Illinois Public Media News
A series of attacks in Champaign has left the city's police department looking at ways to beef up crime prevention.
The Champaign Police Department reports that overall violence has dropped by less than a percent, but aggravated batteries are up by 10.1 percent, robberies 73.9 percent, and armed robberies have risen by 27.3 percent.
Many of these attacks in recent weeks have taken place on or near 4th and Green Street in Campustown. Chief of Police R.T. Finney would not say with certainty whether each attack is connected.
"You know many times a person is hit from behind, so identification is very difficult," explained Finney.
Finney said that arrests have been made, noting that the city is taking the attacks "very seriously" with increased officers on duty who are working overtime.
Champaign police officials are exploring ways to cut down on crime rates. Champaign Police Lieutenant Joe Gallo said in the next few weeks, his department will introduce a couple of new data mapping and analysis programs designed to help beef up security. Gallo explained that one program disseminates information for police officers to help them narrow down their search for a suspect.
"It alerts us that we've had three calls to service at this location in a given time period," said Gallo. "The intelligence portion is going to come up when we start looking at that address and go, 'Ok, this person was recently paroled at this address, and he has a history of violence. Maybe we better look at what he's doing over there.'"
The other program lets the public identify recent criminal activity in their neighborhood on an interactive map, similar to Google Maps. This program lets people sign up for alerts whenever there's a crime near their home.
"I think it's going to be a really valuable tool for our community," he said.
People are encouraged to report crime-related cases to the Champaign Police Department by calling 217-351-4545. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers at 217-373-TIPS.
Retiring Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily said his biggest achievements in 26 years with the department did not make headlines.
Bily is retiring September 22nd. The Urbana City Council confirmed Assistant Chief Patrick Connolly to succeed him Monday night. Bily said overseeing a successful department often had to do with simply helping the community.
"The investigators to an outstanding job," said Bily. "The officers who work patrol 24/7, 365 days a year do good things every single day that receive very little notoriety. Those are the types of things I've proudest of, not any single personal accomplishment."
Connolly said his top goal is now filling vacancies, including the now-vacant assistant chief's position and open lieutenant positions.
"But I also recognize the needs of the city," said Connolly. "So there has to be a balance, and the mayor has been incredible with working with us so far, and I'm going to continue with that relationship, but I'm certainly not going to demand anything up front. We're going to work with the city as closely as we always have."
Connolly said becoming a chief has been a career ambition in his 33 years in law enforcement. He has been with Urbana Police since 1988.
Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily will retire later this month, after more than 25 years with the department.
Bily plans to step down September 22nd. Mayor Laurel Prussing will recommend Assistant Chief Patrick Connolly as his Bily's replacement at a special city council meeting on Monday. Bily was named chief in 2006, succeeding Eddie Adair. He was named assistant chief in 2004, and has been with the department since 1984.
Mayor Prussing was not available for comment this week. Her chief of staff, Mike Monson said the city's crime rate has dropped 33 percent under Bily. Monson said Urbana's Citizen Police Review Board was started under Chief Bily to hear concerns about police action.
"Those were kind of controversial when it was implemented, but it's working very well - the department's accepted it," said Monson. "Mike's a top-notch administrator as well, and was a team player when we had to leave some positions vacant this past fiscal year to keep our budget in good standing."
Monson said Bily has been also good working with the public, representing the department well in neighborhood association meetings.
Monday night's special meeting is at 7pm in the Urbana council chambers.
A defense attorney from the Southern Illinois town of Marion is facing criminal charges for allegedly attempting to traffic heroin-filled condoms into a federal prison in Indiana.
Robert Drew was taken into custody over the weekend at a Terre Haute jail, but was then admitted to a nearby hospital. Drew's wife, Joyce, said her husband was suffering from health problems connected to his diabetes.
He is listed in good condition, but would not return a call for comment.
A search of Drew's black Mercedes turned up marijuana, as well as the condoms with heroin, according to an affidavit written by FBI agent Jacob Overton.
Drew claimed the marijuana was for his own use, but he said he did not know what was in the condoms. However, he admitted that whatever they contained was prohibited in the prison, Overton wrote.
Overton reported Drew said he had delivered drugs to an inmate three to four times during the past year in private conference rooms inside the lockup. Lawyers gets more access and privacy to the conference room where they can talk to inmates, often with a guard standing outside the room. Those conversations are not tape recorded or listened in on by prison staff, according to Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley.
Joyce Drew said leading up to her husband's arrest; her husband received multiple threatening phone calls from someone who claimed that his grandkids would be harmed if he did not transport the drugs into the prison.
"If he committed that act on his own, then you know I am totally against that," she said. "If his story, which I believe, is true, then people should stop being so harsh to him."
Joyce said she does know who made the threatening phone calls and how her husband acquired the drugs. She also said she never spoke to the person making the threats.
U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison of Indiana's Southern District said Drew tried to get the heroin to "at least one" inmate at the prison.
Morrison said the long-time defense attorney is expected to make a court appearance shortly after he is released from the hospital. The government then has 30 days to indict.
The Bureau of Prisons' Traci Billingsley said known cases involving lawyers sneaking drugs into prisons are rare, and adds that all visitors to federal prisons are required to be scanned by a metal detector when entering.
Drew faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Federal prosecutors say they will not retry the brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.
Nashville, Tenn. businessman Robert Blagojevich had been accused of scheming with his brother to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and squeeze people for campaign donations.
A jury last week deadlocked on the four counts against Robert Blagojevich and 23 of 24 counts against the former governor.
Prosecutors said Thursday they made the decision based on the brother's less central role in the alleged schemes. But they have said they will retry Rod Blagojevich.
The hearing Thursday will also determine when a trial could be held.
Estimates about the total cost of the just concluded trial of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich range wildly from several million to $30 million.
There's now at least confirmation of what the jury cost for nearly two months of trial and 14 days of deliberation. The bill? $67,463.32. The U.S. District Court clerk's office provided that figure Thursday.
Jurors returned a sole guilty verdict _ lying to the FBI. They deadlocked on 23 counts.
The jurors' bill includes costs for food and travel. And it includes pay -- jurors got $40 a day the first month, then $50 after that.
Prosecutors don't calculate costs of individual cases, so the trial's full cost may never be known. But prosecutors plan to retry Blagojevich on undecided counts, so that tab may have to be paid again.
A former Urbana high school coach convicted of a sex crime is back in the US, and will start serving a prison sentence.
But the attorney for Yuri Ermakov Thursday filed a post-conviction petition with hopes his client will get a new trial. The 28-year old Ermakov fled to his native Russia while a Champaign County jury deliberated his fate in 2007.
The former University Laboratory High School track coach was found guilty of criminal sexual assault for incidents involving a female student, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was also convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for providing alcohol to two 16-year old girls. After a brief court hearing Thursday morning, Ermakov was remanded to Illinois' Department of Corrections.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz says Ermakov was up against Friday's deadline for filing the post-conviction petition. She says Judge Jeff Ford has a three-month window to act on it.
"The judge could say that all of the allegations in his petitions are frivolous - petition dismissed, and that's the end of the case." said Rietz. "The judge could say that some of the allegations deserve further inquiry, and then we have time to respond. Or judge could say the entire petition deserves further inquiry. We do not believe any of those allegations have any merit, and are absolutely confident that the judge is going to find all of them, if not the vast majority of them, frivilous."
Rietz notes that a federal warrant was out for Erkmaov that preventing him from travelling outside of Russia, which may have been part of his motivation for returning home to serve his sentence.
Judge Ford denied a request from Chicago Attorney Steve Richards that his client remain in Champaign County's custody in order to stay in closer contact with him. Ford says such a move would prove too costly. The FBI had been negotiating for Ermakov's return from Russia the past several months. Rietz says he's also seeking clemency from Governor Pat Quinn as part of a large backlog of cases before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
A jury has found former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents.
The maximum penalty for making false statements to federal authorities carries a five year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Judge James Zagel said he will declare a mistrial for the 23 other counts against the former governor, including the most serious charge - trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.
Juror Erik Sarnello, 21, of Itasca, Ill said the panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of that conviction. Sarnello said a female holdout "just didn't see what we all saw," but that the counts around the Senate seat were "the most obvious."
During the trial, prosecutors relied heavily on FBI wiretap recordings where Blagojevich could be heard spewing profanity, and speculating about getting a Cabinet level post or campaign contributions in exchange for the Senate appointment. Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said the jury confirmed the former governor's pattern of dishonesty even though they were deadlocked on many charges.
Blagojevich's attorneys plastered Washington and Illinois with subpoenas - including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - but by the end of the trial, none of them had testified, sparing Democrats any potentially embarrassing testimony. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said she is concerned the defense team may have sent the wrong message to the public that Blagojevich was just doing politics as usual in Illinois.
"If there is one thing that elected officials need to do in Illinois, it is to send a strong signal that the politics of the past are over, regardless of what the final verdict may be in the Blagojevich trial," she said.
Lawmakers threw Blagojevich out of office when they impeached him in January 2009. Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose served on the Illinois House committee that drew up the impeachment charges. Rose said the former governor implicated himself with his own words, as heard at the trial in wiretapped phone conversations.
"There were a hundred things to impeach him for," Rose said. "I just completely can't believe anybody in their right mind could hang this jury."
While the impeachment of Blagojevich was sparked by criminal charges, Rose said the two processes are different. He said the burden of proof is higher for prosecutors in a criminal trial, while lawmakers considering impeachment can also look at non-criminal charges, such as dereliction of duty.
Prosecutors say they intend to put the ex-governor on trial again, but Attorney Sam Adam, Jr. said federal prosecutors do not have a case for a mistrial.
Robert Lobe, a criminal defense attorney who teaches at Loyola University, said if prosecutors were able to convince 11 jurors that Blagojevich was trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat, then they should feel confident about getting a conviction next time.
"I don't even think they have to change their approach if this is just one very independent holdout," said Lobe.
Democratic State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign said he cannot explain how the jury was deadlocked on 23 counts.
"The only thing I can think is this proves the old maxim that you can fool some of the people some of the time," said Frerichs.
It is clear now that Blagojevich will stay in the spotlight as the prosecution retries the case, according to Frerichs.
Former Illinois Governor Dan Walker was convicted in the late 1980s after his time in office of improprieties connected to a Savings and Loan scandal, and he served 18 months in a federal prison. Walker said the worst part of Tuesday's verdict is that people will likely have to hear more about Blagojevich rather than turn their attention to problems that current state officials are facing.
"I just wish like a lot of other people I think feel the same way," said Walker. "We've just got to rebuild Illinois and the Land of Lincoln."
Walker said while he worked hard as governor, Blagojevich disgraced the office. Current Governor Pat Quinn said Rod Blagojevich's conviction is a "sad day for our state." Quinn said he is the first honest governor Illinois has had in a long time, and dismissed the notion that as Blagojevich's former running mate, the prolonged saga will hurt him on election day.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich's brother, Robert, was acquitted of all four counts the jury was weighing against him. The Tennessee businessman said he feels sorry for his brother, and he thanked his legal team and the jury for what he said appeared to be a "serious deliberation."
Rod Blagojevich spoke to reporters on Tuesday after the jury found him guilty of the one count of lying to federal agents. He vowed to appeal the conviction, and said he wants the "people of Illinois to know that I did not lie to the FBI."
Blagojevich's trial was another chapter in Illinois' history of crooked politics. His predecessor, George Ryan, was convicted of racketeering in 2006 and is serving a 6 1/2 year-sentence.
A hearing about a retrial is set for Thursday, August 26.
The brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says a jury's verdict in the corruption case shows he's been an innocent target of the federal government all along.
A jury on Tuesday found Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents. That means they're hung on 23 counts, including four against Robert Blagojevich.
Prosecutors say they intend to retry the case against Blagojevich quickly.
The Tennessee businessman says he's ultimately confident in his acquittal. He thanked his legal team and the jury for what he says appeared to be a "serious deliberation.''
Robert Blagojevich says he feels sorry for his brother.
Both brothers pleaded not guilty to trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and squeezing people for campaign donations.
A federal jury has found ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents, and the judge says he intends to declare a mistrial on the remaining counts.
Prosecutors said Tuesday immediately after the jury reached its verdict that they intend to retry the case against Blagojevich as soon as possible.
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