Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2011

Prosecutors Portray Cellini as Puppet Master

Opening statements are expected to resume Thursday in the public corruption trial of William Cellini.

In his opening statement for the prosecution on Wednesday, Greg Deis told jurors that Cellini wasn't on the board of the Teachers Retirement System and yet he controlled how the agency invested some of its $30 billion in assets.

Deis says Cellini got people jobs with TRS and got them appointments, and they did what he told them to do. He says that allowed Cellini to steer state contracts not to the most qualified businesses, but to those willing to give campaign contributions to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Cellini has long been influential behind the scenes in Illinois politics, but defense attorney Dan Webb said others hatched the plot - not his client. And he told jurors that whatever they think about fundraising, lobbying and politics, they need to judge this case on the facts.

Webb gave only half his opening statement late Wednesday and will finish it Thursday morning. Then prosecutors will call their first witness, which is expected to be Keith Bozarth, who once headed TRS.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2011

Suspect Arrested in Attempted Child Abduction

Champaign Police say they have arrested a suspect in connection with one of several attempted child abductions reported in the city over the last several days.

Billy Wayne Mullins, 54, of Champaign's Dobbins Downs neighborhood is being held at the Champaign County Jail on attempted child abduction charges.

Authorities say Mullins was arrested Wednesday in connection with an attempted abduction at the Dobbins Downs Playground last Thursday evening. At that time, a 13-year-old girl said she was approached by a man on a bicycle, who offered candy if she would come to his home to help with groceries. The man rode away on his bicycle when the victim called out to a friend.

Champaign Police say they are continuing their investigation into the other attempted abduction reports, most of which involved men attempting to lure a child into their vehicle.

UPDATE: Mullins was in Champaign County Court Thursday afternoon, and formally charged with a count of child abduction, a Class 4 felony. Julie Ogle with the State's Attorney's Office says bond for Mullins is set at $250,000. He'll be back in court October 21st.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2011

Walk to School Day Reinforces Safety in Neighborhoods

The head of one Urbana grade school says having parents walk there with kids at least once a year is nothing new. But she said the fear brought on by attempted child abductions in Champaign has reinforced the need for safer neighborhoods.

Three busloads of kids stopped a couple blocks short of school Wednesday to participate in International Walk to School Day. Around 50 students made the trek along Fairview Avenue, accompanied by a few teachers and parents.

King Principal Jennifer Ivory-Tatum said the school was quick to react to Champaign's 9 reports of attempted abductions in the last several days. She said the district reminded parents of expectations in terms of walking in groups with family members and neighbors. And Ivory-Tatum said the parents responded.

"We've had an increase in car pickups, and we've actually had a lot of parents who have been walking to the school at the end of the day, and walking home with kids," she said. "We're being pretty precautionary I think."

Marty Hynds said her grandchildren, both fifth graders, walk to Martin Luther King Elementary each day. She's felt safe, watching them from a window on their way to and from school. But Hynds said kids who don't regularly bus to school still need more safeguards.

"It would be nice if we have more police patrolling during school hours - just someone who can watch after the kids, if they needed someone, even a parent, who can be assigned to a corner," Hynds said.

Ivory-Tatum said the police reports prompted the term 'stranger danger' - a kid-friendly term to remind students to steer clear of strangers.

"Staying with the group and going straight home and not playing around in the neighborhood," Ivory-Tatum said. "We've had lots of conversations about (what to do) if a stranger walks up to you, what do you do? So yes, we want to be proactive."

Because of school, Amanda Campbell says her five-year old daughter Kaya would know what to do if confronted by a stranger, but said all parents are concerned right now.

"Usually, the mornings are taken care of, but we (Campbell and her husband) were a little worried about the afternoon stuff when all the attempts started happening," Campbell said. "And it's a crazy world. It's said that we have to think about it."

Walk to School Day has yielded other ideas from parents. Replies through District 116's Safe Routes to School Coalition have resulted in additional sidewalks and signage, reminding motorists to slow down.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2011

Illinois Lawmakers Seek to Update Meth Law

Attorney General Lisa Madigan stopped in Danville on Wednesday to talk about tightening up a law that tracks the sale of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine.

The Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act, which was established in 2006, sets up restrictions for consumers who purchase more than two packages of pseudoephedrine products at a time or products with more than 7,500 milligrams of pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period. Madigan said those restrictions helped cut the number of meth labs in the state in half from 2006 to 2007.

"When meth first hit our communities, we hit back hard to drive meth makers and users out of Illinois," Madigan said in a statement. "But meth is a unique drug. It's like a virus that mutates, so we must retool our responses to how this drug is made."

Still, Madigan said drug users have pursued "one-pot" or "shake 'n bake" meth production, which can be accomplished using legal amounts of pseudoephedrine.

To address problems surrounding small-scale meth production, lawmakers are working to update a pilot system used by pharmacies to track the sale of pseudoephedrine permanent. That system, which has operated since June 2010 and is set to expire in January, allows pharmacies to block pseudoephedrine sales that exceed the legal purchasing amount.

State Rep. Chad Hays (R-Catlin) joined Madigan in Danville on Wednesday. Hays said the revised law will not only track people who buy more than the legal limit of pseudoephedrine products, but it will also check purchasing patterns of people who buy that substance at different stores over a short period of time.

"It really gives law enforcement a better tool to track frequent flyers if you will who are setting up a pattern of purchasing this substance for the intent of producing methamphetamine," Hays said.

In Illinois, customers must show a photo identification and sign a purchasing log maintained by pharmacies whenever they buy it.

The state this week also unveiled a marketing plan where posters will be placed in pharmacies across the state warning people to be aware of pill buyers for meth users or producers.

Madigan made stops throughout the day in Quincy and Cahokia. She was joined today by Sens. William Haine (D-Alton) and John Sullivan (D-Rushville), and Reps. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) and Jil Tracy (R-Quincy). Also in attendance were representatives of the Illinois Sheriff's Association, the Illinois State Police, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Pharmacists Association, Illinois State's Attorneys Association, Illinois Department of Corrections, the Meth Project, and law enforcement in Adams, St. Clair and Vermilion counties.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2011

Judge Impanels Jury at Cellini Trial in Chicago

A jury has been impaneled in Chicago at the last trial stemming from a federal investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

A judge seated 12 jurors Wednesday, the third day of millionaire William Cellini's trial. The next step will be opening statements. Prosecutors say the 76-year-old conspired to shake down the producer of "Million Dollar Baby'' for a campaign donation to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Cellini denies the charges.

The Springfield Republican once called the King of Clout for the influence he wielded in the corridors of power in both Repubican and Democratic administrations, like Blagojevich's.

The judge vetted more than 50 would-be jurors over three days. He dismissed a few who said they believed lobbyists and political fundraisers undermined the political system.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2011

Vision Airlines Announces Wintertime Flights from Champaign to Ft. Myers

Willard Airport at Champaign will be adding the Fort Myers Florida area to its passenger air schedule this winter.

Georgia-based Vision Airlines will be flying twice-weekly round trips between Willard Airport and the airport at Punta Gorda, Florida --- about 25 miles northwest of Fort Myers. The service will launch on December 19th, and run until the end of next March. Boeing 737 aircraft will be used for the route.

Vision Airlines Sales and Marketing Director Clay Meek says their service is aimed at leisure customers seeking a warm-weather getaway --- and he thinks the Monday and Friday flights will be a good fit for the Champaign-Urbana area.

"You're looking at 150 seats twice a week, about 300 seats a week," Meek said. "And it's falling on the proper days. So you're looking at a Monday-Friday, so people can get a very inexpensive getaway for the weekend, or midweek travel, or of course they can stay a whole week. The numbers line up that it should be successful."

Meek said their service will save passengers the trouble of connecting to flights at larger airports, and fares for the non-stop flights will be as low as $99 one way. He said Vision Airlines could consider other service to Willard Airport, if the Fort Myers/Punta Gordo flights prove popular.

Bruce Walden of the University of Illinois, which operates Willard Airport, said the new flights will be handy, not just for reaching Fort Myers, but for visiting the eastern Florida coast from Sarasota to Naples.

Categories: Education, Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2011

US Rep. Costello Won’t Pursue Another Term

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Longtime Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello says he won't run again because he plans to pursue other interests. The 62-year-old Belleville Democrat on Tuesday announced that he won't seek re-election next year.

Costello has been in office since August 1988, when he was picked to fill the term of the late U.S. Rep. Melvin Price. Costello serves in the 12th District, which includes Belleville, East St. Louis, Alton and Carbondale.

Costello is the senior Democrat on the House's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the second-ranking Democrat on the Science, Space and Technology Committee. Looking back on his career, Costello said he's most proud of securing a future for Scott Air Force Base, and seeing construction start on the new Mississippi River Bridge. He said that it has been his plan to not stay in Congress forever.

"It's about a personal decision to pursue other things in my life," Costello said. "You have to make a decision - do you want to continue to do what you're doing just to do it, or do you want to move on and do other things and be productive in other ways."

Costello said he'll remain in the Metro East area, and wants to teach and do some charity work. He also said he will support the Democratic candidate who best represents the principles of the party and the 12th congressional district.

"Anyone who has an interest in running who has similar views that I have I would ask you to step forward," Costello said. "I will take look at the candidates and make a decision then if I am going to get involved in supporting a particular candidate in the primary of next year."

There's been speculation about whether or not Costello's son would succeed him in office. His son, also named Jerry, is currently a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Costello said his son has no interest in running for Congress at this time.

Meanwhile, Democrat Jay Hoffman, who's already announced his candidacy in the new 13th Congressional District, said this isn't the time for speculation on any future political considerations. He said now should be a time to honor Costello and his list of accomplishments.

President Barack Obama said Costello has "proudly'' represented southern Illinois in the U.S. Congress as a "fierce advocate'' for improving transportation infrastructure. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn calls Costello a "tireless advocate'' for his district. Congressman John Shimkus calls Costello's decision a "great loss for southern Illinois'' as well as a personal loss.

But the head of the Illinois Republican Party is cheering the news. Pat Brady said replacing Costello with a GOP candidate would be one of that party's top priorities next year. He said the district has been trending Republican for several years, and he's buoyed by recent GOP victories in Illinois congressional and state senate races.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2011

Flash Index Shows Improvement in September

The latest reading of the University of Illinois Flash Index shows some improvement in the Illinois economy. The Flash Index was at 98.8 for September, up one point from where it had been for the past three months. That number still shows the state's economy to be contracting --- the Index needs to break 100 to show economic growth. But 98.8 is the highest Flash reading since December of 2008.

Economist Fred Giertz of the U of I's Institute of Government and Public Affairs says the September improvement suggests that fears of a double-dip recession in Illinois may be overblown. But he cautions that results for a single month may be due to "transitory factors".

The Flash Index is based on income, corporate and sales tax receipts in Illinois. Giertz says revenue from all three taxes were up in September compared to a year ago --- after being adjusted for recent increases in tax rates.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2011

William Cellini Trial Off to Slow Start

Jury selection is scheduled to resume today in federal court in the trial of William Cellini, after a slow start on Monday.

Judge James Zagel questioned only eight potential jurors Monday afternoon. One said she had a negative view of campaign fundraising, but another thought it was good to give contributions. Zagel told both of them that there is legal fundraising and there is illegal fundraising, and he asked if they could set aside their biases about fundraising and judge the case on the law. Both women agreed they could.

Cellini is the final co-defendant of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to go on trial. Cellini is accused of joining a conspiracy to raise money for Blagojevich by threatening people that they'd lose their business contracts with the state unless they paid up.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2011

Arbitrator Rules U of I Violated Contract with Student Union

A union for grad student workers at the University of Illinois Urbana campus says they have won a battle in their fight to keep tuition waivers as a benefit.

According to the Graduate Employees Organization, an outside arbitrator has ruled that the university violated their contract with the union, when it decided NOT to offer tuition waivers last year to some new graduate employees. Instead, these grad employees coming from out of state to the College of Fine and Applied Arts were given scholarships instead, although for less than the full tuition rate.

GEO spokesman Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy said tuition waivers are guaranteed in their contract with the U of I.

"GEO believes that these waivers are a central part of being a graduate employee," Pacheco-McEvoy said. "Because oftentimes, graduate employees don't make a lot of money. In fact, the students who were affected by this tuition waiver issue in the Fine and Applied Arts Department, they make the least amount from departments across campus."

The dispute went to an outside arbitrator, who ruled two weeks ago that the University of Illinois was violating its contract with the GEO when it acted on its own to drop the tuition waivers for some grad workers.

Meanwhile, the U of I said in a statement it strongly disagrees with the ruling, and feels the contract was not violated. It said the university is committed to working with the GEO to "identify ways to move forward".

Categories: Education, Politics

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