Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 15, 2011

Crowd at UI Offers Support, Prayers for Shooting Victims

Friends of those affected by the weekend shootings near the University of Illinois campus are sending their thoughts and prayers to the victims.

Members of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity were among the nearly 300 people attending a candlelight vigil on the Urbana Quad Monday night. Many spoke about U of I graduate Brian Reed, who friends say was critically injured early Sunday. Two others were hurt, including U of I football player Trulon Henry - but no arrests have been made. Henry is recovering after being shot in the hand.

U of I graduate Steven Martin identified himself as the third victim in Sunday's incident. Martin was treated and released Sunday after being shot in the leg. He told the crowd at the Quad that the events of early Sunday are surreal to him.

"Just keep in mind - ain't nothing worth that level of violence," he said. "You keep your head up, we're going to keep our head up, and keep moving. Just realize, we're here for one thing - that's for a better tomorrow."

2009 U of I alumnus Robbie Moore says word spread quickly of Sunday's incident, and many came from out of town to offer support.

"Twenty-five to 30 (fraternity) brothers are here - not even just from this chapter," he said. "Word spread around. We put it on Twitter. We let everybody know where to come, and we all came. And these people are coming from Illinois State (University), Chicago State, Southern (SIU), Northern (NIU), everywhere."

Moore says Reed is from the Chicago area, but was back in Champaign with hopes of attending law school. He told the crowd the events of early Sunday morning should prompt anyone to have a new perspective on life. Martin says the vigil said a lot about the quality of people on campus.

Prior to the vigil, the U of I's African-American Cultural Center hosted a support forum. Urbana Police are still seeking the man who fired into a crowd of about 100 people at a house on South Lincoln Avenue around 3:30 Sunday morning.

Anyone with information should call the Urbana Police Department at 217-384-2320. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Champaign County Crime Stoppers at 373-8477 (TIPS). President Hogan says counselors are on hand to assist students, faculty, and staff. Anyone needing immediate assistance can call the Emergency Dean at 217-333-0050.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 13, 2011

Three Injured in Urbana Shooting Include U of I Football Player

(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)

Urbana police are investigating a shooting early Sunday morning near the University of Illinois campus. Police say three people were injured, including a linebacker with the U of I football team.

The incident happened at 1004 South Lincoln Ave in Urbana at around 3:25am. The three victims include 27-year old Trulon Henry of Savoy, a two-year starter with Illinois. Illinois Coach Ron Zook says Henry was with teammates at the party when he was shot in the hand, and now will miss the rest of the regular season.

The other victims are a 23-year old Park Forest man, and a 22-year old Palos Park man. They were all transported to Carle Hospital for medical treatment, and one has been treated and released. The other two men were receiving treatment, as of Sunday afternoon, and their current condition is unknown. Police say the gunman is still being sought. Zook says a handful of Illinois players, largely underclassmen, were at the party but were not injured.

At this time, Urbana Police have determined that the shooting was an isolated incident that occurred during a house party. An altercation developed between attendees, and the suspect fired several shots into the crowd gathered on a patio, which was estimated at more than 100 people. Zook says Henry wasn't originally at the party, but was called by a teammate to help encourage players to leave after the gathering turned chaotic.

Through preliminary investigations, Urbana Lt. Bryant Seraphin tells the News-Gazette that the shooter is believed to be a black male in his 20s with dreadlocks. He was also wearing a dark colored coat and was last seen in or around a silver Dodge Charger. Upon arrival, officers learned that the suspect had fired several rounds from a handgun. The offender had fled before police arrived at the scene.

U of I President Michael Hogan released a statement late Sunday afternoon, stating that according to U of I police, there was never a threat to students elsewhere on campus, but as soon as the police were able to confer with Urbana officers and confirm the appropriate information to be released, they sent out an Illini-Alert to campus (it was sent at 4:42 a.m.)

Anyone with information should call the Urbana Police Department at 217-384-2320. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Champaign County Crime Stoppers at 373-8477 (TIPS). President Hogan says counselors are on hand to assist students, faculty, and staff. Anyone needing immediate assistance can call the Emergency Dean at 217-333-0050.

Henry is a native of Washington, D.C., and was a starting outside linebacker this season after starting all 13 games as a safety with Illinois in 2010. He's ninth on the team with 39 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions.

((This report was updated and revised Sunday, following its original release earlier in the day)).


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Cellini Attorneys to Seek Mistrial

Defense attorneys for a millionaire convicted of trying to shake down a Hollywood producer say they will file a mistrial motion next week based on new allegations that one juror didn't disclose two felony convictions.

William Cellini's attorney, Dan Webb, told The Associated Press on Friday that he'll ask a federal judge on Monday to toss both convictions and try his client again.

Citing court records, the Chicago Tribune reports a woman with the same name, age and address as the juror pleaded guilty to crack-cocaine possession in 2000 and aggravated driving under the influence without a driver's license in 2008. But the newspaper says she didn't disclose those facts during jury selection.

Webb says the felony convictions made the woman legally unqualified to serve on the jury.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 09, 2011

Grant-Funded UI Officers Will Focus on Preventative Measures

A federal grant will enable the University of Illinois' Police Department to do more outreach tied to a number of the more serious crimes committed on the Urbana campus.

More than $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice will provide for the hiring of two full-time crime prevention specialists and one full-time crime analyst. The focus of the grant is using community policing to address issues surrounding sexual assault, battery, robbery, and alcohol abuse.

Because these new officers won't be on patrol, U of I Sergeant Joan Fiesta says the specialists can communicate more with parent and student groups.

"Because of the energy from crime alerts and some of the concerns that parents have on campus, we want to be able to tap into that and use them as a resource," said Fiesta. "So we will have two people to help organize that, and make sure that those things don't fall through the cracks."

Meanwhile, the analyst will look at crime data. Fiesta says all the specialists will require about special training, but she expects the three to be working by July after the hires take place sometime in December.

The grant comes through the COPS hiring program, or Community Oriented Policing Services.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 09, 2011

Feds Dig Into Blagojevich Pensions

Federal prosecutors are digging for data about convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's potential pension income, even though Illinois officials plan to block the disgraced Democrat from getting any state retirement pay.

The Associated Press obtained copies of subpoenas U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office sent last month to two state pension systems. Fitzgerald's spokesman declined to comment.

Blagojevich is prohibited from collecting his $65,000-a-year pension. But he could get back about $130,000 he paid in. And he's set to collect $13,000 annually for six years in Congress.

Blagojevich will be sentenced Dec. 6 on corruption convictions including trying to sell President Barack Obama's old Senate seat. Former federal prosecutor Julian Solotorovsky says prosecutors want to know Blagojevich's net worth to decide whether to request a fine in addition to prison.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 04, 2011

Feds: Rezko’s Cooperation Not a Big Help

Prosecutors say a central figure in the administration of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich never provided particularly useful information about his former benefactor to investigators.

The government makes the claim in a new filing that recommends a prison sentence of between 11 and 15 years for Tony Rezko.

Prosecutors note Rezko only agreed to cooperate after his 2008 conviction on fraud and other charges.

They contrast that with the help provided by Rezko's co-conspirator, Stuart Levine (leh-VYN'). Levine pleaded guilty in 2006 and testified at Rezko's trial and at millionaire William Cellini's recent trial.

The filing says Levine's cooperation was "dramatically more valuable'' than Rezko's.

Rezko offered to testify at Blagojevich's and Cellini's trial. But prosecutors say Rezko's persistent lies after his indictment would have opened him up to damaging cross-examination.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 04, 2011

Suspect in Campustown Robbery Surrenders to Police

A suspect in last month's robbery of a customer outside a Campustown coffee shop has turned himself in.

Dennis Boston, 19, surrendered at the Champaign County Jail, early Thursday morning.

Boston was wanted for armed robbery with a firearm, in connection with the Oct. 10 robbery at the Expresso Royale coffee shop on East Daniel Street near the U of I campus. A surveillance video recorded one man taking an iPad from a customer seated outside the coffee shop and running away. He was followed by a 2nd man who displayed a handgun to the victim.

Champaign and U of I Police are continuing to look for the 2nd suspect in the robbery, who is identifed as a 23-24 year-old black male. He was last seen wearing a blue Milwaukee Brewers baseball cap, a long-sleeved black shirt, khaki colored shirt, and black tennis shoes

Anyone with information is asked to call either police department, or leave an anonymous tip with Champaign County Crimestoppers.

Police are asking for the community's assistance in providing information, especially regarding the identity and/or location of the second suspect. Information can reported to the Champaign Police Department by calling (217) 351-4545 or the University of Illinois Police Department by calling (217) 333-1216. Callers can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 373-8477 (TIPS).

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 03, 2011

Judge: Daley Can be Included in Torture Suit

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley is one step closer to being deposed in connection with alleged torture by Chicago police.

On Wednesday, a Federal judge ruled for the second time that Daley can be sued over alleged police torture.

The former mayor was the Cook County state's attorney back in the 1980s. That's when Michael Tillman was arrested for murder. Tillman said police under former commander Jon Burge tortured him into confessing. He said they put a gun to his head, poured soda in his nose and choked him with a plastic bag.

Last year, Tillman was exonerated after two decades in jail, and then sued several people he says were connected to the torture, ranging from individual officers to Daley.

In July, Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that Daley can be included in Tillman's lawsuit in his capacity as mayor.

Daley's lawyers appealed, but Wednesday the judge shot them down again. Tillman's lawyers reportedly hope to question the former mayor as soon as next month.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

Champaign City Council Hears from Police Supporters, Critics

It has been a little more than a week since the arrest of 18-year-old Calvin Miller.

Members of the community allege Miller was beaten up by Champaign police. The incident has sparked a debate over police-community relations.

On Tuesday night, supporters and critics of the police department spoke before the Champaign City Council. Nearly 50 people addressed the council within a three and a half hour period. In fact, the council's chambers were so packed that some people had to wait outside until there was enough room.

Jonathon Westfield is a school resource officer with the Champaign Police Department. Westfield, who is African American, said he was taken aback by accusations about animosity between the police department and the black community.

"Crime is universal," he said. "It does not know any age, any sex, any color, any creed. I take great pride in working for the city of Champaign, being a police officer, and I trust in your judgment as elected officials of this community, we cannot address this issue so long as we separate the police from the community."

But other people who spoke, like University of Illinois history professor Sundiata Cha-Jua, had critical things to say about the police department.

"We need a type of policing where the police are on bikes or on foot where they interact with residents, where they build relationships," Cha-Jua said. "Not where they do this 'problem solving' or 'problem centered' type of policing where they roll down on black youth and mass. We need a humane form of policing."

Byron Clark, another critic of the police department, said he would like to see more transparency in the Champaign Police Department.

"The problem is that there is no accountability within the police department," Clark said. "They don't have the ability to police themselves."

A video released this week from multiple police car dash board cameras shows Calvin Miller trying to avoid police, who were after him for driving through a red light and swerving into traffic. Miller then jumps out of his van, and tries to run away.

Calvin Miller's father, Martel, stated at the meeting that his son ran from police because he was scared.

"I don't tell no kids to run from the police," Miller said. "My son was so scared he drove by his house."

After Miller ran, officers chased after him. The police department has maintained that Miller was struck with an police officer's hand and pepper sprayed after trying to reach for an officer's duty belt. However, other people claim the teen was struck repeatedly and hit with a baton. That part wasn't documented on video.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said people need to have a better understanding of how to respond when they are confronted by a police officer. He said that is a large part of improving police-community relations.

"You know, there are a lot of people with a lot of strong feelings on this," Finney said. "You know, community relations are an ongoing issue, and we continue and the city continues to build upon that."

The Champaign City Council is exploring the prospect of creating a citizen police review board, which would oversee complaints directed at the police department. Council member Karen Foster said she is open to that idea, but she said she'd rather first explore other solutions to resolve communication issues that exist between the police department and the rest of the community.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 01, 2011

Jury Convicts Powerbroker William Cellini

A federal jury found William Cellini guilty Tuesday of joining a conspiracy to trade state contracts for campaign contributions for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The conviction is the latest in the long-running investigation into the Blagojevich administration, and it's likely one of the last trials in "Operation Board Games," marking the end of an era of political scandal in Illinois.

The jury found Cellini guilty of two of four counts, including:

Count 2 - Conspiracy to Extort - Cellini knowingly joined a conspiracy - He knew what Rezko and Kelly were about and he didn't walk away and he knew they were trading state contracts for campaign contributions to Blagojevich.

Count 4 - Aiding and Abetting Bribery - Cellini knowingly aided and abetted an agent of a state agency (Levine in his role as a TRS trustee) in corruptly soliciting something of value in connection to official state action.

However, the jury found Cellini not guilty of two other counts, including:

Count 1 - Conspiracy to defraud - Defendant knowingly joined a conspiracy to use Levine's role as a public official to defraud the people of Illinois, specifically the teachers who entrusted Levine to act with their best interests at heart.

Count 3 - Attempted Extortion - Cellini knowingly attempted, with Levine, to get money from Rosenberg. They threatened to hold back Rosenberg's $220 million allocation believing that that would force Rosenberg to pay the bribe. This count also requires that the extortion could have potentially affected interstate commerce which it would have as the $220 million would have been invested in companies nationwide.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the conviction sends a message to people trying to make backroom deals in Illinois.

"I think people ought to understand that as a result of 'Operation Board Games' we can not only convict the governor, but convict Ed Vrdolyac and convict Bill Cellini. It sends a message that federal law enforcement will work together as partners and investigate vigorously and will bring charges as appropriate," Fitzgerald said.

Cellini's attorney Dan Webb said the jurors threw out what he called the most serious charges against his client.

"The conspiracy to commit extortion which could very well be one act on his part, but whatever it was, it didn't even rise to the level of being attempted extortion. And I'm grateful for that result from the jury," Webb said.

Webb plans to file an appeal.

The investigation into the Blagojevich administration began because Stuart Levine was using his power as a trustee on the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board to try and squeeze bribes out of hospital administrators who had matters before the board. When Levine's activity was reported, the FBI put a wiretap on his phones and Cellini had the misfortune of being in contact with Levine at that time.

Cellini was charged in connection to Levine's work on another board, the Teacher's Retirement System, the board that pays out teacher pensions and collects and invests the money. Cellini had won a contract to invest $220 million dollars for the fund, and prosecutors say, in an attempt to keep the contracts coming, he sought to curry favor with the new administration which meant doing business with Stuart Levine, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.

From the tapes, it seems clear that Cellini knew what Rezko and Kelly were about. In a May 8, 2004 phone call Cellini tells Levine about a contractor he knows who does work for the state.

CELLINI: He's talkin' about these guys Tony and Chris because they are out uh, according to him...essentially hammerin' people for contracts uh, with with contracts for fundraising.

LEVINE: Mm hm.

CELLINI: And, and I gotta tell you I'm a nervous wreck over it myself.

LEVINE: You think they are?

CELLINI: Oh, oh...

LEVINE: Oh you know they are?

CELLINI: I know they are.

In that same call, Levine lays it out pretty clearly for Cellini that they're trading contracts for contributions. Levine and Cellini are discussing Tom Rosenberg who is refusing to give a contribution even though he's got $220 million hanging in the balance. Levine has put a hold on that business hoping to get a bribe but Rosenberg threatened to go to federal authorities.

"The way I think that this should be handled is that they shouldn't take a political contribution from him and he shouldn't get an allocation," Levine said on the FBI recording.

Cellini counsels Levine to take a middle road. He says TRS should give Rosenberg a small allocation, something like $25 million because he won't be able to publicly complain about that. On the tape Cellini laughs, and in her closing argument, Assistant United States Attorney Julie Porter told jurors that that was the sound of corruption.

Cellini does seem worried about the way Rezko and Kelly do business but prosecutors say he had a choice. He could have walked away but he didn't want to lose his clout.

"It may be that there is nobody checking yet," Cellini is heard saying on FBI recordings. "That there is nobody investigating what they're doing yet, but there's so much going on that there's no question that it will happen because too many people are talking about how you get things done."

Cellini tells Levine that he recently had to counsel Chris Kelly who was distraught about a newspaper article. Cellini says he told Kelly that the scrutiny would only increase.

"If somebody comes in with badges and flashes them at you and in the course of the conversation says do you know Bill Cellini, just know before they ask that question that they have already checked all your phone logs and they know that we have talked on the phone, that we have called each other 4,700 times so you can't say, oh, I've heard of him, or I barely know him because they know that we've called, talked back and forth," Cellini said.

Cellini is the last Blagojevich co-defendant to stand trial. Blagojevich staffers John Harris and Lon Monk both pleaded guilty and testified against the former governor. Chris Kelly committed suicide. Robert Blagojevich was tried but prosecutors dropped the charges after the jury was split on his guilt. No sentencing date has been set for the former governor.

Tony Rezko, the brains behind corruption in the Blagojevich administration, is scheduled to be sentenced November 22.


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