Illinois Public Media News
Prosecutors are playing tapes that are more than seven years old at the corruption trial of millionaire businessman and Blagojevich co-defendant Bill Cellini. The tapes are conversations Stuart Levine had on secretly recorded phone calls. He was on state boards and was taking bribes from businesses that wanted state contracts.
The calls were recorded in 2004, the early days of Rod Blagojevich's time as governor and the early days of the wide-ranging federal investigation called "Operation Board Games."
Levine has pleaded guilty to fraud schemes, and he's cooperating with prosecutors and testifying against Cellini. On the stand he's told jurors how he and Blagojevich fundraisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly plotted to extort bribes from state contractors and how they used Cellini to ask one contractor for a campaign contribution.
Cellini was left out of the planning and didn't know the particulars of the extortion attempt, but prosecutors say he knew that he was part of a scheme to trade campaign contributions for state business. They say he joined in the plot to maintain his own influence with Blagojevich and his advisors.
Authorities say two people are dead following a five-hour standoff in Piatt County Thursday.
Illinois State Police Sergeant Bill Emery said the bodies of Roger and Shirley Sharp were discovered inside the home in rural White Heath. About 4 p.m., Piatt County deputies were called about a possible shooting at home on Wagon Trail Road, near the Intersection of Route 10 and Interstate 72.
Deputies were able to reach Roger Sharp on the phone, who indicated to authorities that his wife was dead. Several police agencies, including U.S. Marshalls, a state police SWAT team, Piatt County deputies, and Monticello Police then surrounded the home, evacuating nearby homes, and setting up a perimeter to protect the neighborhood.
The bodies were discovered about 9 p.m. No more information has been released regarding the deaths. An autopsy will be performed Friday morning. State Police and the Piatt County Sheriff's Department is heading up the investigation.
A Champaign lawmaker says he is afraid calls to end legislative scholarships will get bogged down in procedure rather than simply getting the job done.
Republican House member Jason Barickman's comments come in response to those by Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, who said Gov. Pat Quinn overstepped his authority by using his amendatory powers to try and abolish the program.
Barickman said the simple solution is to call for an up or down vote on H.B. 201, which does away with the program entirely. He said there's too much bickering by leadership in Springfield to end a program ripe with corruption.
"This single bill has resulted in lot of talk and no action," Barickman said. "Here we have an opportunity to do away with it, and because of the political jockeying, again we're left with the status quo, which means those legislators who continue to award these scholarships, by law, could give these to their relatives because of political jockeying."
Barickman is a co-sponsor of the House measure, along with Republicans Chad Hays of Catlin and Chapin Rose of Mahomet. Barickman said the numerous incidents of someone abusing the program, as well as Illinois' fiscal condition, should make the fall veto session the perfect opportunity to end what he calls an annual $14-million political perk.
Recently, a federal investigation surfaced in which three current and former lawmakers improperly awarded them. Reports have shown some of the scholarships have been awarded to campaign donors, close friends, and others who don't reside within a legislator's district.
The city of Champaign is giving people another option to pay for parking.
On Thursday, the city installed downtown parking meters that accept credit and debit card payments, in addition to coins. Patti Anderson, a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department, said pay stations were originally going to be set up on each block, but she said city officials decided to go a different direction.
"The customer doesn't have to walk down the block," Anderson said. "They don't have to wait in line if there are customers from other cars waiting to get their parking paid for. It's just simpler for them, and that's one of the main reasons we went with it. We think it's a convenience for the customer."
For now, 37 parking meters have been installed downtown, but Anderson said the city will review the smart meters six months from now to determine if there should be more. She said while the technology may change, parking rates will stay the same.
Patti Anderson Demonstrates How the Smart Parking Meters Work:
A spokeswoman for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the former Illinois Republican congressman will leave the Obama administration at the end of the president's current term.
The spokeswoman, Jill Zuckman, said LaHood was asked about his intentions at a media luncheon Thursday. She said he gave no reason for his decision and hadn't discussed his intentions with President Barack Obama.
LaHood was congressman for 14 years until retiring in 2008, and a top aide to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel before that.
He had a reputation in Congress as a moderate who tried to foster greater cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. While those skills made LaHood an attractive Cabinet choice, he has become better known as a plain-speaking advocate for safer driving and job-creating transportation projects.
Prosecutors are linking a career criminal with Bill Cellini, the final Blagojevich co-defendant to stand trial. They've called their star witness, Stuart Levine, to the stand. Just a few minutes into his testimony Wednesday afternoon Levine started down a laundry list of his criminal activity.
He told jurors that he spent decades paying bribes to public officials to get government contracts for businesses that he had an interest in. He also admitted abusing drugs for 30 years.
Levine has admitted his guilt in various schemes to defraud the state of Illinois and he's now cooperating with federal prosecutors and testifying against Bill Cellini. Previously he testified for three weeks in the trial of Blagojevich fundraiser and advisor Tony Rezko.
Levine told jurors he's done business with Cellini for decades, paying Cellini more than a million in fees. He said the two were also personal friends. Prosecutors say the relationship eventually turned criminal. They say Cellini tried to extort campaign contributions on behalf of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in an attempt to keep his own business with the state.
Defense attorneys will no doubt plumb the depths of Levine's criminal life and tell jurors they shouldn't trust a word he says.
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday that a recent report exaggerates the state's debt.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., released the report saying the state has $8.3 billion worth of unpaid bills. But the state comptroller said the number is more like $5.1 billion.
Quinn said the state is making progress in cutting its unpaid bills.
"I think (Kirk) probably exaggerated some of the numbers," Quinn told reporters Wednesday at an unrelated news conference. "We have whittled down the bills we have to pay, we still have a long way to go. You know if it's just woe is me and a doomsayer - I don't think that's particularly helpful."
Quinn said creating jobs is the key to improving Illinois' debt standing.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board has signed off on creating Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system.
At its meeting Wednesday in Bolingbrook, the state regulatory panel unanimously agreed to the merger between Mokena-based Provena Health and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.
The combined system would provide more than 100 sites, including Provena's two hospitals in Urbana and Danville, 28 long-term care and senior residential centers, and more than 50 clinics.
Sandra Bruce, the president and CEO of the new organization, said it is grateful for the board's unanimous approval.
"We enthusiastically now turn our full attention to creating a strong Catholic health ministry driven by Mission, and focused entirely on collaborating with our physicians, staff, and our communities to deliver patient, resident and family-centered care that is high in quality and value," Bruce said in a press release.
When the merger was announced in July, Resurrection spoksman Brian Crawford said he expected a cost savings to be incurred by closing down information systems and a corporate office for one of the hospital systems. At a state hearing in Urbana in August, there was little opposition to the move.
It's expected to be finalized Nov. 1.
A University of Illinois official assisting in efforts to build a campus-wide bicycling culture says national recognition should serve as leverage for more improvements.
The League of American Bicyclists this week proclaimed the Urbana campus as one of six new Bicycle Friendly Universities. In the past, the organization has recognized cities and businesses for the same honor.
U of I Sustainability and Transportation Coordinator Morgan Johnston says the league used amenities like the total miles of bike lanes on campus, and the amount of parking and storage for that designation. She says the designation is exciting, but hopes to use it to make bike facilities on campus much better.
"By receiving this designation, we're really going to need more resources to get the facilities up to current standards," said Johnston. "We now know what they should be, but we still need the funding to get it done. And so I'm really hoping that we can leverage this award to be able to find the funding needed to put in the updated bicycle lanes and paths."
She says the bronze award should also allow the U of I to place bike lanes in the street, and cut down on side paths.
"By doing that reduction, we'll actually have the ability to keep the off-road paths better maintained," she said. "For example, the path that goes across the (Urbana campus) quad. The paint is fading on all of our paths, and we want to paint them as bike lanes, but with no motor vehicle lanes between them."
Johnston says she hopes to tap a sustainability fund that was in the works about a year ago through the University of Illinois Foundation. Johnston says a completed bike plan should now allow the Foundation to reach out to donors
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is telling Indiana Republicans they need to stop President Barack Obama from winning the state again next year.
Perry made his case for the White House to roughly 300 GOP activists Wednesday afternoon at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.
Perry is the fourth GOP candidate to accept an invitation from state Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb to visit Indiana. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stopped in Indianapolis last month.
Perry did like other contenders who campaigned here before him and heaped praise on Gov. Mitch Daniels. Daniels has yet to endorse a Republican presidential candidate and has been mentioned as a possible running mate.
Perry was among the Republican candidates who took part in a debate Tuesday night in New Hampshire.
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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