Illinois Public Media News
A Bloomington woman is under arrest, and accused of bringing contraband to an inmate at the Champaign County Jail.
The Champaign County Sheriff's Department says 24 year old Allyssa C. Solava was arrested by Bloomington Police today (Wednesday) and taken to the McLean County Jail.
Solava has been working at the Champaign County Jail for the past ten months as a mental health counselor, on the payroll of an independent contractor, Correctional Health Care Companies.
Sheriff's investigators allege that Solava brought contraband, including a cell phone, into the jail and gave it to an inmate. The Sheriff's office say it learned of the matter, when a citizen's complaint about late-night telephone calls led to jail guards discovering the phone.
Judge Richard Klaus set bail for Solava at a quarter million dollars. Champaign County Sheriff's investigators say additional charges against other people are possible in the case.
Federal authorities arrested an Illinois state representative from Chicago on one count federal bribery charge Tuesday. Democrat Derrick Smith represents the 10th House District, which includes sections of the city's West and North sides.
The U.S. Attorney's office said it has Smith on tape accepting a $7,000 cash bribe this past weekend. Prosecutors alleged Smith took the bribe in exchange for supporting a $50,000 state grant request from a daycare center.
According to the criminal complaint, it was all set up by a paid FBI informant who did campaign work for Smith. The informant's conversations with the representative were recorded, the complaint said.
A call and e-mail to Smith's office were not returned. He appeared in court Tuesday afternoon, but made no comment about the charges.
Smith has only been a member of the House since last spring, when, with the backing of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, he was appointed to fill a vacancy.
"I am very disappointed with the conduct alleged in the charges," White said in a statement. "I am confident this case will be handled fairly and justly by the judicial system."
Smith's arrest came a week before Democratic voters pick between him and challenger Tom Swiss. Swiss said he thinks the news could actually cause problems for his campaign, by awakening Democratic leaders backing Smith who may have been taking the race for granted.
"This is going to alert everybody to this race and there's still six days left," Swiss said. "There's a lot bigger people out there with deeper pockets and larger armies that can come in and really do an awful lot of work."
Swiss is a former local Republican official who Democrats claim has run a racially-insensitive campaign in this West and North Side district.
(With additional reporting by Pam G. Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
A court date has been set for next week for a landlord who was arrested last month on contempt of court warrants issued after he and his son failed to appear at hearings in connection with substandard housing they managed south of Rantoul.
Eduardo Ramos faces a court date of March 23rd. He was arrested Feb. 25 on two contempt-of-court warrants at the Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
Ramos was arrested just after he had arrived from an international flight and held by custom officials, who in turn contacted the airport authority police who took him to Loudoun County, Virginia until he could be extradited to Illinois, according to airport and Loudoun County, Virginia officials.
On Friday, Eduardo Ramos made his first appearance in Champaign County court since his arrest.
A judge issued two arrest warrants - a civil contempt of court and a criminal contempt of court - for both Eduardo Ramos and his son Bernardo Ramos early last year after they failed to appear at a hearing on property they own south of Rantoul. Neither one had been apprehended until now. Bernardo Ramos is still being sought.
The Ramoses were ordered last April to close down Cherry Orchard Village apartment complex and fined more than $54,000 for failing to legally connect and repair sewage systems for six of the eight buildings on the property in a civil case file by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. Cherry Orchard Village apartments has been used as a migrant worker camp.
Eduardo Ramos and Bernardo Ramos have repeatedly declined comment on stories about their cases and their properties.
The arrest warrants were issued last May after the two repeatedly failed to attend court hearings on the matter, which began in 2007.
The arrest warrants were amended since they were first issued last May. Initially, the Ramoses had to post the full cash amount of each warrant, or a total of $20,000 each.
Then, when they failed to appear for another hearing, the judge said they were to be jailed until the sewage problem was repaired or the property was vacant.
Eduardo Ramos was released on his own recognizance and did not have to pay any bond, according to the Champaign County Sheriff's Office.
On Friday, a Champaign County judge dismissed the criminal complaint petition against Eduardo Ramos, according to Joel Fletcher, assistant state's attorney.
Fletcher said that the fines are under appeal and cannot be collected until the appellate court reviews.
Eduardo Ramos' attorney, Philip Summers was out of town last week and he was represented by Don Parkinson in court on Friday. Neither attorney returned a phone call seeking comment Tuesday morning.
Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said the property remains vacant and cannot be used until the sewer system is legally repaired.
"Our main concern is that Cherry Orchard remain closed if they had not fixed the septic system, which they have not," Pryde said. "You know, barring that not getting fixed, we're not interested in seeing that re-opened because the situation in anyway has not been addressed."
Champaign County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said he thinks the apartments should be torn down.
"It would be wonderful if someone would step in, buy the property, and fix it up over the court of a year," Hall said. "But the existing economic conditions, that's just not realistic. It's not going to happen. I don't believe it would ever happen to the extent that it should be."
Hall said he hasn't approached the Champaign County Board about demolishing the property.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's prison plan goes beyond closing eight facilities. Drug-abuse treatment and job training would be cut by more than $12 million.
Critics say the cuts would make a crowded system more crowded. John Maki of the prison watchdog John Howard Association tells The (Bloomington) Pantagraph (http://bit.ly/wWi5KF ) that eliminating those services would mean more ex-convicts back in prison because they're not prepared for the streets.
Quinn's proposal for the budget year that begins in July would close two maximum-security prisons and six halfway houses along with drug and jobs programs the Corrections Department has yet to specify.
Sheridan and Southwestern Illinois correctional centers specialize in drug treatment. Their services would be affected but spokeswoman Stacey Solano says the agency is looking for other prisons to specialize too.
Police say thieves in India used the signature of a local official in central Illinois to forge a check and steal $45,000.
It was as easy as going online, where an image of the DeWitt County treasurer's signature was available.
The (Bloomington) Pantagraph (http://tinyurl.com/7xkd4hl ) reported Saturday that the fake check was submitted electronically to a bank in New York in November. The funds were reimbursed when the fraud was uncovered.
DeWitt County Sheriff Jered Shofner says the thieves struck again late last month. They attempted to steal more than $35,000 from the village of Wapella. This time, the thieves tried to transfer funds to an account in Japan.
Investigators concluded the thieves were using a check for a tax distribution from the county that was posted on the village website.
Illinois already bans texting while driving. And it's illegal to use a cell phone when driving in construction and school zones.
Even more restrictions could be down the road. The Illinois House approved a measure Thursday that would ban drivers from using their cell phones without a hands-free device.
The proposal only applies to holding a phone up to your ear, using a headset or speakerphone would still be permitted. Representative John D'Amico, a Chicago Democrat, sponsored the legislation.
Chicago is one of many cities in Illinois that already have a similar ban in place. D'Amico says that creates a patchwork of regulations that's confusing to motorists. He says he realizes people don't always drive with both hands on the steering wheel, but having another hand free could help a driver avoid an accident.
"I want to make sure that that second hand is available to be on the wheel, right now if you got that hand on the phone to your ear and one hand on the wheel, you can't react quick enough," D'Amico said.
The measure passed 62 to 53. Critics say singing in the car, applying makeup or drinking hot coffee are just as distracting as talking on the phone. They say it's overregulation and would create an easy opening for racial profiling.
First-time offenders would be charged 75 dollars and get a moving violation, a citation akin to a speeding ticket.
It's been exactly one year since Illinois got rid of the death penalty. But there are still questions about the fairness of the state's criminal justice system.
When Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law abolishing the death penalty, he said capital cases were too prone to error.
"We have tried over and over again to come up with a perfect system that makes no mistakes with respect to carrying out the death penalty," Quinn said. "We have found over and over again mistakes have been made."
People who worked for years to eliminate capital punishment are happy it's gone. But they say the system is still far from perfect. With death off the table, the state stopped paying for indigent defendants to have extra attorneys and expert witnesses at trial.
"The odds of someone being wrongfully convicted certainly have gone up, because not as much money is being put into the cases," said John Hanlon, the legal director of the Downstate Innocence Project. "Some might argue that a natural life sentence is just about as bad as a death sentence, because you spend the rest of your life in prison."
Hanlon used to represent defendants in capital cases. He said in better economic times, he hopes the legislature would consider spending to even the playing field for defendants facing life.
Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst ) has filed several bills to reinstate the death penalty. Reboletti, who is a former prosecutor. said some crimes are so heinous, they deserve the ultimate punishment.
"We had people on death row that murdered multiple victims," Reboletti said. "Murdered children. Home invaded and then murdered people. Raped them, murdered. And the sentence that's most appropriate -- is death."
Last year Reboletti tried to put the death penalty to a statewide referendum. That and a measure to reinstate it were approved in committee and made it onto the House floor, but they were never called for a vote.
This year he has not had as much success: Reboletti's bill to reinstate the death penalty hasn't even been assigned to a committee.
An Illinois appeals court has ordered a new trial for a man convicted in the 1980 rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl based on new DNA evidence.
The Fourth District Appellate Court reversed a trial court judgment that denied a new trial for 50-year-old Andre Davis.
Davis is serving an 80-year prison sentence after being convicted twice in the death of Brianna Stickle in Rantoul.
At Davis' request, DNA testing was conducted within the last few years that wasn't available at the time of the crime.
The court noted in its opinion this week that none of the evidence was a DNA match for Davis.
Davis is represented by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University's law school.
A Chicago man was charged Tuesday of computer hacking in collaboration with five other people aligned with the activist group Anonymous.
Federal prosecutors accuse Jeremy Hammond of stealing the credit card information of nearly 60,000 clients of Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Startfor), a global intelligence firm. Prosecutors say Hammond went by the name "anarchaos," among other online aliases.
A federal complaint alleges Hammond posted that information on a file sharing website resulting in at least $700,000 worth of unauthorized charges. The complaint also said Hammond helped obtain emails from Stratfor employees and put them on certain Internet websites.
The whistleblower website, Wikileaks started publishing emails from Stratfor in February. The website says it has nearly 5 million emails obtained from that company. It's not completely clear whether those emails are the ones prosecutors allege Hammond obtained by hacking into Stratfor's servers.
Hammond appeared in federal court in Chicago on Tuesday after being arrested the night before. He will be transferred to New York to stand trial.
Attorney Jim Fennerty represented Hammond in his initial Chicago court appearance. Fennerty also represented Hammond about two years ago when he was arrested for protesting at a Neo-Nazi gathering. He also confirmed Hammond had been detained for his opposition to Chicago's bid to host the Olympic Games, though Fennerty didn't represent Hammond in that case. Fennerty said he knows Hammond through his activism in Chicago.
"I like the guy. Maybe he does things I wouldn't do," Fennerty said.
Hammond is charged with three federal counts and faces a possible maximum sentence of 10 years for each of those counts.
"He does take them [the charges] very seriously. As you saw him today he looks kinda like - somebody said he looked kinda shell-shocked," Fennerty told reporters Tuesday.
Another four hackers were charged with similar counts in an indictment unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. A fifth hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, pleaded guilty last August. Monsegur is described in court papers as the ring-leader of the Anonymous sub-group LulzSec. Federal agents said Monsegur cooperated with the FBI in their investigation.
After weeks of delay, the Champaign County Board has agreed to seek out a needs assessment study for jail facilities.
The plan to bring in a consulting firm has been discussed for weeks. In Tuesday night's 5-hour committee of the whole meeting, the board agreed to an amended schedule for a criminal justice consulting firm to look at jail capacity needs. That firm will decide costs for either remodeling the jail in downtown Urbana, or expanding the satellite facility. The board is expected to award a contract by late July.
A number of amendments to the request for proposals were shot down. A couple came from Democrat Carol Ammons, who says she's still pleased overall.
"This process has long and tedious for the important reasons, right?" she said. "This is a huge undertaking, and I think we need a complete vetting of what we're going to actually do. And this is the beginning of that process."
Ammons did successfully seek out one motion, asking that a person of color from a minority-influenced county board district serve on a planning team that will also include sheriff Dan Walsh, State's Attorney Julia Reitz, and two other board members.
That suggestion didn't sit well with Reitz, who upset those who remained in the audience.
"Those of us who have volunteered to serve on this committee, to be part of this process, have the best interest of the county, and the system as a whole at heart," she said. "I'm absoutely willing to hear from anybody who has an interest, who wants to say something. But I do not think there needs to be a token person of color on the committee."
County Board Democrat and Facilties Committee Chair Tom Betz threatened to empty the room after members of the public snapped back at Reitz. The suggestion passed on a party line vote of 12 to 11, with all the 'yes' votes coming from Democrats. Ammons will ask the board to appoint her to that panel.
She and other members of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice have been critical of local authorities, saying there's a racial disparity of those incarcerated in Champaign County.
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