Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2011

Committee Continuing Investigation of Jackson Jr.

The U.S. House ethics committee announced on Friday that it will continue its investigation of Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. The panel also released hundreds of pages of documents from the inquiry.

The ethics committee stressed in a statement that just because it's keeping the investigation open "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred."

The inquiry centers on whether Jackson was involved in pay-to-play offers, or used taxpayer resources, when the Chicago Democrat tried to win a U.S. Senate appointment from then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

According to testimony at Blagojevich's two corruption trials, supporters of Jackson offered the governor millions in campaign contributions if he appointed Jackson to the Senate.

The committee on Friday released more than 300 pages, including notes from interviews with the congressman, his staff and his brother. At the bottom of the stack was a copy of talking points prepared by Jackson's staff, apparently intended to help comedian Bill Cosby call Blagojevich to urge Jackson's appointment. The documents do not mention whether Cosby ever made the call.

The documents also include a brief written by Jackson's lawyers that said he "acted honorably at all times" and was never aware of any pay-to-play offers. The lawyers argued that any government resources used in his non-"traditional" campaign for the Senate appointment were "permissible" under exceptions in the House rules.

In a statement, Jackson said, "For the first time in three years my side of the story will be made public and for that I am grateful."

Jackson faces a primary election challenge in March from former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who's criticized him for "ethical distractions."

The ethics committee's investigation had long been stalled at the request of the U.S. Justice Department. The inquiry resumed after Blagojevich's conviction this summer, including on charges that he attempted to profit from his power to appoint a U.S. senator.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

Lawyers for Blagojevich Push for Lighter Sentence

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is relying on arguments he made at trial to convince the judge to give him a short prison sentence.

Prosecutors are asking for 15 to 20 years.

Using the federal sentencing guidelines, Blagojevich's lawyers calculate that he should do about three and a half years but they're asking for a downward departure from that starting point. However, under the same federal guidelines prosecutors have calculated the starting point at 30 years though they are asking for less.

Lawyers will haggle over those calculations at the governor's sentencing hearing next Tuesday, and Blagojevich's lawyers will be using arguments they tried to sell to jurors. They say Blagojevich wasn't trying to get bribes, but he was just fundraising. They insist he had no intention of doing anything illegal.

Blagojevich's attorneys also say the governor did not have a leadership role in the criminal activity.

"Mr. Blagojevich sought and took advice from people he trusted," Blagojevich's attorneys stated. "Mr. Blagojevich followed rather than led.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 30, 2011

Ill. State Police Settle Wrongful Conviction Suit

Ill. State Police Settle Wrongful Conviction Suit

The Illinois State Police agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a former death row inmate who spent almost two decades in prison for the 1986 murders of a newlywed couple before a judge released him because of flawed evidence.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 30, 2011

Prosecutors Want Blagojevich to Spend Two Decades in Prison

Attorney's for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich say he's a "tragic figure" who should receive a light sentence for his corruption convictions. But prosectuors want a federal judge to give Blagojevich 15 to 20 years in prison when he's sentenced next week.

Both sides outlined their arguments in court filings Wednesday. Blagojevich is set to be sentenced Dec. 6.

Prosecutors say a heavy sentence is required because former Gov. George Ryan's 6 1/2- year sentence clearly wasn't long enough to deter Blagojevich and others from engaging in public corruption. They also point out that Blagojevich won office on a pledge to clean up corruption.

Blagojevich's lawyers say his sentence should fall under the federal guidlines of 41 to 51 months in prison.

Prosecutors say Blagojevich engaged in criminal activity even after he had been interviewed by the FBI, when he knew he was under investigation, and when many of his closest advisors had already been indicted and convicted. They say Blagojevich has a law degree and knew he was committing crimes and yet, to this day, he insists he did nothing wrong.

Prosecutors also argue that Blagojevich should get a heavier sentence than Tony Rezko.

Rezko is the former Blagojevich fundraiser who was given a 10 1/2-year sentence just last week for his role in the corrupt administration. Prosecutors say, as governor, Blagojevich bears more responsibility in the conspiracy than Rezko, who was a private citizen.

And unlike Blagojevich, Rezko provided valuable cooperation after he was convicted. Prosecutors also point out that Blagojevich spent seven days on the stand telling stories that the jury ultimately found to be lies.

Furthermore, Rezko had no part in Blagojevich's attempts to sell Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat because he was already in prison by that time in 2008.

Prosecutors say Blagojevich still hasn't accepted responsibility for his actions.

But in their Wednesday court filing, the ex-governor's lawyers paint him as a "tragic figure" who has undergone a precipitous fall from being Illinois' executive, to an "impeached, unemployed criminal defendant, abaondoned by all of his advisors and friends; a figure drawing public ridicule and scorn."

His lawyers conclude by saying "despite a strong and seemingly defiant exterior, no one is more acutely aware of the tragedy that has become his life's work and aspirations as is Mr. Blagojevich himself.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

DNA Test Shows Construction Worker Was Gacy Victim

After her older brother disappeared in 1976, Laura O'Leary suspected that the 19-year-old construction worker had probably died at the hands of John Wayne Gacy. But the family was never able to prove it.

They got little help from authorities. And they couldn't locate any dental records to compare with the skeletal remains found beneath the serial killer's house.

So O'Leary waited, clinging for more than 30 years to a few items that once belonged to William George Bundy - a bracelet she'd given him for his 18th birthday, a high school photo ID and an autographed school book.

O'Leary's worst suspicions were confirmed Tuesday, when authorities announced that Bundy was one of the eight unidentified young men found under Gacy's home.

"Today's terribly sad, but it is also a day that provides closure," O'Leary said. "We have been waiting for a long time for closure."

The identification of Bundy came weeks after the sheriff's office issued a public plea for families of young men who disappeared in the 1970s to submit DNA samples for comparison with the victims' remains.

Investigators exhumed the remains earlier this year, hoping that the passage of time and advancement of technology would work in their favor. They established a hotline and a website for people to file reports.

O'Leary, who was 15 when her brother vanished, said she immediately went to the site after hearing the news. She and her brother, Robert, provided DNA samples. The sheriff's office also received a call from a friend of Bundy's who said he believed his friend may have worked for Gacy.

"For so many years, we've had unanswered questions," O'Leary said. "There were no leads. Time went by."

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the office received calls from 29 states and developed a total of 125 leads, 80 of which required follow up.

Eleven DNA samples were submitted in connection with some of the seven other victims. Four samples did not match, and investigators are waiting on the others, working with a lab at the University of North Texas.

"People are really desperate to find their missing loved ones, and there are not a lot of outlets," Detective Jason Moran said.

He said investigators were learning more about Gacy, his victims and gaps in police work in the 1970s and 1980s, including missing-persons reports that were never followed up or pursued.

Gacy is remembered as one of history's most bizarre killers, largely because of his work as an amateur clown. He was convicted of murdering 33 young men, sometimes luring them to his Chicago-area home for sex by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work.

The building contractor stabbed one and strangled the others between 1972 and 1978. Most were buried in a crawl space under his home. Four others were dumped in a river.

Gacy was executed in 1994.

Bundy, who grew up in Chicago, was last seen in October 1976 heading out to a party, authorities said. He had forgotten his wallet at home.

A day after he vanished, his family filed a missing-persons report. But, O'Leary said, "it wasn't pursued aggressively."

Bundy's family contacted authorities again when news of Gacy and his victims became public, but they had no way to identify any remains. Their dentist had retired and destroyed all dental records.

Two years later, Bundy's remains were found under Gacy's house, identified only as "Victim No. 19" because his was the 19th body removed from a crawl space beneath Gacy's home.

Investigators said there is no way to know for sure the circumstances of Bundy's death or how he came into contact with Gacy. But Dart said it appeared the motive was luring Bundy with the promise of construction work.

Bundy's disappearance and the unanswered questions weighed heavily on O'Leary's family. Her parents died years ago.

"My mother, she was never really the same," O'Leary said, declining to discuss matters in detail. She said she and her brother want time to heal.

O'Leary and her brother recalled Bundy as a teenager who had a lot of friends, was an excellent diver and excelled at gymnastics. Many of her girlfriends wanted to date him, she joked.

She said learning the truth about his fate allowed the family to close a door. Bundy's amended death certificate was submitted to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

The family plans to put up a grave marker for Bundy in the spring and have a ceremony at the cemetery where other relatives are buried.

"The sorrow will eventually go away," she said. "And I'll have a place to visit him."

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 28, 2011

Judge Denies Blagojevich Request to Hear New Tapes

The federal judge who will sentence impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges had harsh words for one of the former governor's latest legal moves.

Blagojevich's attorneys filed a motion last week asking for permission to play tapes at the governor's sentencing hearing Dec. 6.

They say the tapes are necessary to show Blagojevich's lack of ill intent, an indication that Blagojevich is not likely to apologize for his crimes.

In denying the motion Zagel notes it was filed on Thanksgiving day. Zagel said the court was closed and this was not an emergency motion because there was no new evidence, the defense has been in possession of the tapes for many months.

Zagel noted that the defendant didn't even give the court the courtesy notice through email and writes that the practice is, "difficult to defend under any circumstances and made more so because of the nature of the motion."

Zagel said Blagojevich's attorneys didn't say what part of the calls they want to play. He said they're basically asking for his quote, "blind approval."

Blagojevich is set to be sentenced in 8 days.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 26, 2011

Blagojevich Seeks Audio Recordings During Sentencing

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has a request for the judge who is scheduled to sentence him next month. He's hoping it could lead to a lighter prison sentence. Blagojevich wants to play in court previously sealed portions of federal wiretap recordings. His attorneys filed the request on Thanksgiving Day.

Blagojevich's lawyers say he should be allowed to use parts of tapes as a way to argue that he deserves a lighter sentence. They say the tapes will describe Blagojevich's state of mind and "lack of ill intent."

The portions that the ex-governor wants played were blocked from being heard at his trial last June when he was convicted on 17 of 20 charges.

Those charges included attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich's sentencing hearing is set to begin Dec. 6 before U.S. District Judge James Zagel.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 23, 2011

Ill. Workers Suspended over Money to Help Disabled

The Illinois Department of Human Services suspended two employees without pay after an investigation found they had allowed improper expenditures in a state program of up to $100,000.

Agency spokeswoman Januari Smith says Pamela Clay-Wilson and Dawn Laga were suspended for 20 days and received additional training. A third employee implicated in the report by the Office of the Executive Inspector General _ Madesa Dickerson _ left her job a year ago.

The three oversaw 76 clients of an educational and vocational program for the disabled who qualify for state payment for some items like work uniforms.

But the report found $500 went for funeral expenses, $200 to meet a lawyer about child custody and more.

Laga declined comment. Attempts to reach Clay-Wilson and Dickerson were unsuccessful.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 23, 2011

Champaign City Officials Want Federal Investigation into Arrest

The Illinois State Police has concluded that a Champaign officer's actions during a June 5, 2011 arrest were appropriate, and that no further review is needed. But Champaign city officials don't agree with that assessment, and are calling for a federal inquiry into the arrest.

Video of the arrest anonymously leaked this week online shows an African American youth being pepper sprayed by a Champaign police officer after he was stopped for jaywalking. A police officer is also seen putting his hands on the man's neck while he is handcuffed in the back of a squad car.

City Manager Steve Carter asked the state police to investigate the way the arrest was carried out after Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney determined the officer's actions regarding "use of force" were within police and training standards. The state police reached the same conclusion as the Champaign Police Department, and now Carter is asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation to review the case.

"It's an opportunity for us to look at our policies and procedures," Carter said. "I think in the end that'll be better for the officers and the department and better for the community all around."

Carter said the city council will also be asked to approve the hiring of an independent firm to look at the matter. Patricia Avery, the interim president of the Champaign County NAACP, said she is pleased with the city's decision to push for another investigation. Avery said she has heard about other cases involving alleged abuse by the Champaign Police Department, and hopes the city's stance is a turning point for police-community relations.

"It's a tragic situation," Avery said. "It's time for a change, and I think people are bound and determined not to rest until we seek justice and things change in the community."

Tamara Cummings of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council said the leaked video of the arrest is being criticized by people who haven't watched the entire video, and don't understand proper police work.

For instance, Cummings said the use of pepper spray to subdue a young African-American man in the arrest was proper, because the subject was resisting with enough force to potentially injure one of the officers. She said pepper spray is a legitimate tool to force an unwilling subject to comply with police orders.

"It's essentially a force mechanism," Cummings said. "And it's authorized by the department to use in order to get a subject to comply. So, the department investigation concluded that the use of pepper spray in this case was appropriate, and I have to reason to think that that's not correct."

Meanwhile, a local activist said the city of Champaign's plans to seek a federal review of the June 5th arrest doesn't go far enough.

Champaign County Board Member Carol Ammons gathered with more than 70 people Tuesday night at Salem Baptist Church in Champaign.They outlined a list of demands that they want city officials to meet.

"We're hoping that the city will see the importance of selling a really debt with the black community," Ammons said. "They deserve respect, and they have not gotten it from the city of Champaign policing, and it is time for them to address these needs." Ammons is also urging the city council to create a police civilian review board with subpoena powers. The council will take up the issue at the start of next year.

Among those demands, Ammons said criminal charges should be filed against the arresting officers. She also said other police abuse allegations dismissed by Chief R.T. Finney should be investigated.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he could see the city possibly reviewing past allegations.

"I don't think it's out of the question, and I don't think it's unreasonable to have the council ask that question and ask to see those other reports," Gerard said.

The city is also in the process of seeking a new police chief. Avery said the NAACP - along with the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Champaign Community and Police Partnership - is helping organize a public forum on Dec. 8 at 7pm in the city building with the four finalists being considered for the job.

Watch the police footage from the June 5 arrest


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 22, 2011

Rezko Sentenced to More than 10 Years in Prison

Tony Rezko, a key figure behind corruption in the Blagojevich administration,was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in prison by federal Judge Amy St. Eve. His attorneys argued that Rezko provided important help to prosecutors investigating the former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Rezko didn't start cooperating with investigators until after he was convicted at trial, and even then, prosecutors said his cooperation was not very helpful because he continued to tell lies, making it impossible to put him on the stand as a credible witness. Prosecutors never called Rezko to testify.

Rezko's attorneys said he shouldn't get such a harsh sentence because prosecutors made a tactical choice not to call him to the stand. They pushed the judge to sentence Rezko to the 3 1/2 years he's already served since his conviction. They said he has been awaiting sentencing at the government's request so he could be available to testify.

As a result they said he's had to serve time in solitary confinement, as opposed to a minimum security prison where most white collar criminals do their time. They said in the last few years "Rezko has not had a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunlight, or a hug from a loved one."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says the 10 1/2-year sentence imposed on the convicted political fixer was "stiff and appropriate."

Fitzgerald said Monday he hopes it sends a message that there are serious consequences for engaging in public corruption.

Rezko was convicted in 2008 of fraud, money laundering and plotting to squeeze $7 million in kickbacks from firms that wanted to do business with the state during now-disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich's tenure.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve told Rezko her sentence reflected his actions, plus the fact that he repeatedly lied about his actions, including in a letter he sent to her.

Fitzgerald said it appears corruption sentences are getting longer.

Rezko attorney Joe Duffy says he's not sure if he will appeal the sentence.


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