Archive for the ‘Illinois’ Category

The legacy of political corruption: Illinois

December 16, 2008

By David Farside

The state of Illinois seems to be the seat of political corruption. Evidently, it starts at the top and, like Reaganomics, it trickles down to the streets of Chicago.

The recent arrest of Illinois top state Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich on federal charges of corruption is just one of many federal investigations and indictments of Illinois politicians, judges and public employees.

Orville Hodge, a one-time Illinois state auditor, was accused of embezzling $6.2 million from the state. In 1956, he was found guilty for embezzling about $2 million. He spent the money well. He had 30 cars, two private jets and a few properties in Florida for some well-deserved vacation time. He was sentenced to 12 to 15 years of well-deserved prison time and was released in 1970. He later worked for his sister in a hardware store and lived to tell his story until he was 82.

Former Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner was convicted on income tax charges in 1973. The manager of Arlington Park and Washington Park race tracks admitted bribing Kerner and his finance director in return for choice racing dates and to have two expressway exits constructed for her Arlington Park race track in exchange for stock. There was some irony and honesty involved in proving Kerner guilty. The manager deducted the value of the stock given to Kerner as an ordinary and necessary business expense. Enter the IRS and exit Kerner to a federal prison for three years. He was released early due to terminal cancer.

Even the Illinois Attorney General’s office was corrupt. In 1980, Attorney General William Scott was convicted on income tax charges stemming from misuse of campaign funds. He skimmed more than $50,000 from his political campaign funds and put the money in his own personal safe-deposit boxes. He never paid income tax on the transferred money and served 366 days in a minimum security federal prison.

In 1987, Democrat Dan Walker, once the governor of Illinois, was convicted on income tax charges. He pleaded guilty to perjury and bank fraud. After he left office, he received more than $1 million dollars in fraudulent loans from First American Savings and Loan for repairs on his yacht and other business expenses. He did 18 months time in a Duluth, Minn.’s federal prison. In 2001, he had the nerve to ask President Bill Clinton for a full pardon. Clinton refused.

In 1984, the entire court system of Chicago was being investigated by the FBI for accepting bribes. The operation was called Operation Greylord. Among the 92 people indicted were 48 lawyers, 17 judges, eight policemen, eight court officials, 10 deputy sheriffs and one state legislator.

The bagman, Harold Conn – what an appropriate name for a gangster – was found guilty of accepting the bribes to be given to Cook County judges for fixing traffic tickets.

In 1996, another Democrat, Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, was indicted for mail fraud. He was also charged with having “ghost” employees on his payroll. The poor guy didn’t make enough money as a congressmen so he took postage stamps purchased by the government and given to him for congressional mailing and traded them for cash at the House of Representatives Post Office. How dumb can one person be? He was fined and served 15 months of a 17-month prison sentence. Clinton did pardon him in December 2007. Too bad Walker wasn’t a Congressman.

Another good year for federal convictions of public officials in Chicago was 1996. The FBI’s Operation Silver Shovel convicted 18 public employees, including six city alderman (city councilmen) on corruption and bribery charges.

The city employees were paid off by construction companies in return for allowing them to use vacant city lots in the middle of the city as illegal landfills. During the investigation, the FBI found labor union corruption and drug trafficking and other charges were filed.

More recently, a Republican governor from 1999 to 2003 was convicted on fraud and racketeering charges. Whew! There for a while I thought only Democrats were the only corrupt racketeers. Gov. George Ryan was convicted on fraud and racketeering charges in April 2006. Ryan traded government contracts for vacations, cash and gifts for him and his family. He began serving his six-year prison term at the good old age of 73. Maybe President George Bush will give him a pardon before he retires on a sea of ignorance, oil and money.

In October 2006, Chicago real estate developer and political fundraiser Tony Rezko was convicted on 16 counts of mail fraud, money laundering and bribery. Rezko had his partners in crime appointed to state boards. In return, the appointees demanded kickbacks for themselves and Rezko from businessmen with state contracts.

Curiously, Rezko was also the fundraiser for the current Gov. Blagojevich, who is now being accused of bribery, fraud and selling political favors. Using his power, Rezko assisted Blagojevich in organizing the first Democratic administration in Illinois in the last 20 years. Isn’t that a scary thought?

In 2005, Barack Obama and his old friend, the very same fundraiser and organizer for the Democrats Tony Rezko, purchased adjoining parcels of land in Kenwood, Ill. and both closed escrow on their properties on the same day. After the purchase, Obama magically decided he wanted to enlarge his yard. He gave Rezko $104,000 for a small strip of vacant land adjoining his property. Some Republican pundits in Chicago considered it as a payoff or hush money because they thought Obama paid Rezko too much for the small strip of dirt. So far that can’t be proven.

But one thing can be proven: Obama, during his time in Illinois politics organized by Rezko, was surrounded by the legends of political corruption. Let’s hope he wasn’t part of it