Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 15, 2011

Blagojevich Returns to Court to Hear Bond Details

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told a federal judge Friday that he understands he could lose his home if he violates the conditions of his bond.

Lawyers for Blagojevich say the former governor and his wife are trying to sell their home on Chicago's North Side. News of the home sale came during the hearing where Judge James Zagel increased Blagojevich's bond to $450,000.

The former governor is considered a greater flight risk now that he is facing substantial prison time.

The Blagojevich's are using their home and a condo to secure the bond, but Blagojevich's attorneys hoped to exclude the house to make it easier to sell. Judge Zagel said both properties have to be put up.

"Patti and I were here to comply as we always try to do, with all the different rules and we signed all the necessary papers to comply with the bond requirements," Blagojevich said after the hearing.

The Blagojevich's say between their home and condo, they have about $600,000 in equity.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2011

Prosecutors: Blagojevich Not Fulfilling Bond Terms

Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich have asked a judge for permission to speak with the jurors who recently convicted the impeached Illinois governor on multiple corruption charges.

A filing with U.S. District Court on Thursday seeks access to jurors as the defense prepares post-trial motions. It doesn't specify the motions, but it's widely expected Blagojevich will appeal his convictions.

Defense attorneys often interview jurors about how they reached a verdict in a search for fodder that could bolster their appeal.

Jurors found the 54-year-old Blagojevich guilty on 17 of 20 counts, including attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Several jurors told reporters after the retrial they liked Blagojevich and hoped to acquit him. But they said they believed the evidence was overwhelming.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2011

Study Shows Race a Factor in Illinois Traffic Stops

A new study shows race could play a role in traffic stops across Illinois.

An Illinois Department of Transportation and University of Illinois at Chicago study of traffic stops in 2010 found that minorities are more likely to be cited or to be asked for a consent search than white drivers. The research is part of a state rule that requires police to record the details of traffic stops and report them to the DOT. For the last few years, the research has revealed similar results.

Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the ACLU wants state police to get rid of consent searches entirely. A consent search is when an officer asks the driver if he or she can search the vehicle. Unlike other searches done by police, a vehicle search can be done without a warrant. All the officer needs is consent from the driver.

"Given the danger of conscious or unconscious bias being in play, we think that consent searches always will yield a disparate impact against minority motorists. It simply is too subjective a technique to apply," Schwartz said.

In June of this year, the ACLU of Illinois filed a complaint to the United States Department of Justice. According to Schwartz, the ACLU wants there to be a federal investigation into Illinois State Police practices, and for the US DOJ to issue a ban on the use of consent searches.

Schwartz said the new study confirms the need for such action.

"We think that it's a technique that can't be cured or reformed," he said.

Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department, said they are in the process of reviewing the raw data and expect an internal review to be completed within the coming weeks. She said that no decision had been made to cease consent searches.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2011

Feds Sweep Up Chicago ‘Outlaw’ Biker Gang

Federal prosecutors say seven members of an outlaw biker gang from Illinois are now facing racketeering charges, after being caught up in a multi-state sting operation Tuesday.

In all, federal officials say they rounded up 18 members of the "Wheels of Soul" motorcycle gang. A grand jury indictment alleges that 15 of them employed various criminal activities, including murder, arson, and kidnapping, while jockeying for power against rival gangs.

The government says the Wheels of Soul gang was strictly hierarchical. The seven defendants from northern Illinois have nicknames like Big T, Q-Ball, and Thundercat, according to the indictment. Federal prosecutors say members were always required to carry a sort of survival kit with them, including a weapon, a flashlight, a needle and thread.

Some were allegedly dubbed "one-percenters," and received a diamond patch to put on their motorcycle vests that identified them as select members who routinely committed crimes for the gang.

Several of the defendants have hearings scheduled before a federal judge in Chicago later this week.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Panhandling Proposal Brings Out Opponents in Urbana

Urbana's city council will resume its discussion later this month on a proposed panhandling ordinance.

More than half of Monday night's four-hour committee of the whole meeting consisted of public comments with all but one person against the idea. The ordinance was suggested by Mayor Laurel Prussing on behalf of residents of Southeast Urbana. It doesn't ban panhandling per se. Tough, it does create restrictions on where it can happen. For example, it would be prohibited in Philo Road's Business District, on private property, and other designated locations, like near an ATM or bus stop.

The measure would also impact what is called 'aggressive' panhandling. Alderwoman Diane Marlin has heard of a number of recent panhandling cases, most of them involving seniors.

"A woman called me to tell me that she was driving to the gym on Colorado Avenue," she said. "And at 5:45 in the morning, her car was stopped in the middle of the street. A person was standing in the middle of the street, stopped her car, and demanded money. This woman felt threatened."

Esther Patt told council members in Monday night's committee of the whole meeting that protecting people in some areas, like near an ATM is fine, but the city should not infringe on a panhandler's speech.

"To make unlawful the utterance of words is reprehensible," Patt said. "It's un-American. And it's not necessary to accomplish your purpose."

The one backer of the ordinance among the public was Theresa Michaelson, who said seniors are afraid in the Philo Road Business District, where they're essentially trapped if approached by a panhandler in a fast food drive-thru.

Marlin said the ordinance as written strikes a balance between an individual's right to panhandle, protected under the First Amendment, and the public's right to be free of harassment. However, she said there is nothing to keep the city council from tweaking the measure when members take it up again July 25th.

Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly said officers have received more than 80 such complaints since last year.

Opponents question how police will interpret which panhandlers are violating the ordinance, as well as $165 fines against violators who probably don't have the money. Connolly said police would likely issue warnings on a first offense, but violators could also be sentenced to community service.

Talk on the proposal resumes July 25th.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2011

Health Officials Post Eviction Notices at Cherry Orchard

Following a Champaign County judge's ruling, health officials are going onto the Cherry Orchard Village property, and issuing eviction notices to tenants in one of the buildings.

Cherry Orchard has traditionally housed migrant workers. Building managers Bernard and Eduardo Ramos were ordered by a court in April to vacate the property - located between Rantoul and Thomasboro - because of raw sewage seeping from a septic system.

After a Thursday court hearing on the case, Judge John Kennedy issued a temporary 10-day restraining order for a building on the far-east side of the property, commonly known as "The Jones Building," which has its own sewage treatment units. In earlier agreements with the Ramoses, public health officials had suggested that Bernard Ramos could move tenants to "The Jones Building" if they legally repaired that sewage system.

But septic professionals testified Thursday that the building's sewage system does not work and continues to release raw sewage into the property's main discharge line, which flows into nearby farmland and into a creek. Sheriff's deputies also indicated during the hearing that people are still living in the building.

Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said she is hoping nearly all of the people in the building move out by Friday night. She is working with different groups to make that happen, including the Illinois Migrant Council, Champaign County Health Department, United Way, and Salvation Army.

"Some of (the tenants) will probably remain there overnight," Pryde said. "Some of the single people may move in with friends. They may go to another migrant camp."

Pryde said a few of the families could also end up in a hotel, and then transition into more stable housing. She also noted that "The Jones Building" will be boarded up by Saturday morning.

Cherry Orchard has been used as a migrant camp and health officials remain concerned that it will be used again as such this summer. A state official testified Thursday that Bernard Ramos submitted an application for a migrant camp at the property on behalf of a not-for-profit company called "La Posada NFP" and spoke of preparations he has made to house about 80 migrant workers in one of the buildings there.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, but it has yet to be served.

The next court hearing on the case is set for July 15.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2011

Former Suburban Cemetery Director to Serve 12-Year Prison Sentence

The former director of a historic Chicago-area cemetery has been convicted in a money-making scheme that involved digging up bodies and reselling plots.

The Cook County State's Attorney's office says 51-year-old Carolyn Towns pleaded guilty Friday and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Towns was director of Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip when prosecutors say she and three workers desecrated hundreds of graves.

Prosecutors say Towns stole more than $100,000 from the corporation that owned Burr Oak by keeping the payments for graves and having workers stack bodies or dump remains in unmarked mass graves. Three other former Burr Oak workers have been charged and are scheduled to appear in court next week.

Many famous African-Americans are buried at Burr Oak, including lynching victim Emmett Till.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 07, 2011

Cherry Orchard Tenants to be Evicted; Managers Ordered Jailed

(With additional reporting by Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)

A Champaign County judge granted a temporary restraining order Thursday that gives public health officials the power to evict tenants living at an unsafe apartment complex north of Thomasboro. The judge also ordered the managers jailed until the complex's problems are repaired.

The action follows a previous court hearing in April in which Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, managers of the Cherry Orchard Village apartment complex, were ordered in April to close down the property. In addition, they were fined more than $54,000 following the conclusion of a civil case filed by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

The pair was found guilty of failing to legally connect and repair sewage systems for six of the eight buildings on the property. During several inspections, health department officials have found raw sewage on top of the ground and discovered sewage flowing into a neighboring farmer's tile. The case was opened in 2007 and filed in court in 2010 after the Ramoses failed to remedy the problems.

The raw sewage poses serious health risks for both the tenants at Cherry Orchard and people they come in contact with - such as Hepatitis A, E. Coli and Salmonella, according to health officials.

Yet as several witnesses testified Thursday in a nearly four-hour hearing, the property is still being rented and the sewage problems continue.

The public health district filed a petition for a restraining order to stop the continued use of the property.

Judge John Kennedy granted a temporary restraining order until July 17 that allows county health officials to evict tenants from the property and make sure no one else moves in. He also amended two arrest warrants issued in May for Bernard and Eduardo Ramos - on a civil contempt and criminal contempt of court - after they failed to show up for a hearing.

Up until Thursday, the two had to post the full amount of each warrant - a total of $20,000 each- to get released if they were arrested. Now if they are arrested, then they will remain incarcerated until the sewage problems at Cherry Orchard are fixed - either through emptying out the property or repairing the sewage system.

Neither Bernard Ramos or his father, Eduardo Ramos, appeared in court on Thursday and their attorney, Philip Summers, unsuccessfully tried to vacate the warrants - arguing first that the Ramoses were not given enough notice to appear in court the day the warrants were issued and second, that the building now being used is not part of the Cherry Orchard complex and therefore not in violation of the April orders.

Summers said earlier that the Ramoses have filed a post trial motion that highlights several errors in the original hearing. Once a ruling is issued on that motion, then the Ramoses may opt to file an appeal, Summer said.

A message left for Bernard Ramos on a cell phone number he is known to use was unreturned Thursday evening. Bernard and his father, Eduardo, have repeatedly declined comment on stories about Cherry Orchard.

Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said county officials will print and distribute eviction notices in Spanish and English beginning Friday and visit the property with a translator to make sure people move out. The health department is working with social service agencies to provide emergency housing for the families until they can find permanent housing elsewhere.

"There is a lot of people living there now, and a lot more on the way," Pryde said.

The health department will also post signs warning people away.

Cherry Orchard has been used as a migrant camp and health officials remain concerned that it will be used again as such this summer. A state official testified Thursday that Bernard Ramos submitted an application for a migrant camp at the property on behalf of a not-for-profit company called La Posada and spoke of preparations he has made to house about 80 migrant workers in one of the buildings there.

Pryde said she was "disturbed" and "horrified" by Ramos' application for a migrant camp.

Since the April order, health officials have continued to observe tenants on the property. Rantoul-area social service workers have reported that new clients are listing Cherry Orchard as their place of residence on applications for help.

At a status hearing in May, the judge issued two warrants each for civil contempt of court and criminal contempt of court after they failed to show up. The pair informed the state's attorney's office that they were on extended leave to Texas. As of Wednesday, the warrants have yet to be served.

County officials and neighbors have seen tenants in the far-east building on the property, commonly referred to as "The Jones Building," which has its own sewage treatment units. It is this building that the Ramoses argue is not part of the judge's April orders to vacate - although county health department officials and the judge ultimately disagreed with.

In earlier agreements with the Ramoses, public health officials had suggested that Ramos could move tenants to The Jones Building if they legally repaired that sewage system. Septic professionals testified Thursday that the building's sewage system does not work and continues to release raw sewage into the property's main discharge line, which flows into a neighboring farmer's tile and then into a creek.

The court next meets July 15 on the case.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Urbana Resident’s Humanitarian Trip to Gaza Strip Put on Hold

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

An Urbana resident's humanitarian trip to the Gaza Strip has been put at a standstill.

Robert Naiman works for the advocacy group, Just Foreign Policy. He is traveling with about 50 other Americans to protest an Israeli-imposed naval blockade on Gaza.

But on Friday, Greek authorities intercepted the U.S. ship, and arrested its captain for setting sail without permission and allegedly endangering the other passengers.

Speaking in Athens on Tuesday morning, Naiman said the Greek government released the ship's captain, John Klusmire, earlier in the day. Klusmire had attempted to leave a port Friday near Piraeus, Greece, in defiance of a Greek ban on the flotilla of boats leaving port. He appeared in court Tuesday handcuffed and under police escort.

"No trial date has been set and we expect the charges to be dropped," one of his lawyers, Manolis Stephanakis, said after the hearing. "We presented a very strong case and we don't need to call any more witnesses to testify."

The captain himself appeared relieved after his deposition, and was cheered on by 30 fellow activists chanting "We love John."

"This is a much better outcome than I anticipated," Klusmire said.

Up to 400 international activists had been due to sail last week to Gaza aboard 10 ships leaving from Greece to protest the naval blockade.

Greece has banned all boats participating in the Gaza flotilla from leaving port, citing security concerns after a similar flotilla last year was raided by Israeli forces, leaving nine activists on a Turkish boat dead. The Greek foreign ministry has offered to deliver the humanitarian aid the activists want to take to Gaza.

Despite Klusmire's release, Naiman said the humanitarian trip has faced another setback with Greek government officials seizing Klusmire's Gaza-bound ship.

"Whether we can go to Gaza I think is now a question of our boat," Naiman said. "Our boat is essentially under arrest by the Greek authorities. It's tied at a military dock in Piraeus. I don't think as of now the Greek authorities will allow it to leave."

Naiman added that even if his hopes to make it to Gaza are dashed, he said he is grateful for being able to "communicate a message of solidarity to the people of Gaza, and to speak to international public opinion about the blockade and the denial of freedom."

The Israeli government has maintained the naval blockade since 2007 to weaken the militant group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory.

(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 04, 2011

Blago Retrial Not Last Chapter in Legal Saga

There's no doubt Rod Blagojevich's recently ended retrial was the marquee event in the federal investigation into corruption surrounding the former Illinois governor's administration.

But the legal saga that stretches back nearly a decade isn't quite at an end.

The last big trial in the case is of businessman William Cellini. His trial on charges he plotted to shake down a Hollywood movie producer for a campaign contribution for Blagojevich is scheduled to start in October.

The 76-year-old has pleaded not guilty.

Political observer Paul Green, who teaches politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago, says the trial could give the public another peek at the underbelly of state politics.

Cellini is a Springfield Republican once known as "The Pope'' Illinois politics for the influence he wielded. He raised money for both fellow Republicans and Democrats, like Blagojevich.


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