By Brian Costin -
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.
18. May 8, 2014
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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 filingcovering 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
Brian Costin is Director of Government Reform at the Illinois Policy Institute