Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn granted 85 clemency petitions and denied 189 others in the latest round of action to clear a backlog of cases left by his predecessor, ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Quinn granted pardons and expunged convictions in most of the cases Friday that included offenses from burglary and drug charges to armed robbery and reckless discharge of a firearm.
This latest action brings the number of clemency petitions Quinn has granted to 467. He has denied 728 other petitions.
Blagojevich left a backlog of 2,500 cases when he was impeached and removed from office in January 2009 after his arrest on federal corruption charges. Blagojevich is currently on trial in Chicago for a second time.
Despite a court order barring Bernard and Eduardo Ramos from accepting tenants at the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, they continue to do so, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
The Ramoses were found guilty Monday in Champaign County court of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).
The judge in the case, John Kennedy, also issued an injunction, preventing the Ramoses from housing tenants until Cherry Orchard is brought up to code.
The Ramoses submitted a notice of appeal following the ruling.
Public Health administrator Julie Pryde said her department sent a health inspector to Cherry Orchard twice after the verdict. About 20 vehicles were discovered on the property. The health inspector spoke to a tenant who said she confronted Bernard Ramos about media coverage surrounding the trial. Pryde said the tenant was told by Ramos that he is appealing the court ruling, and that there's "no reason to move."
"It's clear that he has been moving people in almost continuously since we told him to stop," Pryde said. "He's actually gone out of his way to tell people that it's ok that they continue to live there."
Pryde said her department is working with different state agencies to help find remaining Cherry Orchard tenants permanent homes.
"I can't even begin to imagine how much time has been spent on this Cherry Orchard situation, and you know none of that money comes back to these agencies," she said.
This is not the first time efforts have been made to find emergency homes for Cherry Orchard tenants. Back in January, Pryde organized a meeting with groups including the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help get tenants into safe, permanent housing.
Pryde said she would like to see increased enforcement to ensure that the court order is followed. A request for comment from the Champaign County State's Attorney was not immediately returned.
Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.
Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.
Embattled Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White is appealing a judge's ruling sending a dispute over his November election back to the state recount commission.
Marion Circuit Court officials say the notice of appeal was filed today.
White lawyer Jim Bopp says the judge's ruling improperly asks the commission to decide an issue that's already being decided in a separate criminal case - whether White committed voter fraud.
Democrats are seeking to have White's candidacy disqualified and their candidate named winner in his place. Judge Louis Rosenberg ruled April 7 that the recount panel should reconsider Democrats' claims that White committed voter fraud by lying about his address on a registration form.
Bopp says such a decision is beyond the scope of the commission's powers.
The retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins Wednesday, April 20 with jury selection. It's been two and a half years since the governor was arrested, then impeached, then tried. Illinois Public Radio's Robert Wildeboer has this audio postcard of highlights from this legal saga that's been marked by political theater.
(AP Photo/Verna Sadock)
The landlords who operate the Cherry Orchard Village apartments have been found guilty of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings.
Champaign County Presiding Judge John Kennedy fined Bernard and Eduardo Ramos more than $54,000. They must pay $100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems.
The Ramoses have 180 days to pay the fines. They are also barred from accepting tenants until the sewage problems are addressed.
Cherry Orchard has traditionally been a destination for migrant workers who come to the area during warmer months. Julie Pryde, the administrator with the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, said the ruling couldn't have come at a better time.
"I was just getting extremely nervous that this was taking so long because summer was getting closer and closer," Pryde said. "We know from history that the place would be completely filled up by then."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County and have faced hundreds of code violations.
Last year, the County amended its nuisance ordinance because of the severity of conditions at Cherry Orchard. The modified ordinance includes a dozen criteria that a building must follow to be considered safe, including access to clean drinking water, plumbing that meets state health codes, and not using extension cords to provide power to a dwelling unit.
Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said many of the conditions outlined in the amended ordinance exist at Cherry Orchard. Hall said his department submitted a complaint with the Champaign County State's Attorney's office under the amended nuisance ordinance to take aim at structural problems that he says exist at Cherry Orchard.
"Well, if there aren't any people living there now, there will someday," Hall said. "And at that point, I would imagine the situation would be even worse by then. If no one lives in a building, it only continues to deteriorate more. It doesn't stop deteriorating just because no one lives there.
Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Christina Papavasiliou said her office would only move forward with the nuisance complaint if the buildings on the Cherry Orchard property aren't repaired and tenants continue living there.
"If people do occupy the premises again, we have another complaint to file," Papavasiliou said.
The Ramoses immediately filed an appeal following Monday's court ruling.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)
Federal prosecutors Monday ripped into public comments made by Rod Blagojevich. That comes two days before the former Illinois governor's corruption re-trial begins.
Blagojevich's comments to the media have centered around him saying, "Play all the tapes. Play all the tapes."
The former governor has said that playing all the secret phone conversations recorded by the FBI would show he's innocent and the fact that they aren't all played for jurors is a conspiracy by the prosecutors.
Prosecutors have mostly stuck to the legal issues in court, but U.S. Attorney Reid Schar let loose Monday, telling the judge that Blagojevich's talking points are lies. It's the judge who decides which tapes to play, not the government.
Judge James Zagel, for his part, told the court it would be wise for Blagojevich to restrain himself, saying he could overstep the line if he hasn't done so already. The judge said his comments should be considered a "red flag" for the defense to get their client in line.
Blagojevich's defense attorneys left court without talking to reporters; a rarity for them.
The bench trial of Cherry Orchard Village landlords Bernard and Eduardo Ramos continued Friday afternoon in Champaign County Court.
The Ramoses are accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property, located right outside of Rantoul. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
The landlords have pledged to take responsibility for the property, promising to have the six apartment buildings that are in violation of the county's health ordinance re-opened by this summer.
There is typically an uptick in occupancy at the apartment complex during the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. A 2007 migrant camp license application for the property reports there are at least 48 family rental units at Cherry Orchard.
Champaign County prosecutor Christina Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment buildings until the sewage problems are fixed.
"The injunction would be a cautionary measure," Papavasiliou explained during Friday's hearing. "It would do no harm to the defendants."
The prosecution is seeking $550 in restitution for expenses incurred by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District on this case.
Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimate at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings. Papavasiliou said she wants the Ramoses to be fined for making the property available to tenants during the ongoing violation, but she said she is not sure that count will hold up in court.
"It's just so hard to prove that people were living there," she said. "Because these are all migrant workers...I just didn't get a hold of anyone willing to come forward."
Earlier in the week, Bernard said he and his father should not get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when state health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.
"We got blamed for things other people did," Bernard said. "If anything was done to the property, we have nothing to do with it."
The property is currently owned by Bernard's sister, Evelyn.
Bernard and Eduardo could each face a one-time fine of $1,000 for attempting to repair the septic systems without proper permits and licenses. Taking the stand Friday and acting as his own attorney, Eduardo defended his actions and the actions of his son, Bernard, for trying to fix the property in 2007 when they first noticed sewage seeping from a septic system.
"I do not own any license," Eduardo admitted. "When we have a case of an emergency like that, we can't just wait and proceed. Every good citizen should take care of the people around us."
Papavasiliou stated that the Ramoses could have caused more damage by trying to fix the property without proper training.
During the trial, the Ramoses have tried to distance themselves as managers and owners of Cherry Orchard. Papavasiliou said under the law, they are obligated to maintain the property, which she said they have neglected to do.
"The defendants have based a large part of their testimony that they're not owners of the property," Papavasiliou said. "There's no grandfather clause for septic systems, regardless of how they found the property when they became owners."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County, and have faced hundreds of code violations. Several of these properties, including Cherry Orchard, have been under foreclosure, according to the Champaign County Recorder's Office.
The Ramoses ignored a request for comment after Friday's hearing. In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.
Presiding Judge John Kennedy said he will issue a ruling Monday, April 18 at 11:00 AM.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)
Mailings to the University of Illinois shed new light on what may have occurred when a bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln went missing more than 30 years ago.
The bust disappeared from Lincoln Hall in October 1979, but turned up a couple days later when an anonymous phone call led officers to its location - a tree stump on the U of I's golf course. The case was never solved, but just recently the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences got a response when making reference to incident in its 2011 winter newsletter.
LAS spokesman Dave Evensen said in the package, an altered male voice on a CD recording denied reports that the bust was damaged during the theft. He said this person went through great lengths to hide identity, with a fake name and address.
"This guy - he called himself the founder of the Statue Liberation Society," Evesen said. "And they were trying to find a way to make an impact on campus, and make these demands. And he recalled how they had stolen the Lincoln bust."
A few years later, Evensen said the group took credit for the 1982 theft and return of the bust of Lloyd Morey, a former U of I president and comptroller. It sought demands ranging from the enforcement of bike paths on campus, better dorm food... and better building security measures.
Evenson said LAS went to U of I police with the package, who said the case was closed since it went beyond the statute of limitations. The restored Lincoln bust is in the Spurlock Museum now, but will be back in Lincoln Hall once it reopens following extensive renovation work. The bust was created by Hermon Atkins MacNeil in 1928.
The judge presiding over former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's upcoming retrial has rejected a request from defense attorneys to let them see summaries of any FBI interviews with President Barack Obama.
Among the charges Blagojevich faces is that he sought to sell or trade an appointment to Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. Obama has never been accused of any wrongdoing in the case.
Judge James Zagel said at a Thursday status hearing he's read the summaries and nothing in them is relevant to Blagojevich's defense.
Zagel denied a similar request before Blagojevich's first trial. The retrial is set to start Wednesday.
Zagel on Thursday also denied a request to delay the trial by several weeks to give defense attorneys more time to prepare.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she believes her role on a state panel that sets training guidelines for police and correctional officers could help save a University of Illinois facility with the same purpose.
Prussing was named Tuesday by Governor Pat Quinn to the state's Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. She said a top priority in the post is to find sustainable financing for the U of I's Police Training Institute.
Last fall, a faculty panel suggested the institute close by this December, saying there wasn't justification to spend the $900,000 annually to train officers on campus. Prussing said that created a backlash, and suggests the facility could be maintained in a fashion similar to an insurance fee enacted by the Illinois Fire Service Institute at the U of I.
"Which all makes sense because you train firefighters, and when they can do fire prevention, that affects the insurance industry," Prussing said. "So it all kind of ties together. I think something similar needs to be done for police. Because obviously, police play a vital role in making society livable for everybody."
Last fall, Mahomet House Republican Chapin Rose suggested a surcharge on those convicted of certain crimes could go to towards funding the Institute. He said a bill supporting that idea has generated more talk among area lawmakers this spring. The legislator said he has a long-term vision for the facility.
"If we're going to do PTI and keep it, I want it to be the best darn training academy in the world, " Rose said. "We should have other countries sending their police cadets and their police officers and their police leadership here to be trained."
The U of I is expected to make a formal pitch for sustaining the training center soon. Prussing met Wednesday with U of I Police Chief Barbara O'Connor and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter to discuss options.
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