Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 21, 2011

Bank of America Settlement Stems from Ill. AG Lawsuit

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Bank of America will pay a multimillion dollar settlement to resolve allegations of discriminatory loans by its subsidiary, Countrywide that took place between 2004 and 2007. The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the Illinois attorney general's office.

Back in March 2008, Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a fair lending subpoena to Countrywide after a report found that the company sold higher-cost loans in the Chicago area to more African Americans and Hispanics compared to white borrowers.

Bank of America's decision to pay a $335 million dollar settlement signals the largest settlement of its kind over residential fair lending practices.

The settlement with the U.S. Justice Department was filed Wednesday with the Central District court of California and is subject to court approval. According to the DOJ's complaint, Countrywide charged over 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers with a similar credit profile.

Natalie Bauer, who's a spokeswoman in the Illinois attorney general's office, said approximately 15,000 people in the state may be eligible for restitution under the settlement.

"The settlement is one of those ways that we will be able to help homeowners on the ground who are struggling right now as a result of the illegal practices that banked used in the lead up to the crash of the economy back in 2008," Bauer said.

Dan Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, said in a statement that the bank does not practice lending based on race.

"We discontinued Countrywide products and practices that were not in keeping with our commitment and will continue to resolve and put behind us the remaining Countrywide issues," Frahm said.

The United States' complaint said that Countrywide was aware that the fees and interest rates that its loan officers were charging discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers, but failed to impose meaningful limits or guidelines to stop it.

People who believe they were victims of lending discrimination should e-mail the U.S. Department of Justice at countrywide.settlement@usdoj.gov

Bauer said a settlement administrator will review those claims.

Meanwhile, the Illinois attorney general's office has filed a similar lawsuit against Wells Fargo for discriminatory lending practices.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 19, 2011

Architect Wants Six-Story Development in Downtown Urbana

Urbana's City Council gets its first chance Monday night to hear about a proposed six-story mixed use development designed to be a 'stimulus' for downtown.

Champaign architect Gary Olsen said his Metro Centre on South Vine Street would use a retro style of development, and compliment buildings like the Champaign County Courthouse. The development would include condominiums, commercial retail, restaurants, as well as parking space. A second building to its east would consist of townhouses.

Olsen said he is open to ideas for businesses the public wants to see in Urbana.

"We're encouraging anyone in the Champaign County area who has a wonderful boutique they love in Chicago, or a sports place that they have found in Indianapolis they would like to replicate here," he said. "We're not just looking for restaurants, we're looking for a lot of commercial retail use of the first-floor level."

Olsen responded to a request for proposal from the city, after it purchased property on the square block across from the federal courthouse downtown. Urbana holds a lease on the Goodyear Tire shop on South Vine, and will negotiate to relocate that business.

There is no action expected at Monday's initial presentation, but Olsen hopes construction can completed by 2014, which would coincide with Lincoln Square Village's 50th anniversary.

The Urbana City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the city building.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 13, 2011

Ex-Workers Claim Contamination From Flex-N-Gate-owned Facility

Former workers at a shuttered auto parts making plant in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park say the plant may have contaminated the area with a cancer-causing chemical.

The Detroit Free Press reports Tuesday that known carcinogen hexavalent chromium was used at the Chrome Craft plant.

Saad Bolos of Madison Heights worked at the plant 17 years and says leaks included a rooftop pipe that spilled into an alley.

The Chrome Craft plant is owned by Urbana, Ill.-based Flex-N-Gate Group, a manufacturer of bumper systems for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. The company says it has fully investigated the claim and says it has no knowledge of leaks or violations.

Flex-N-Gate is owned by Shahid Khan, an Urbana businessman who hopes to win approval this week from NFL owners to buy the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Flex-N-Gate bought Chrome Craft in 2005. In a 2009 lawsuit, Khan said he was a partner in Chrome Craft dating back to 1993.

Four inspections at the plant from 1992 until its closure found 39 violations of environmental laws, according to documents gathered by the UAW.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality plans to investigate the claims about the plant, which closed about two years ago.

Categories: Business, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 11, 2011

Occupy C-U Movement Moves Focus to Bank Accounts

(Reported by Azra Halilović)

One of the latest efforts of the Occupy Movement is to not only protest Wall Street banks, but to encourage others to close out their accounts with them.

"Move Your Money" or "Bank Transfer Day", took place in some cities in early November, but those with Occupy Champaign-Urbana started up the campaign in West Side Park on Saturday.

Despite cold temperatures, about 50 demonstrators met to protest banks they say are 'too big to fail.' They passed out harmonicas and performed a call and response as they launched the new "Move Your Money" campaign.

Groups ranging from local unions to family businesses spoke out against Wall Street banks, urging people to close their bank accounts. Demonstrators waved signs, handing out fliers outlining the campaign's mission to promote local industry by boycotting relationships with federal banks. University of Illinois student Scott Kimball spoke on behalf of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He'd like to see the government help veterans adjust to life back home.

"Veterans have an unemployment rate that's about double the national average," Kimball said. "For African-American women veterans, their unemployment rate is over 30 percent, and that's unacceptable. We have veterans that are jobless, that are homeless, that their houses are being foreclosed on. Our nation's veterans aren't getting the treatment they deserve."

Kimball says he's also excited about a change in consciousness within the group, as the Occupy movement welcomes other demographics.

"People of color have a different set of circumstances, there are veterans who have a different set of circumstances, people in the LGBTQ community have issues that they need to voice," he said. "The bigger the tent that we create, the more marginalized voices that we lift up, the better this movement becomes - the more powerful it becomes and then we can really, truly make the claim that we are the 99 percent."

The group made its way to Chase Bank, where one of the demonstrators closed her account - with plans of moving her money to a local credit union. Organizers plan to hold a similar demonstration on Monday, asking protesters to hold signs at some the area's busiest intersections.

(Photo by Azra Halilović)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 09, 2011

Raw Audio: Jon Corzine Testifies Before House Ag Committee

Former U.S. Senator and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine told a congressional panel Thursday that he never intended to break rules requiring failed securities firm MF Global to safeguard client funds. He also said he doesn't know what happened to an estimated $1.2 billion that went missing. Among those who questioned Corzine on Capitol Hill was Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana).

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Download mp3 file

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 08, 2011

Sara Lee Moving HQ to Chicago

Chicago will soon be home to another corporate headquarters. Sara Lee announced Thursday it will relocate from the western suburbs to downtown Chicago.

Sara Lee is in the midst of some big changes as a company.

It's scheduled to split into two next year - one company will focus on meats, the other on drinks.

It's the meats company that will call Chicago's West Loop neighborhood home in 2013.

"We would need, as a smaller, more entrepreneurial company, we need to create a lot of buzz and it's very difficult to get that buzz and energy in an area where it's very quiet, so I think we need that environment of Chicago," said Jan Bennink, the executive chairman of Sara Lee.

Bennink said about 500 employees will be shifted from Downers Grove to Chicago.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city will give up to 6.5 million dollars to Sara Lee for moving downtown. Emanuel said he's not in a battle with the suburbs to persuade businesses to move to the city - but he did say - "We won."

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, file)

Categories: Business
Tags: business

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 08, 2011

Chicago Sun-Times Starts Charging for Online Access

The Chicago Sun-Times and its 39 affiliated suburban newspapers are scheduled to start charging for online subscriptions.

Starting on Thursday, online readers will get 20 free page views across all Sun-Times Media websites every 30 days before hitting a paywall.

"The journalism we generate has value, and we think our readers and viewers will fully understand and support this decision on our part," said Sun-Times Media CEO Jeremy Halbreich.

Sun-Times Media will charge $6.99 for a four-week, unlimited subscription, about $78 annually. Current subscribers to any Sun-Times affiliated newspaper will be charged for $1.99 every four weeks for online access.

Halbreich said he's not concerned about losing readers after the paywall goes into effect.

The Northwest suburban paper The Daily Herald enacted a similar paywall earlier this year.

Categories: Business, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2011

Khan’s Bid to Buy Jaguars Clears First Step

Khan's Bid to Buy Jaguars Clears First Step

The NFL's Finance Committee has voted unanimously to recommend Urbana businessman Shahid Khan's bid to buy the Jacksonville Jaguars to the full ownership committee for a vote next week.

Categories: Business, Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 05, 2011

Plan Would Close 9 Postal Centers in Illinois

The struggling U.S. Postal Service says it's moving forward with plans to slash its budget by $3 billion by closing more than 250 mail processing centers around the nation, including nine in Illinois.

The cuts announced Monday would slow first-class mail service, ending next-day deliveries of stamped letters.

The list of processing centers to be closed released earlier this year includes facilities in Bloomington, Effingham, Carbondale, Centralia, Chicago, Fox Valley, Quincy, Rockford, and Springfield.

But the fight to save the centers is far from over. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo says the plan makes no sense and Manzullo is demanding the postal service produce data that justify the move. The plan calls for closing a center in Rockford and moving its operations to Madison, Wis.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

State Retailers Group Back “E-Fairness” Bill

An Illinois retailers group is endorsing bills in Congress that could settle the battle over sales taxes between online sellers and brick-and-mortar stores.

Illinois Retail Merchants Association President David Vite said his group welcomes both versions of the Marketplace Fairness Act, saying they would create uniform nationwide definitions and rules for state sales taxes --- making it easier for online retailers to collect those taxes from buyers in every state. For instance, he said states would have to agree on how they categorize items for tax purposes.

"What is clothing and what is an accessory?" Vite said. "So if clothing is taxed as a tie --- an accessory, or is it part of clothing? If you're selling food, are the definitions the same? That has to occur, and there has to be some very simple remittance requirements --- a single form and those kind of things. And if the state certifies that they do that, they would be eligible to participate."

Stephanie Sack owns the Viva La Femme shops in Chicago, which sell clothes to plus-size women. Speaking at a news conference in support of the bills, Sack said online sellers have an unfair advantage, because they generally don't collect state sales taxes like she does at her stores.

"The advantage that the Internet has - no matter what, where, when, or who - is a government sanctioned 10 percent markdown," Sack said.

Amazon.com has come out in favor of the Marketplace Fairness Act, while some other big online sellers have stayed away. Overstock.com said it supports another bill, called the Equity in Sales Tax Collection Act.

Vite said that bill is similar to the Marketplace Fairness Act, but he said the bill favored by Overstock provides a "small business exemption" for annual sales of up to $30-million --- a level he said is too high.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) is co-sponsoring the Marketplace Fairness Act in the Senate, while U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring it in the U.S. House of Representatives.


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