civilians have gotten a pass from the police oversight system and the state’s attorney’s office. They’re back on the street, with nary a blemish on their records, while their victims collect millions in civil damages from the city.

That’s largely because the contracts between the city and its police unions are loaded with provisions that shield bad cops from accountability. An officer involved in a shooting has 24 hours to coordinate stories with others at the scene before giving a statement, for example — and can amend that statement later after viewing video of the shooting. Disciplinary records older than five years are supposed to be destroyed. Anonymous complaints against an officer are disregarded. Findings of misconduct that don’t result in significant punishment are purged from an officer’s record. Investigators are absurdly constrained in how they may question an officer: “The primary interrogator will not ask any questions until the secondary interrogator has finished asking questions and invites the primary interrogator to ask follow-up questions …” That’s not about due process; it’s about tying the hands of investigators or generating a technical violation that could get a complaint tossed.

May 31, 2016 – Chicago Tribune: Emanuel averts witness stand as city settles suit by whistleblower cops

On the day trial was set to begin, the Emanuel administration on Tuesday announced a $2 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by two Chicago police officers who alleged they were blackballed by the department for blowing the whistle on corruption.

The last-minute resolution of the potentially explosive civil rights lawsuit kept Mayor Rahm Emanuel from having to testify about the code of silence within the Police Department — although the mayor later insisted he was not trying to avoid taking the witness stand.

The deal also gave a glimpse at City Hall’s likely new strategy when it comes to defending against the myriad lawsuits seeking to hold the city liable for a pervasive code of silence that protects bad officers from being held accountable.

While the city can no longer deny the existence of a code of silence — in large part because of the mayor’s highly publicized admissions on the subject in the fallout over the videotaped fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald — it can deny its relevance in each specific lawsuit.

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