Illinois Public Media News
A Chicago Democrat has won his party's nomination for the Illinois House despite his arrest on a federal bribery charge.
Rep. Derrick Smith was appointed to his seat last spring after his predecessor moved up to the Senate.
Federal prosecutors allege Smith accepted a $7,000 bribe ten days ago in exchange for what he thought was his endorsement of a state grant for a daycare operation. Authorities claim it was part of an undercover sting.
Smith won 77 percent of the vote over Tom Swiss. Swiss is a former Republican activist who says he has independent views.
Smith received more than $60,000 for his campaign from Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan.
Blagojevich Enters Prison
Convicted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich never allowed himself to even think about spending the next decade of his life behind bars. Less than an hour before he began serving his 14-year sentence on corruption charges, he could hardly say that word: "prison."
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
On his last full day of freedom, Rod Blagojevich gave a statement to reporters in front of his home on Chicago's North side.
Blagojevich first thanked people for their support over the last three years. He said the citizens of Illinois elected him twice to be governor of the state. He called that a privilege and an honor.
Blagojevich said he fought hard for the people during his time as governor and listed some key legislation that passed during his term. He faulted himself for possibly fighting too hard and not "having more humility."
The ex-governor paused as supporters chanted, "Free our governor," before turning his statement to address his wife Patti and his two daughters. He called going to prison the hardest thing he'd ever have to do.
"How do you make sense of all of this? What do you tell your children?" he asked.
Blagojevich regretted that he would be away from his daughters for more than a decade.
"It's hard for me to say that I have to go to prison. That's a hard word for me to say," he said.
His wife Patti stood by his side during the entire statement, trying to hold back tears. The ex-governor praised her for standing by his side and being a "great mom."
After his statement, Blagojevich didn't take any questions and the family returned to their home.
The 55-year-old Democrat is due to report to a prison in Colorado on Thursday to begin serving a 14-year sentence. He was convicted of 18 criminal counts during two trials, including charges that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
More than 50 reporters crowded onto the street near the former Illinois governor's home as television helicopters hovered overhead.
Neighbors and supporters hung a banner over the railing of Blagojevich's home that read, "Thanks Mr. Governor. We will pray."
Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters Wednesday the state is a much better place than it was on January 29th, 2009, the day Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.
"We're going to have two governors, two former governors, in jail at the same time. That's something that we never, ever want to have happen," Quinn said. "And I think that it's important that the people of Illinois, who are good and true, always come out first."
Quinn said he wishes Blagojevich's family well.
Blagojevich had announced he'd make the statement starting precisely at 5:02 p.m., which enabled prime time news to lead with his remarks. Attorneys for the ousted Illinois governor say he wants to depart in a dignified way, without a media frenzy. That fueled speculation he'd try to slip out of Chicago undetected, but his spokesman says Blagojevich never entertained that idea.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
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.
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