Top 5 corruption stories of 2015

Top 5 corruption stories of 2015

From taxpayer- and donor-funded spending sprees by the president of an Illinois public college, to Chicago’s red-light-camera ticketing and kick-back schemes, 2015 has been rife with instances of public corruption and lack of government transparency.

In 2014, the news site FiveThirtyEight ranked Illinois the sixth-most corrupt state in the nation. Unfortunately, 2015 wasn’t much better for the Land of Lincoln.

Illinoisans should not have to accept corruption in their state. Residents and taxpayers should insist on – and politicians must embrace – more government transparency.

Transparency leads to government accountability and is the best way to prevent further instances of fraud, theft and deception.

Throughout the year the Illinois Policy Institute has covered stories of fraud and corruption through its monthly Illinois Corruption Watch.

Here is a recap of the top five corruption stories from 2015:

1. College of DuPage president’s hidden spending

In 2014, news broke of $95 million of hidden spending at the College of DuPage. The college had initially refused Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests and denied having the information Chicago Tribune reporters were seeking. In summer 2015, however, the Chicago Tribune finally received FOIA information that revealed lavish spending at hotels, bars and restaurants by the college president, Robert Breuder. This was all paid for with donor and taxpayer money.

In October, the school’s board of trustees voted to fire Breuder five months before he was scheduled to step down.

2. Chicago Police Department hiding records

FOIA requests submitted to the Chicago Police Department last year asked for documents detailing records of complaints against Chicago police officers. The city of Chicago fought the request to turn over these documents. However, the city was ordered by the Illinois Appellate Court to release the records. Before the city turned over the documents, police unions stepped in and sued the city to prevent records older than four years from being released. According to contracts between the police unions and the city of Chicago, all records of complaints against police officers must be destroyed after five years.

Destroying these records denies the public the opportunity to hold accountable those in positions of power. Keeping public information in the dark damages the public’s trust and respect for the city’s police department.

3. Redflex red-light-camera scandal

Chicago pushed its widescale red-light camera program as a step toward greater safety on the roads, but in truth, the program has served as a corrupt and scandal-ridden revenue scheme for the city – as of 2014, the program had generated more than $500 million in revenue, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In August, the former CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the company that used to administer Chicago’s red-light-camera program, pled guilty to bribery and conspiracy in a $2 million scheme with the city’s deputy commissioner of transportation to funnel tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to the Redflex company.

Before the scandal broke, red-light and speed cameras were already under scrutiny for yellow lights changing too fast and for bad tickets being issued.

4. Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chicago Public Schools

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, pleaded guilty in October to wire fraud for funneling $23 million worth of school district contracts to two consulting firms. She ensured these firms would have no competition in the bidding process. This scheme also included $2.3 million in kickbacks to Byrd-Bennett.

Given CPS’ $9.5 billion in pension debt, $23 million in back-door deals deepens the distrust of Chicagoans for their public institutions and officials.

5. Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan’s departure

The Chicago City Council allowed the term of its only watchdog, the legislative inspector general, or LIG, to expire at the end of 2015. Without seeking a replacement for the position, the City Council has been operating with no oversight since Nov. 16.

Faisal Khan, the former LIG, was able to transfer ongoing criminal investigations to the FBI before his term ended. He also published a report detailing that more than half of Chicago aldermen took illegal campaign contributions in 2013. This report comes as no great shock given that more than 30 Chicago aldermen have been convicted on federal corruption charges over the last 40 years, according to analysis from political researchers Thomas Gradel and Dick Simpson.

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