Illinois Public Media News
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.
There were 289 arrests made and citations issued during Friday's Unofficial St. Patrick's Day celebration in Champaign-Urbana's Campustown.
Preliminary figures issued shortly before 3 A.M. Saturday morning could be revised later. But currently, they show the lowest number of citations and arrests for the unsanctioned celebration in three years, compared to 364 last year, 351 in 2010 and 269 in 2009. Authorities think Friday's rain helped put a damper on the outdoor celebrating.
107 of those cited were students at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. But several other college campuses were represented, including Illinois State University, Eastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University campuses at Carbondale and Edwardsville, the U of I's Springfield and Chicago campuses, DePaul University, the University of Notre Dame, Purdue University, the universities of Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa, Bradley University and several community colleges. The overwhelming majority of those cited were under 21; the oldest was 30.
At least 3 of the citations resulted in arrests on state charges, with the subjects taken to the Champaign County Sheriff's Office.
Most citations were for underage drinking or public possession of alcohol. But in addition to those charges, two people were charged with fighting. And four people at an apartment on Green Street were cited for throwing dangerous objects.
University of Illinois spokesperson Jennifer Payan says preliminary figures show that 12 people required medical attention, with eight of them transported to the hospital.
Payan also said the Illinois State Liquor Commission reported citations against two Campustown bars. The Red Lion (211 East Green, Champaign) was cited for 30 violations of Happy Hour laws, while Kam's (618 E Daniel, Champaign) was cited for 14 Happy Hour violations.
In announcing plans for dealing with Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, local authorities said they would be focusing on nuisance behavior and underage drinking at private parties. Champaign Police Lieutenant Brad Yohnka said the policy of raising the entry age to 21 during Unofficial had made bars less of a concern.
Unofficial St. Patrick's Day was originally launched as a Campustown bar promotion in the 1990s, in response to times when the actual St. Patrick's Day occurred during the University of Illinois' spring break. But the event has taken on a life of its own in recent years, attracting many of out-of-town visitors.
A Champaign man faces an obstruction of justice charge following the death of a LeRoy woman in north Champaign early Wednesday morning.
The Champaign County Coroner's office identified her as 23-year old Hannah Prospal, who was pronounced dead at 7 a.m.
Her body was discovered in a trailer in the parking lot of Carpet Master Carpet One on West Bloomington Road.
A man who reported being with Prospal when she became unresponsive, 34-year old Steven Killam, was questioned and later arrested.
Police say the trailer is Killiam's home. Champaign detectives say he had removed evidence from the scene which may have helped identify how Prospal died. Results of an autopsy are pending.
A Chicago man has been ordered to spend a year and four months in federal prison for threatening to bomb Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus and kill 4,000 students and staff.
Twenty-three-year-old Maurice Wiggins was sentenced Monday in East St. Louis on a felony charge of making a bomb threat. He pleaded guilty in November.
Authorities contend Wiggins was upset about the break-up with his SIU-student girlfriend last August when he made the threat via a message from his cell phone to the 20,000-student university's crime-watch website.
Wiggins allegedly said he planned to bomb three dormitories and a student center.
Authorities say Wiggins also left a message with campus police, threatening to rape and kill 30 female students.
Champaign Police say two robberies that occurred on West Bloomington Road last week share a lot of similarities.
The first one occurred Friday, Feb. 24, at the Security Finance office at 823 West Bloomington Rd. Police say a man entered, demanded money from a female employee, and then knocked her down and took her to the rear of the business. He fled with a undisclosed amount of cash.
Then on Saturday, Feb. 25, police say a man entered the America's Financial Choice office next door at 821 W. Bloomington Rd., and attacked a female employee, taking her to the rear of the business. In this case, the victim said she was stunned or Tasered by the man. Again, police say the man left with an undisclosed amount of money. A security camera captured images of the suspect --- one of which is shown above.
Champaign Police that in both robberies, the victims gave similar descriptions of their attackers --- but with specific differences.
The attacker in the Security Finance first robbery is described as a black male, between 40-50 years old, weighing 180 pounds, approximately 5'5" tall and waring a black Carhart-like hooded coat, dark pants and dark-colored shoes. Police say the suspect also had a thin mustache and wore gloves during the robbery.
In the America's Financial Choice robbery, the suspect is described as a black male, with a height of 5'11", weighing approximately 200 pounds, and in his 40's. He was wearing a red "hoodie", black sunglasses and lighter colored blue jeans.
Champaign Police is asking anyone with information on these robberies to contact the department at 217-351-4545, or contact Champaign Crime Stoppers anonymously at 217-373-8477 or by texting keyword "CCTIP" plus the information to 274637 (CRIMES).
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