Illinois Public Media News
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)
Richard Lugar is reporting he raised $840,000 during the third quarter in his bid to retain the U.S. Senate seat he has held for 35 years.
The Lugar campaign also reports holding $3.8 million in the bank at the end of last month. They released the figures Wednesday a few days ahead of the federal filing deadline.
Republican candidate Richard Mourdock and Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly had not released their fundraising totals for the quarter as of Wednesday evening.
Lugar is facing one of his toughest political battles as he fights the tea party-backed Mourdock to maintain his seat. Lugar easily outraised Mourdock through the start of the summer. But fundraising has never been the key challenge for Lugar, who faces lagging support among conservatives.
The Illinois state senate's Agriculture and Conservation Committee met this week in Springfield to discuss housing and labor issues facing migrant workers.
An example brought up during the hearing was the case of the Cherry Orchard Village apartments in Champaign County. The property's managers were found guilty this year of failing to legally connect and repair the property's sewage systems, and they were ordered to vacate the apartments.
Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde testified at the hearing. Pryde said part of the problem in cases like this stems from companies that underpay migrant workers.
"Migrant workers are coming here from other countries to make a lot of money, take it back for their families to live on. Not the case," Pryde said. "What's happening is that entire families are moving here. They're exploited the entire time they're here, and they usually don't even have enough money to make it back where they came from."
Democratic State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign chaired the committee hearing. Frerichs said legislation will be introduced next year to address housing problems facing migrant workers.
"You don't want to paint with a broad brush and say that everyone is responsible for this," Frerichs said. "But I think something needs to happen in order to insure that people aren't living in such filthy conditions with raw sewage and really unlivable living conditions."
Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee also heard testimony from Executive Director of the Illinois Migrant Council Eloy Salazar, Supervisory Attorney of the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project Miguel Keberlein Gutierrez, Policy Analyst for the Latino Policy Forum Juliana Gonzalez-Crussi, and Policy Director for Housing Action Illinois Bob Palmer.
More than 30 years after a collection of skeletal remains was found beneath John Wayne Gacy's house, detectives have secretly exhumed bones of eight young men who were never identified in hopes of answering a final question: Who were they?
The Cook County Sheriff's Department says DNA testing could solve the last mystery of one of the nation's worst serial killers, and authorities planned Wednesday to ask for the public's help in determining the victims' names.
Investigators are urging relatives of anyone who disappeared between 1970 and Gacy's 1978 arrest - and who is still unaccounted for - to undergo saliva tests to compare their DNA with that of the skeletal remains.
Detectives believe the passage of time might actually work in their favor. Some families who never reported the victims missing and never searched for them could be willing to do so now, a generation after Gacy's homosexuality and pattern of preying on vulnerable teens were splashed across newspapers all over the world.
"I'm hoping the stigma has lessened, that people can put family disagreements and biases against sexual orientation (and) drug use behind them to give these victims a name," Detective Jason Moran said.
Added Sheriff Tom Dart: "There are a million different reasons why someone hasn't come forward. Maybe they thought their son ran off to work in an oil field in Canada, who knows?"
After so many years, the relatives could be anywhere, so the sheriff's department is setting up a phone bank to field calls from across the country.
Gacy, who is remembered as one of history's most bizarre killers largely because of his work as an amateur clown, was convicted of murdering 33 young men, sometimes luring them to his Chicago-area home for sex by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work. He stabbed one and strangled the others between 1972 and 1978. Most were buried in a crawl space under his home. Four others were dumped in a river.
He was executed in 1994, but the anguish caused by his crimes still resounds today.
Just days ago, a judge granted a request to exhume one victim whose mother doubted the medical examiner's conclusion that her son's remains were found under Gacy's house. Dart said other families have the same need for certainty.
"They were young men with futures, who at some point had families that cared about their kid," he said. Until the dead are identified, "it's like they didn't even exist."
The plan began unfolding earlier in the year, when detectives were trying to identify some human bones found scattered at a forest preserve. They started reviewing other cases of unidentified remains, which led them back to Gacy.
"I completely forgot or didn't know there were all these unidentifieds," Dart said.
It was not a cold case in the traditional sense. Gacy admitted to the slayings and was convicted by a jury. But Moran and others knew if they had the victims' bones, they could conduct genetic tests that would have seemed like science fiction in the 1970s, when forensic identification depended almost entirely on fingerprints and dental records.
After autopsies on the unidentified victims, pathologists in the 1970s removed their upper and lower jaws and their teeth to preserve as evidence in case science progressed to the point they could be useful or if dental records surfaced.
Detectives found out that those jaws had been stored for many years at the county's medical examiner's office. But when investigators arrived, they learned the remains had been buried in a paupers' grave in 2009.
"They kept them for 30 years, and then they got rid of them," Moran said.
After obtaining a court order, they dug up a wooden box containing eight smaller containers shaped like buckets, each holding a victim's jaw bones and teeth.
Back in June, Moran flew with them to a lab in Texas.
"They were my carry-on," he said, smiling.
Weeks later, the lab called. The good news was that there was enough material in four of the containers to provide what is called a nuclear DNA profile, meaning that if a parent or sibling or even cousins came forward, scientists could determine whether the DNA matched.
But with the other four containers, there was less usable material. That meant investigators had to dig up four of the victims. Detectives found them in four separate cemeteries and removed their femurs and vertebrae for analysis.
At a meeting last week, the men who investigated and prosecuted Gacy reminded the sheriff that many victims were already lost when Gacy found them. One had not even been reported missing when his body was found floating in the Des Plaines River.
"I can almost guarantee you that one or two of these kids were wards of the state," said retired Detective Phil Bettiker. "I don't think anybody cared about them." Most of them were 17 or 18 years old and had been "through God knows how many foster homes and were basically on their own."
At the same time, they recalled, other people repeatedly insisted their loved ones were among Gacy's victims, but no evidence ever came to light confirming it.
"It's very conceivable that a kid in his teens didn't have dental records," said Robert Egan, one of the prosecutors who helped convict Gacy. "There could have been parents who would have loved to have brought in dental records but they didn't have any."
Dart doubts that all eight victims will be identified. But he is confident that the office will finally be able to give some of them back their names.
"I'd be shocked if we don't get a handful," he said. "The technology is so precise.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Jurors hearing the case against the final Blagojevich co-defendant William Cellini are getting a first-hand account of how political insiders stole money from the state of Illinois under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
They're getting the inside account from Steven Loren, an attorney who did work for the the Teachers Retirement System in 2003.
On Tuesday he told jurors how he drafted fake contracts to disguise illegal kickbacks as legitimate fees. He did the work for Stuart Levine, a corrupt board member of the teacher's retirement system.
Prosecutors say Cellini later joined Levine in a similar conspiracy to allegedly hold back a $200 million state contract until the contractor gave a campaign contribution to Blagojevich.
Levine has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify.
Defense attorneys have already told jurors that they shouldn't convict Cellini based on anything Levine says because Levine's a career criminal and he's lied under oath.
Meanwhile, a former campaign finance director for Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to take the stand today.
Kelly Glynn is expected to testify Wednesday that Springfield Republican William Cellini hosted a campaign fundraiser in 2002 for Blagojevich that aimed to raise $300,000 for the Democrat.
On Tuesday, Judge James Zagel rejected defense arguments that much of Glynn's testimony would be hearsay.
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