Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 19, 2010

As School Starts, UI Administrators and Employees Grapple with Money Issues

Labor unrest is affecting higher education, including University of Illinois campuses in Urbana and Chicago

Members of one UIUC union rallied Thursday outside a residence hall just as freshmen are moving in for their first semester. Ricky Baldwin is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1000 employees. He claims that administrative cost increases are taking place while union members have seen their pay stagnate.

"The money that the University is spending on all kinds of things at the top shows us that the university does have money," said Baldwin "It just doesn't want to spend it on the basic operations -- the students, the workers, the instruction at the university."

The SEIU and the U of I are in contract talks... but members say they are not close to striking in Urbana. That cannot be said in Chicago, where about 3000 SEIU employees are threatening a Monday walkout.

At another hall complex Thursday, U of I president Michael Hogan and chancellor Robert Easter met incoming students. During the visit, Hogan said the university faces the prospect of more budget cuts and state payment delays, making salary increases even harder to achieve.

"We've just taken another 46 million dollar reduction in our budget, so that's the subject of ongoing negotiations, and I certainly hope we can reach a settlement," Hogan said. He says it's unlikely the school will see any of its current-year funding from Springfield until next January at the earliest. He says he's been assured that all of the U of I's fiscal-2010 funds will be in their hands in the next few months.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 19, 2010

Former Urbana Track Coach Back in US, Turned Over to Corrections Authorities

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Lawmakers Look Ahead Following Blagojevich Verdict

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Blago Brother Confident in Ultimate Acquittal

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Guilty on One Count in Blago Trial, Mistrial on All Others; Prosecutors to Seek Retrial

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Urbana Motor Fuel Tax Passes, Will Take Effect Oct. 1

It will cost an extra 2-cents a gallon to buy gas in Urbana, beginning October 1st.

The local motor fuel tax proposed by Mayor Laurel Prussing last spring was approved by the city council Monday night on a 4-to-3 vote. The tax going towards street maintenance and safety will generate $340,000 annually. An escalator of 0.4 cents will kick in each July for three years, bringing that total to about $544,000 dollars by 2013, but the gas tax will be up for review each of those years. The vote among council members mirrored that of a study session a week earlier.

Alderwoman Heather Stevenson has always opposed the plan, saying this may actually mean she buys her gas and does her shopping elsewhere.

"If I'm in Champaign, I'm going to purchase items over there that I possibly could purchase in Urbana." said Stevenson. "So I think it's not about traveling a mile to save money on gas, it's about saving money... and spending money - tax dollars - in another area."

Stevenson says the council needed to explore alternatives to the tax to pay for road improvements. Urbana resident Bob Bosshart opposed it, saying it will hurt the middle income during the recession.

Alderman Dennis Roberts supported what he calls a 'gentle tax' but admits passing any off on residents during a recession is tough.

"It'll be reviewed, and it is important to be self-sustaining and take care of your own streets as a municipality." said Roberts. "But I also realize that all taxes are a burden to people who are using them, so this is not the easiest vote."

Mayor Laurel Prussing says other towns enacting the tax hadn't seen an increase in gas prices when compared to neighboring communities. She proposed the tax last spring because she says state motor fuel tax dollars haven't increased in 20 years, while the cost of road repairs have more than doubled.

The gas tax also earned the approval of AFSCME Council 31's Michael Wilmore, who says union members from Urbana's Public Works Department work hard to make the city a safe place to live and travel.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2010

LeRoy Mother’s Suit Over Her Sons’ Deaths Moved to Federal Court

A mother's lawsuit alleging that police delays led to her sons' deaths has been moved to federal court.

Amy Leichtenberg filed the wrongful death lawsuit in March in McLean County. It now goes to federal court in Peoria.

The lawsuit claims police in LeRoy waited too long to issue an Amber Alert after she reported that her sons were overdue from a custodial visit.

Nine-year-old Duncan Leichtenberg and 7-year-old Jack of LeRoy were killed by their father, Michael Connolly, in March 2009. Connolly then killed himself.

The suit names the city of LeRoy and several police officers. Their attorneys asked that the suit be moved because some claims of wrongdoing involve federal issues rather than state issues. The suit seeks $10 million in damages.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2010

Quinn Acknowledges Early Prison Release Report but Won’t Fire DOC Head

Gov. Pat Quinn says he isn't going to fire the director of the Department of Corrections despite criticism of its early release of prisoners in an effort to save money.

The report released Friday, written by a former Appellate Judge David Erickson and two Quinn aides, says the department neglected the most important consideration, the potential impact on public safety.

While Quinn has placed most of the blame on Michael Randle, he says he also takes responsibility for the mistakes. He added it is his job to find remedies for those mistakes.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady blasted Quinn for skipping the presentation of the report in Springfield. He called it "a dangerous abdication of responsibility'' for Quinn not to deliver the results of the report himself.

Quinn said he was busy at the Illinois State Fair and then at an event with veterans. He later held a press conference at a Chicago beach to answer questions from reporters.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Former University High School Coach Expected Back in US to Begin Prison Sentence

Authorities say a former coach at Urbana's University Laboratory High School intends to turn himself in to authorities three years after being convicted of a sex crime.

It's believed that Yuri Ermakov, 28, has been in Russia since a Champaign County jury found him guilty of criminal sexual assault. He left the courthouse in August of 2007, and a month later Judge Jeff Ford sentenced Ermakov to 12 years in prison. The charge against him stems from incidents involving female students at Uni High, where Ermakov was a track coach. University of Illinois Police Lieutenant Roy Acree says the FBI has been tracking the Ermakov the last three years - and that federal authorities told him recently the two sides had been negotiating.

"Once they determined exactly where he was, the conversations started." said Acree. "I'm not sure if the conservations were with the suspect himself or his mother, but a couple weeks ago I was contacted by the FBI, and learned that they had negotiated for him to return to the country." Ermakov lived in Urbana with his parents before allegedly fleeing the US. He's scheduled to appear before Judge Ford at a hearing Thursday morning, and is then expected to start serving his 12-year sentence. But Chicago Attorney Steve Richards has indicated he'll file a post-conviction petition on Ermakov's behalf with hopes of getting him a new trial.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Other Illinois Communities Taking a Second Look at FutureGen 2.0

Add Decatur and Springfield to the list of Illinois towns thinking about bidding for a role in the reworked FutureGen clean-coal project.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office says a number of towns have inquired since Mattoon declined to become an underground storage site for carbon dioxide from a retrofitted coal plant in western Illinois. Durbin's office won't say which towns.

Mayor Mike McElroy says Decatur is looking into how many jobs the project might bring.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin says the capital city will take a hard look, too.

The Department of Energy last week announced radical changes in FutureGen. Plans to build a new power plant in Mattoon were scrapped in favor of retrofitting an old plant in Meredosia.


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