Illinois Public Media News
Prosecutors are are filing documents outlining their evidence against William Cellini, the final co-defendant indicted with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Cellini's trial is scheduled for next month.
Cellini had contracts with the state under Republican governors and prosecutors say he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Blagojevich to maintain his clout and business under the Democratic administration.
Prosecutors say he used his clout on boards to extort campaign contributions for Blagojevich from people hoping to do business with the state, and in return for raising cash prosecutors say Cellini was rewarded with lucrative state contracts of his own.
Prosecutors have laid out some of their case against Cellini in the last couple days. The evidence includes a recorded phone call from 2004 in which Cellini worries that Blagojevich's fundraisers are being too brazen in their attempts to get political contributions in return for state business. Cellini worries that authorities will start investigating because "too many people are talking."
Attorneys for Cellini did not return calls for comment.
The other co-defendants indicted along with Blagojevich include staffers Lon Monk and John Harris who both pleaded guilty and testified against their former boss. Chris Kelly was a Blagojevich friend and fundraiser and he committed suicide before going on trial in the case although he was indicted and convicted in other cases. Then there's Blagojevich's brother, Robert. Prosecutors dropped the charges against him after the first trial because many of the jurors found him a sympathetic character.
A Cook County judge has ordered Northwestern University journalism students to give more than 500 emails to prosecutors. The emails detail efforts by students to free a man they believe was wrongfully convicted.
Northwestern has argued the information gathered by students is protected under the Illinois Reporter's Privilege Act. But Judge Diane Cannon ruled students were acting as investigators in a criminal proceeding and that makes the emails "subject to the rules of discovery." Prosecutors are looking for emails between former journalism professor David Protess and students discussing the conviction of Anthony McKinney, who is currently serving a life sentence.
Evan Benn is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was one of the Northwestern students working on the project. He said he has disappointed in the ruling.
"But if it means the case will move forward and we can get past this subpoena issue and finally dig toward the innocence of Anthony McKinney," Benn said. "Then I welcome today's ruling, and hope that it moves forward."
In a statement, Protess said his students were investigating the case for two years before any attorneys got involved. He said all decisions were made at the school without the influence of lawyers.
Northwestern has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling. A statement from the school says it will review a written statement from the judge and will evaluate its options.
The United States has become complacent regarding homeland security since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson.
Thompson, who served as a member of the 9/11 Commission, said the urgency after Sept. 11 is gone, which he said is mostly due to no major attacks occurring since 9/11.
"It's easy to lose the advantage of recollection memory and easy to put this issue aside when nothing bad has happened," Thompson said. "But you can't because there will be another attack, somewhere in the country."
Thompson predicts that another attack wouldn't involve airliners crashing into buildings. Instead. he said it is more likely to be a simple plot more easily carried out.
He said the ten year anniversary of the attacks should be a time to take stock of national security. The 9/11 Commission issued a recent report that listed several accomplishments over the decade, such as better air passenger screening and intelligence agencies sharing information. But many of its recommendations have yet to be implemented. Those include a dedicated radio frequency for emergency responders and limiting bureaucracy for those whose job it is to keep the country safe.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
A new state report finds that nearly 2,300 workers at eleven Illinois companies will be laid off in the next few weeks.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports the information from an August report by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Among the cuts are about 630 at Chicago Restaurant Partners, nearly 500 at an Edwardsville warehousing and storage company and nearly 200 at Lowe's Home Centers.
Employers must inform the state before any mass layoffs under the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Mass layoffs include 250 or more full-time employees or 25 or more full-time employees if they consist of more than a 1/3 of full-time workers at a company.
The Urbana City Council will take a little more time to work on guidelines for how long people can leave portable storage containers outdoors on their property.
These bins may hold items waiting for pickup, or they hold household items while a home is undergoing renovations. Whatever their contents, Urbana Planning Manager Robert Myers said the containers have created eyesores for residents and delays for commuters.
"Say if they're there for months and months sitting on the grass for instance, or if people come dropping them off on the street," Myers said. "Sometimes they can block fire hydrants, and block people's views pulling out of their driveway, be difficult for traffic flow and circulation around the neighborhood."
Myers said council member talked with several container storage companies to find out how well they could adjust to the regulations.
"We didn't want to provide some standards that just would not work out at all for the container companies," he said. "We want to work with them. A couple of container companies in fact said should you adopt standards; just let us know what they are and we'll tell any customers who call us from Urbana."
Tuesday night, council members looked at new guidelines what would allow the bins to be left on a street corner for up to 72 hours and on a driveway for up to 30 days, with the option of a 30-day extension.
But Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she has found from her own experience that 60 days may not be enough when a home improvement project is involved. She wanted the rules to be changed to give residents more leeway in keeping storage containers on their driveways.
Council members voted to send the storage container measure back to committee. Myers said the language may be changed to tie usage of the bins to the length of a home building permit.
As teachers prepare to talk about the history of the September 11, 2001 attacks to their students, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers visited a group of freshmen at Oakwood High School, right outside of Danville. Their social studies teacher says he doesn't want them to forget about 9/11, even if they don't personally remember it.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Construction is officially underway on the fiberoptic broadband network that will reach more than 25-hundred underserved households in about 15 months.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday afternoon in Champaign's Douglass Park to launch construction of the UC2B project. About 200 were on hand, including many of the legislators and local officials that sought funding for the nearly $30-million project. The Douglass Park area is one of the neighborhoods benefitting.
The University of Illinois' Mike Smeltzer says the public will slowly start seeing some progress. He says one crew will be working in Urbana, while the Champaign contractor starts up two weeks from now.
"They're going to start with two crews, then they're going to wrap it up to four, then to six, just to get everything flowing in a nice way instead of just descending on the community all at one time," said Smeltzer. "So there will be a slow ramp up, but by the time everything is said and done, there will be somewhere between 10 and 15 crews working simultaneously in different areas of the community."
University of Illinois Interim Chancellor Robert Easter says community anchor institutions will be part of the network as well.
"It's an opportunity to provide our schools, our libraries, our fire stations, our infrastructure, and parts of our campus with access to the broadband that would not exist, were this not to come to pass," he said. "As I think about what it is, I also think about the aspirations that we have as university for our community."
Urbana alderman Brandon Bowersox notes the project will not only address homes and businesses, but a wide range of social service agencies, like the Boys and Girls Club. Lori Sorensem with the Illinois Century Network says the project will provide jobs for both the short term and long term. Champaign City Council member Will Kyles says he's enthused about minority hiring, including opportunities for canvassing, in which employees will knock on doors and explain what UC2B is.
UC2B will be on line no later than February 2013.
Illinois emergency management experts are asking the public's help to develop the state's strategy for dealing with emergencies and disasters.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has launched "Illinois Homeland Security Vision 2020." The effort is aimed at developing the state's homeland security preparedness and response policies.
IEMA director and Illinois homeland security adviser Jonathon Monken says the "terrorist threat in ever-evolving" and the state's program must "continue to rise to meet those challenges."
The program will include eight meetings across Illinois starting this fall. Participation also is encouraged from religious groups, businesses and individual citizens. Results of the meetings and citizen input will be compiled into a report and presented at a summit of Illinois policy leaders in August 2012.
Illinois' two U.S. Senators are arguing about how much financial support the U.S. should send to Pakistan.
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk made a policy speech Tuesday at the Union League Club, proposing a new warning against Pakistan.
"I think that we should rethink assistance to Pakistan, that it's naive at best and counterproductive at worst," Kirk said.
It's a reversal for Kirk, who earlier this year cautioned against cutting aid to Pakistan. He just got back from a trip to Afghanistan and said the Pakistani government supports a group of terrorists called the Haqqani network. Pakistan's government has reportedly denied those claims.
Kirk said if relations don't improve, the U.S. could get additional help from India, a heated rival of Pakistan.
But Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin disagrees.
"I will tell you that I think that would be cataclysmic," Durbin told reports Tuesday at an unrelated news conference when asked by reporters what he thought of bringing India into talks with Pakistan.
Durbin defended supporting the Pakistani government in fighting terrorism, saying the U.S. government gives a limited amount of money to the country. Spokesmen for Durbin and Kirk says the U.S. has given Pakistan $22 billion in the last decade.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll announce further budget cuts later this week, and Quinn indicated Tuesday that he will include layoffs.
If the layoffs move forward, then that would break an agreement the governor made with the major state employee union.
The governor would not say how many layoffs to expect.
"We have to do what we have to do in order to make sure we get through this fiscal year with the appropriation that the General Assembly provided," Quinn said.
Quinn said lawmakers didn't appropriate enough money for him to keep his agreement with AFSCME, the union representing thousands of state employees. Before last year's election, he signed a deal with the union, pledging not to close facilities or lay off any workers though mid next year. But he has already broken part of the deal, earlier this summer when he halted pay increases.
Anytime somebody enters into contract, you expect them to live up to it," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. "And anytime somebody gives you their word, you expect them to keep it."
But Quinn said he's not betraying the union. He claims union agreements are always subject to appropriations from the General Assembly, and if "the General Assembly appropriates less money, then everyone has to adjust to that."
That fight is still taking place in court.
"Those who are unhappy about any cuts really should visit their members of the General Assembly, their representatives and senators," Quinn said.
That said, Quinn denies the layoff threat is just an effort to force lawmakers to appropriate more money.
Meanwhile, not all lawmakers are believing the governor's threats to cut state workers and close facilities.
Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said he hopes Quinn is serious about reining in the cost of government, but Murphy said he is also skeptical.
"My worst fear is this is sort of a political stunt on the part of the governor to go in to areas represented by Republicans and dangle large job losses to try to pressure support for his almost 9 billion dollar borrowing scheme," Murphy said.
Quinn wants to borrow to pay off a large backlog of bills but Republicans have blocked it. While Murphy has said he doesn't want to borrow or give the governor additional spending authority, some of his fellow GOP lawmakers, like State Senator Larry Bomke (R-Springfield) are less opposed to those approaches.
"What my suburban colleagues feel is the right thing to do, that's up to them," said Bomke, who represents a large number of state workers. "I'm all for keeping people gainfully employed and not laying people off when it's not necessary."
The issue is expected to get attention when lawmakers begin their fall session next month.
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