Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 27, 2011

Quinn Calls for More Transparency Following Blagojevich Conviction

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says attention needs to remain on reforming state government after the conviction of former Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.

Blagojevich is the fourth Illinois governor turned convicted felon, following Democrats Otto Kerner and Dan Walker and Republican George Ryan.

Quinn served as lieutenant governor, but became governor in 2009 after the Illinois legislature removed Blagojevich from office.

Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Quinn said anyone who misleads the public should be held accountable. Quinn underlined the importance of passing stronger ethics legislation.

"That's imperative in Illinois," Quinn said. "Seems to me after two straight governors have been convicted of serious felonies, it's time to turn that page, and we have and make sure we trust the people."

Quinn said he has a full roster of ideas he still wants passed to make state and local government more transparent in Illinois, including public financing of campaigns, open primaries where voters don't have to go on record registering with a particular party, and stronger conflict of interest provisions for legislators.

Quinn also said he will push for a constitutional amendment that would allow ethics initiatives on state and local ballots.

But State Representative Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said there is no way to legislate moral conduct.

"There will be a lot of knee jerk reactions from politicians, 'we need to do this that that and this," Durkin said. "The fact is the public needs to do a better job of scrutinizing the people that they send to the governor's mansion and send to public office.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 27, 2011

East Central Illinois Observers Weigh In on the Blagojevich Conviction

Observers of the Illinois political world say even though past governors have been jailed for misdeeds, the conviction of Rod Blagojevich may hit closer to home for current political leaders.

Chris Mooney is a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield. He said the case is only the latest of a series of criminal cases that should have had power-brokers in the state thinking twice before acting.

"It's not widespread, but there's enough people in the political world that think it's okay to do this stuff, until they get the message that even if they can't understand that it's morally wrong, they'll get the message that bad things happen if I do this, so I'm going to stop doing it," Mooney told IPM's Tom Rogers after the verdicts were read.

Former state representative Bill Black of Danville served on the committee that impeached Blagojevich in 2009. He said the impeachment led lawmakers to pass several ethics reforms.

Black hopes the Blagojevich conviction will help inspire resolutions to other situations, such as a campaign finance loophole that lets legislative floor leaders raise unlimited amounts of cash.

"Maybe general assembly tuition waivers, that have been around a hundred years and the subject of a dozen scandalous news stories -- maybe it will finally disappear," Black said after the verdict. "Maybe we'll figure out a way to be a little more transparent in the bid process so we don't go through 90 days from now what we just went through with Health Alliance. What happened there?"

Lawmakers in the Champaign-Urbana area vocally protested a sudden change in health insurance providers that had thousands of state workers scrambling to find alternatives. Health Alliance ultimately won 90-day emergency contracts to continue service, but state officials still contend that switching providers will save the state money.

Black said he doesn't want to see Blagojevich face an overly-long sentence, but he said the sentence should fit the former governor's role in what he calls the state's financial wreckage.

And now that the former governor has been convicted, former state legislator Rick Winkel says it's up to political parties and voters to put honest people in office. The director of the Office of Public Leaderhip at the University of Illinois' Institute for Government and Public Affairs says ethics and campaign finance laws only go so far. He notes Blagovich was twice elected to the state's top office. And the second time, Winkel notes it was after the indictement of political fundraiser Tony Rezko.

"We knew that there were serious problems, and yet we re-elected him," said Winkel. "We have to as a state come to grips with this and demand more of our public officials, of our political parties, and ourselves to keep track and to be informed, and not to allow this to happen again."

Winkel says the only thing that surprised him about the verdict was Blagojevich's reaction, saying a rational person could have seen it coming.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 27, 2011

Jury Convicts Ex-Ill. Gov. Blagojevich at Retrial

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media and Illinois Public Radio)

Rod Blagojevich, who rode his talkative everyman image to two terms as Illinois governor before scandal made him a national punch line, was convicted Monday of a wide range of corruption charges, including the incendiary allegation that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's Senate seat.

The verdict was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who had spent 21/2 years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and later on the witness stand. His defense team had insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

He faces up to 300 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines are sure to significantly reduce his time behind bars.

After hearing the verdict, Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked "What happened?" His wife, Patti, slumped against her brother, then rushed into her husband's arms.

Before the decision was read, the couple looked flushed, and the former governor blew his wife a kiss across the courtroom, then stood expressionless, with his hands clasped tightly.

The decision capped a long-running spectacle in which Blagojevich became famous for blurting on a recorded phone call that his ability to appoint Obama's successor to the Senate was "fucking golden" and that he wouldn't let it go "for fucking nothing."

Blagojevich, who has been free on bond since shortly after his arrest, becomes the second straight Illinois governor convicted of corruption. His predecessor, George Ryan, is now serving 61/2 years in federal prison.

The case exploded into scandal when Blagojevich was awakened by federal agents on Dec. 9, 2008, at his Chicago home and was led away in handcuffs. Federal prosecutors had been investigating his administration for years, and some of his closest cronies had already been convicted.

"The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said before a bank of television cameras after the arrest.

Blagojevich, who was also accused of shaking down businessmen for campaign contributions, was swiftly impeached and removed from office.

After his arrest, Blagojevich called federal prosecutors "cowards and liars" and challenged Fitzgerald to face him in court if he was "man enough."

Mentioned at times as a possible future FBI director, Fitzgerald pledged to retry the governor after the first jury failed to return verdicts on 23 of the 24 counts. However, they did convict Blagojevich of lying to the FBI. That charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prisons.

During the second trial, prosecutors streamlined their case, and attorneys for the former governor put on a defense - highlighted by a chatty Blagojevich taking the witness stand for seven days to portray himself as a big talker but not a criminal.

Blagojevich got the chance to redeem himself in the eyes of jurors when he testified. He spent seven days on the stand talking about his childhood and his rise to power. He was charming and funny. He also provided some reasonable counter explanations for some of the conversations he had on the recorded phone calls. But he had trouble explaining some of the tapes, including a secretly recorded call on November 7, 2008 in which Blagojevich is talking about appointing Obama's preferred candidate, Valerie Jarrett, to the Senate for a position in Obama's cabinet. He tells an adviser he wants to be the secretary of Health and Human Services.

"And if I'd get that, and, and, and if, if that was somethin' available to me and maybe it's really unrealistic, but if that was available to me I could do Valerie Jarrett in a heartbeat," Blagojevich is heard on one of the tapes.

Blagojevich simply insisted to jurors that he was not trying to trade one for the other. He said they were not connected. However, Blagojevich talked to Tom Balanoff about the Senate appointment. Balanoff was a union official who was carrying messages between the Obama and Blagojevich camps. Blagojevich admitted that he discussed both appointing Jarrett to the Senate and his own desire for a cabinet post in the same conversation.

He clearly sought to solicit sympathy. He spoke about his working-class parents and choked up recounting the day he met his wife, the daughter of a powerful Chicago alderman. He reflected on his feelings of inferiority at college where other students wore preppy "alligator" shirts. Touching on his political life, he portrayed himself as a friend of working people, the poor and elderly.

He told jurors his talk on the wiretaps merely displayed his approach to decision-making: to invite a whirlwind of ideas - "good ones, bad ones, stupid ones" - then toss the ill-conceived ones out. To demonstrate the absurdities such brainstorming could generate, he said he once considered appointing himself to the Senate seat so he could travel to Afghanistan and help hunt down Osama bin Laden.

The government offered a starkly different assessment to jurors: Blagojevich was a liar, and had continued to lie, over and over, to their faces.

Prosecutors during the second trial presented a simplified version of their case. They dropped Blagojevich's brother as a defendant and cut down on the number of charges against the ousted governor. They summoned about half as many witnesses, asked fewer questions and barely touched on topics not directly related to the charges, such as Blagojevich's lavish shopping or his erratic working habits. Many of the tapes played focused on the marquee allegation that Blagojevich tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he won the presidency in 2008.

When a prosecutor read wiretap transcripts where Blagojevich seems to speak clearly of trading the Senate seat for a job, Blagojevich told jurors, "I see what I say here, but that's not what I meant."

Lead prosecutor Reid Schar started his questioning of Blagojevich with a quick verbal punch: "Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?"

"Yes," Blagojevich eventually answered after the judge overruled a flurry of defense objections.

The proof, prosecutors said, was there on the FBI tapes played for jurors. That included his infamous rant: "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden, and I'm just not giving it up for fucking nothing. I'm not gonna do it."

Prosecutors painted a picture of Blagojevich as a desperate and selfish man who was jealous of Obama's political rise. Jurors heard one tape in which Blagojevich complains to his advisers about his lot in life: "I gotta tell ya, I don't wanna be governor for the next two years. I wanna get going. I'll, I, this has been two shitty fucking years where I'm doing the best I can trying to get through a brick wall and find ways around stuff, but it's like just screwing my family and time is passing me by and I'm stuck, it's no good. It's no good. I gotta get moving. The whole world's passing me by and I'm stuck in this fucking job as governor now. Everybody's passing me by and I'm stuck."

In that same call, Blagojevich curses Obama because the president-elect does not seem to be offering Blagojevich much in exchange for getting Jarrett appointed to the Senate.

"I mean you guys are telling me I just gotta suck it up for two years and do nothing," Blagojevich said. "Give this mother fucker, his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him!"

Indignant one minute, laughing the next, seemingly in tears once, Blagojevich endeavored to counteract the blunt, greedy man he appeared to be on FBI wiretaps. He apologized to jurors for the four-letter words that peppered the recordings.

"When I hear myself swearing like that, I am an Fucking jerk," he told jurors.

Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law who watched much of the trial, said the defense had no choice but to put Blagojevich on the stand, even though doing so was risky.

"The problem was with some of his explanations," Kling said. "It reminded me of a little kid who gets his hand caught in a cookie jar. He says, 'Mommy I wasn't taking the cookies. I was just trying to protect them and to count them.'"

In addition to Blagojevich's testimony during this trial, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and former Congressman Bill Lipinski also testified.

Emanuel's four minutes on the stand had little impact, but Jackson, who was called by the defense, actually gave testimony that helped the prosecution. He said that Blagojevich had asked him for a $25,000 campaign contribution. Later, Jackson's wife applied for a job with the state but didn't get it. At a subsequent meeting in Washington D.C., Jackson said Blagojevich referred to the job and then said, "You should have given me that $25,000."

In the end, the 12 jurors in this case voted to convict the 54-year-old Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating nine days. Blagojevich was acquitted of soliciting bribes in the alleged shakedown of a road-building executive. The jury deadlocked on two charges of attempted extortion related to that executive and funding for a school. The forewoman, a retired church musician and liturgist, said the jury carefully went through each of the 20 counts before reaching a final verdict.

"Throughout the process we were very respectful of each other's views and opinions and as a result we feel confident we have reached a fair and just verdict," she said.

With his wife, Patti, by his side, Blagojevich spent about 30 seconds talking to reporters after the verdict was announced.

"Well, among the many lessons I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short," he said. "I frankly am stunned. There's not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls, and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out."

Judge James Zagel has barred Blagojevich from traveling outside the area without permission. A status hearing for sentencing was set for Aug. 1.

Federal guidelines and previous sentences meted out to other corrupt Illinois politicians suggest Blagojevich could get around 10 years in prison rather than the up to 300 years in prison that he is facing. But judges have enormous discretion and can factor in a host of variables, including whether a defendant took the stand and lied. Prosecutors have said that Blagojevich did just that.

Blagojevich is not the first governor to be convicted of a crime. He now joins the list of other Illinois governors-turned-convicted felons, including Democrats Otto Kerner and Dan Walker and Republican George Ryan.

Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said anyone who misleads the public should be held accountable. Quinn underlined the importance of passing stronger ethics legislation.

"That's imperative in Illinois," he said. "Seems to me after two straight governors have been convicted of serious felonies, it's time to turn that page. We have and make sure we trust the people."

Counts Against Blagojevich:

GUILTY _ Counts 1-10: WIRE FRAUD. Nearly all are related to the allegation Blagojevich tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old Senate seat. Each count carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

NO VERDICT _ Count 11: ATTEMPTED EXTORTION. The alleged attempt to force then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel's Hollywood agent brother to hold a fundraiser for Blagojevich in exchange for releasing a school grant. Maximum penalty of 20 years.

GUILTY _ Count 12: ATTEMPTED EXTORTION. Alleged attempt to shake down the CEO of Children's Memorial Hospital for a campaign contribution. Maximum penalty of 20 years.

GUILTY _ Count 13: SOLICITING A BRIBE. Shakedown of Children's Memorial Hospital executive. Maximum penalty of 10 years.

GUILTY _ Count 14: EXTORTION CONSPIRACY. Blagojevich allegedly conspiring with an aide to shake down a racetrack executive for a campaign contribution. Maximum penalty of 20 years.

GUILTY _ Count 15: BRIBERY CONSPIRACY. Related to the alleged shakedown of the racetrack executive. Maximum five-year sentence.

NO VERDICT _ Count 16: ATTEMPTED EXTORTION. An attempt to shake a road-building executive down for a contribution. Maximum penalty of 20 years.

NOT GUILTY _ Count 17: SOLICITING A BRIBE. Related to alleged road-builder shakedown. Maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

GUILTY _ Count 18: EXTORTION CONSPIRACY. Related to the Senate seat. Maximum penalty of 20 years.

GUILTY _ Count 19: ATTEMPTED EXTORTION. Related to the Senate seat. Maximum penalty of 20 years.

GUILTY _ Count 20: BRIBERY CONSPIRACY. Related to the Senate seat. Maximum of 5 years.

(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 24, 2011

Woman’s Body Found in Paris, Ill. Residence

Police in the Edgar County town of Paris are investigating a possible homicide of a woman in the southeast section of town.

Paris Police were called to a home on Highland Court Thursday evening, where they found the body of a woman.

Authorities are not releasing any information about the victim or possible suspects at this time.

State Police have been called in to lead the investigation, and say there's no indication of threats or danger to the public.

The Edgar County Coroner's office and Edgar County State's Attorney's office are also taking part in the investigation.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 23, 2011

Champaign Police Chief Named President of IL Law Enforcement Group

Champaign's police chief has been named to head an organization that networks with fellow officers around the state.

R.T. Finney will be installed this weekend as the next President of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. In his 1-year term, Finney will help develop standards in training, and discuss legislation impacting officers throughout the state.

Finney says the organization's conferences have proved an invaluable place to compare notes with others in the profession, particularly with small police departments that have 10 or fewer officers.

"Getting together with smaller departments, and getting together with larger departments than ourselves - that certainly lends itself to more experiences than we could ever have on our own," said Finney. "Just the aspect of knowing what you went through, and what somebody else went through is invaluable in terms of networking,"

Finney has been part of the ILACP since 1997. Before being made Chief of Police in Champaign, Finney worked in Quincy and Carbondale.

He'll be installed as the organization's president at its annual conference this weekend in Champaign. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police represents about 12-hundred officers throughout the state.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 22, 2011

Illinois Could be Last State Without Concealed Carry

A bill legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons could pass the Wisconsin Legislature as early as today.

The state Assembly is scheduled to take up the bill. It has already passed the Senate and Gov. Scott Walker has said he will sign it into law.

The bill would allow carrying concealed weapons in public places, with some exemptions. Signs could also be posted giving notice that concealed weapons aren't allowed.

Guns would be specifically banned in police stations, jails, courthouses, government buildings that screen for weapons and beyond airport security checkpoints. The bill keeps the current ban on guns in schools in place.

Wisconsin and Illinois are the only states that currently don't allow carrying concealed weapons.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 21, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: Weighing the Value of Small-Town Police Depts.

Even though small towns may not have big crime problems compared to larger areas, they still need law enforcement. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers visited one town that's keeping its local police presence intact despite the state's economic challenges, and another town that recently dismantled its police force to save money.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Indiana Secretary of State Says His Situation is ‘Tragic

Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White is expected to paint a picture of a man with a complicated personal life who was essentially without a home for nearly a year when he defends himself against voter fraud allegations during an Indiana Recount Commission hearing.

But White's tale of what he calls efforts to care for his son and respect the wishes of his then-fiancée may not hold sway with the commission, which is under a judge's order to decide whether he illegally voted in the May 2010 primary while registered at his ex-wife's address.

A ruling against White would invalidate his election and force his removal from office. He also could face jail time if convicted in a separate criminal case.

"I cannot believe I'm fighting for my life, my family, over something like this. It's tragic," White told The Associated Press during a Saturday interview at the Fishers condo he shares with his second wife, Michelle, and their children from previous marriages.

Tuesday's hearing comes a day after a federal judge denied White's request that his testimony before the Recount Commission be shielded from use in a separate criminal trial scheduled for August. White faces seven felony charges, including three counts of voter fraud. A conviction on any of the counts would be enough to remove him from office, and possibly put him in jail.

Judge Louis Rosenberg said there was no clear legal precedent for granting immunity if it had not been requested by prosecutors.

White has tried unsuccessfully to delay the commission hearing until after his criminal trial so he wouldn't risk incriminating himself.

The Indiana Democratic Party has pressed since September for a special investigation of White, arguing he was ineligible to run for secretary of state because he fraudulently registered to vote last year. The party contends White intentionally skirted the law to keep his seat on the Fishers Town Council after moving out of the district he represented.

Indiana law requires voters to have lived in their precinct for at least 30 days before the next general, municipal, or special election. White has previously acknowledged the voting error, chalking it up to his busy schedule and new marriage.

Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker called White's story of personal strife "a figment of Charlie's imagination."

"Tomorrow is judgment day and he cannot duck and dodge any more from the facts," Parker said Monday.

Dan Sigler, a special prosecutor for White's criminal case, said he was "shocked" that White was talking publicly at all. He declined further comment.

White's ex-wife, Nicole Mills, described White as essentially homeless for a year starting in May 2009.

"He was living out of his car. He literally had a lot of his clothes in his car. He ate out of his car. That's where most of his possessions were," Mills said.

White and Mills told the AP that the allegations against him ignore a complicated personal life in which White was trying to raise his now-10-year-old son, William, plan his second marriage and campaign for the job of the state's top elections official.

Mills said White left his apartment in May 2009 to save money for a new home. He reasoned, she said, that he spent most of his time on the road campaigning anyway.

Mills said she told White he could stay at her house in the meantime, which would allow him to see William more. Mills said she gave him full access to her home and said he could have his mail sent there.

White bought the condo he now shares with second wife, Michelle, on the east side of Fishers in February 2010. She and her three children moved in first; he said he joined them after the two married on May 28, 2010, because she didn't want to live together until they were married.

Michelle White, who was present during the AP's interview with her husband, also said she asked that the two not live together before they were married.

In the meantime, White said, he spent more time on the road and at his ex-wife's house.

"I was over there more than I was here, because of her wishes, because of Michelle's wishes," White said.

White said he voted twice during that period - in a November 2009 school funding referendum and again in the May primary.

He claimed he asked an election official to change his address to his ex-wife's house in November 2009 because that was the nearest thing he had to a regular home at that point.

He said he later discovered that the paperwork to change his voter registration had not been filed, so he filed the paperwork himself in February 2010. He completed the purchase of his condo a few days later.

White voted in the May 2010 primary using Mills' address. A month later, he formally filed to run for secretary of state and listed his residence as the new condo. But he said he still listed his ex-wife's house as his mailing address because that's where most of his mail had been going.

In September 2010, Fishers Democratic attorney Greg Purvis publicly accused White of voter fraud. A Hamilton County grand jury indicted him this March.

White has resisted calls to step down while the criminal case is pending. The Republican-led Indiana Recount Commission, which initially dismissed Democrats' challenge to White's candidacy, was ordered by a Marion County judge in April to rehear the case.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 13, 2011

Jury Continues Deliberating in Blagojevich Corruption Retrial

Jurors are set to continue deliberating on Monday in the retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

They have about six weeks of testimony to go through.

For much of the trial jurors were studiously taking notes, and now they may want to thoroughly review those notes before making any decision. Prosecutors and defense attorneys also asked jurors to go through the dozens of secretly recorded phone calls in chronological order.

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton told jurors to focus on the most damning calls to hear that Blagojevich wanted to get personal benefits for himself in exchange for state action. Hamilton said they can see Blagojevich's M.O. in those calls and then apply that mindset to other charged schemes where the evidence isn't so clear.

Blagojevich's attorneys say jurors should look at the weak charges and see that Blagojevich has no criminal intent, and then apply that mindset to charges where he appears to be trading state action for personal benefit.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 10, 2011

Jurors at Blagojevich Retrial Begin Deliberating

Jurors at the retrial of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have begun deliberating.

Judge James Zagel told lawyers during a hearing on Friday that he was giving jurors copies of jury instructions so they could start. Closing arguments wrapped up Thursday.

The judge also told attorneys he couldn't guess how long the jury might take to reach a decision.

At the first trial, jurors took two weeks and then deadlocked on all but one charge.

There are 20 counts against the former governor at the second trial.

Even before jurors can get into the nitty-gritty of the charges, they have other business to finish. That would include electing a foreman and organizing the hundreds of notebooks they likely filled during six weeks of testimony.

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