Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Lawmakers Look Ahead Following Blagojevich Verdict

A jury has found former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents.

The maximum penalty for making false statements to federal authorities carries a five year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.

Judge James Zagel said he will declare a mistrial for the 23 other counts against the former governor, including the most serious charge - trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

Juror Erik Sarnello, 21, of Itasca, Ill said the panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of that conviction. Sarnello said a female holdout "just didn't see what we all saw," but that the counts around the Senate seat were "the most obvious."

During the trial, prosecutors relied heavily on FBI wiretap recordings where Blagojevich could be heard spewing profanity, and speculating about getting a Cabinet level post or campaign contributions in exchange for the Senate appointment. Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said the jury confirmed the former governor's pattern of dishonesty even though they were deadlocked on many charges.

Blagojevich's attorneys plastered Washington and Illinois with subpoenas - including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - but by the end of the trial, none of them had testified, sparing Democrats any potentially embarrassing testimony. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said she is concerned the defense team may have sent the wrong message to the public that Blagojevich was just doing politics as usual in Illinois.

"If there is one thing that elected officials need to do in Illinois, it is to send a strong signal that the politics of the past are over, regardless of what the final verdict may be in the Blagojevich trial," she said.

Lawmakers threw Blagojevich out of office when they impeached him in January 2009. Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose served on the Illinois House committee that drew up the impeachment charges. Rose said the former governor implicated himself with his own words, as heard at the trial in wiretapped phone conversations.

"There were a hundred things to impeach him for," Rose said. "I just completely can't believe anybody in their right mind could hang this jury."

While the impeachment of Blagojevich was sparked by criminal charges, Rose said the two processes are different. He said the burden of proof is higher for prosecutors in a criminal trial, while lawmakers considering impeachment can also look at non-criminal charges, such as dereliction of duty.

Prosecutors say they intend to put the ex-governor on trial again, but Attorney Sam Adam, Jr. said federal prosecutors do not have a case for a mistrial.

Robert Lobe, a criminal defense attorney who teaches at Loyola University, said if prosecutors were able to convince 11 jurors that Blagojevich was trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat, then they should feel confident about getting a conviction next time.

"I don't even think they have to change their approach if this is just one very independent holdout," said Lobe.

Democratic State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign said he cannot explain how the jury was deadlocked on 23 counts.

"The only thing I can think is this proves the old maxim that you can fool some of the people some of the time," said Frerichs.

It is clear now that Blagojevich will stay in the spotlight as the prosecution retries the case, according to Frerichs.

Former Illinois Governor Dan Walker was convicted in the late 1980s after his time in office of improprieties connected to a Savings and Loan scandal, and he served 18 months in a federal prison. Walker said the worst part of Tuesday's verdict is that people will likely have to hear more about Blagojevich rather than turn their attention to problems that current state officials are facing.

"I just wish like a lot of other people I think feel the same way," said Walker. "We've just got to rebuild Illinois and the Land of Lincoln."

Walker said while he worked hard as governor, Blagojevich disgraced the office. Current Governor Pat Quinn said Rod Blagojevich's conviction is a "sad day for our state." Quinn said he is the first honest governor Illinois has had in a long time, and dismissed the notion that as Blagojevich's former running mate, the prolonged saga will hurt him on election day.

Meanwhile, Blagojevich's brother, Robert, was acquitted of all four counts the jury was weighing against him. The Tennessee businessman said he feels sorry for his brother, and he thanked his legal team and the jury for what he said appeared to be a "serious deliberation."

Rod Blagojevich spoke to reporters on Tuesday after the jury found him guilty of the one count of lying to federal agents. He vowed to appeal the conviction, and said he wants the "people of Illinois to know that I did not lie to the FBI."

Blagojevich's trial was another chapter in Illinois' history of crooked politics. His predecessor, George Ryan, was convicted of racketeering in 2006 and is serving a 6 1/2 year-sentence.

A hearing about a retrial is set for Thursday, August 26.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Blago Brother Confident in Ultimate Acquittal

The brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says a jury's verdict in the corruption case shows he's been an innocent target of the federal government all along.

A jury on Tuesday found Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents. That means they're hung on 23 counts, including four against Robert Blagojevich.

Prosecutors say they intend to retry the case against Blagojevich quickly.

The Tennessee businessman says he's ultimately confident in his acquittal. He thanked his legal team and the jury for what he says appeared to be a "serious deliberation.''

Robert Blagojevich says he feels sorry for his brother.

Both brothers pleaded not guilty to trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and squeezing people for campaign donations.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Guilty on One Count in Blago Trial, Mistrial on All Others; Prosecutors to Seek Retrial

A federal jury has found ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents, and the judge says he intends to declare a mistrial on the remaining counts.

Prosecutors said Tuesday immediately after the jury reached its verdict that they intend to retry the case against Blagojevich as soon as possible.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2010

LeRoy Mother’s Suit Over Her Sons’ Deaths Moved to Federal Court

A mother's lawsuit alleging that police delays led to her sons' deaths has been moved to federal court.

Amy Leichtenberg filed the wrongful death lawsuit in March in McLean County. It now goes to federal court in Peoria.

The lawsuit claims police in LeRoy waited too long to issue an Amber Alert after she reported that her sons were overdue from a custodial visit.

Nine-year-old Duncan Leichtenberg and 7-year-old Jack of LeRoy were killed by their father, Michael Connolly, in March 2009. Connolly then killed himself.

The suit names the city of LeRoy and several police officers. Their attorneys asked that the suit be moved because some claims of wrongdoing involve federal issues rather than state issues. The suit seeks $10 million in damages.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2010

Quinn Acknowledges Early Prison Release Report but Won’t Fire DOC Head

Gov. Pat Quinn says he isn't going to fire the director of the Department of Corrections despite criticism of its early release of prisoners in an effort to save money.

The report released Friday, written by a former Appellate Judge David Erickson and two Quinn aides, says the department neglected the most important consideration, the potential impact on public safety.

While Quinn has placed most of the blame on Michael Randle, he says he also takes responsibility for the mistakes. He added it is his job to find remedies for those mistakes.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady blasted Quinn for skipping the presentation of the report in Springfield. He called it "a dangerous abdication of responsibility'' for Quinn not to deliver the results of the report himself.

Quinn said he was busy at the Illinois State Fair and then at an event with veterans. He later held a press conference at a Chicago beach to answer questions from reporters.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Former University High School Coach Expected Back in US to Begin Prison Sentence

Authorities say a former coach at Urbana's University Laboratory High School intends to turn himself in to authorities three years after being convicted of a sex crime.

It's believed that Yuri Ermakov, 28, has been in Russia since a Champaign County jury found him guilty of criminal sexual assault. He left the courthouse in August of 2007, and a month later Judge Jeff Ford sentenced Ermakov to 12 years in prison. The charge against him stems from incidents involving female students at Uni High, where Ermakov was a track coach. University of Illinois Police Lieutenant Roy Acree says the FBI has been tracking the Ermakov the last three years - and that federal authorities told him recently the two sides had been negotiating.

"Once they determined exactly where he was, the conversations started." said Acree. "I'm not sure if the conservations were with the suspect himself or his mother, but a couple weeks ago I was contacted by the FBI, and learned that they had negotiated for him to return to the country." Ermakov lived in Urbana with his parents before allegedly fleeing the US. He's scheduled to appear before Judge Ford at a hearing Thursday morning, and is then expected to start serving his 12-year sentence. But Chicago Attorney Steve Richards has indicated he'll file a post-conviction petition on Ermakov's behalf with hopes of getting him a new trial.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Blagojevich Jury Taking an Extended Weekend

Jurors struggling to reach agreement at the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are taking three days off.

They are leaving the former governor, attorneys and other court watchers with an agonizing wait to find out whether they can break their apparent deadlock. There is no indication how long it might take for them to make a decision. And it's a wait that will be all the more difficult because jurors offered only the slightest of hints Thursday about what they've been doing in 12 days of deliberations.

The judge responded by telling them to deliberate further.

Since they began their deliberations two weeks ago, jurors have met Monday through Friday with weekends off.

A one-sentence statement from the court official didn't explain why they decided to take this Friday off.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2010

Blagojevich Jurors Say They’re Deadlocked on 11 Counts, Haven’t Discussed 11 Others

Jurors in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich say they have reached agreement on just two of 24 counts against him. The judge says he'll tell them to go back and deliberate some more.

Late this morning he jurors said they have not discussed 11 counts of wire fraud. They indicated they have discussed the remaining 11 counts and appear to be deadlocked on them.

The jury had sent a note to Judge James B. Zagel on Wednesday saying they were stuck, and Zagel had asked for clarification. Zagel said he wants the jury to go back and discuss the wire fraud counts.

Blagojevich and his brother have pleaded not guilty to charges including trying to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2010

Champaign Police Community Relations Plan Posted Online for Comment

Champaign city officials are hoping for plenty of feedback on a draft version of their plan to improve police-community relations. The plan was posted on the city's website last week, and city spokeswoman Joan Walls says they'll be taking comments online through this Friday.

Walls says the plan is distilled from the input they received during the community forum they held on the issue last March. About 300 people attended the forum, which was held in the wake of the fatal shooting by a police officer of Kiwane Carrington last year. Walls says this is a chance for the forum participants to provide feedback on the plan developed from their discussions.

"We released this draft plan to the Forum participants as promised", says Walls, "to ask them to take a look at it, to make sure we've not lost any important information. And if there was something that maybe they heard at the Forum that perhaps was not included, to provide us with feedback. And so there's an opportunity for them to do that, through an electronic survey."

The draft plan lists 32 specific actions meant to improve relations between Champaign police and the community, especially youth.

Walls says the feedback from both forum participants and the general public will be incorporated into the draft plan to be discussed by the Champaign City Council at their August 24th study session.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Gov. Quinn Signing Wage Theft Legislation

Workers rights advocates are praising an Illinois bill that promises to speed up the process of how wage theft claims are processed.

Gov. Pat Quinn is set to sign the bill into law Friday. It stiffens penalties for employers who shortchange or don't pay workers.

The law also gives the Illinois Department of Labor have more oversight in dealing with the 10,000-plus wage theft claims it gets annually.

The agency will have a designated division and fund to deal directly with claims of $3,000 or less.

Chris Williams is director of Chicago's Working Hands Legal Clinic. He says the changes speed up the process, particularly for those who need it most.

Experts say wage theft is an increasing problem in the downturned economy, particularly for low wage and immigrant workers.


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