Illinois Public Media News
Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich filed a pretrial motion Tuesday seeking what they claimed was missing evidence in the impeached Illinois governor's corruption trial, including records of a phone call between a Blagojevich aide and then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
The motion claims the telephone conversation took place just a day before Blagojevich's December 2008 arrest on charges that include allegations he sought to sell or trade the appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat for personal gain. The motion says details of that conversation could bolster a defense contention that Emanuel, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, was willing to help with a political deal in which Blagojevich would have named Illinois' attorney general to the seat.
But the call between Emanuel and then Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris is not among hundreds of transcripts of secret FBI wiretaps recorded before Blagojevich's arrest. The defense motion points only to circumstantial evidence that it even happened, including a reference in a White House transition-team report from after the arrest that said Emanuel had "about four" conversations with Harris. The defense was given records of only three conversations, according to the motion.
"The fourth and final phone call is the call that is mysteriously missing," it adds. "Piecing together multiple documents after the first trial, Blagojevich uncovered the fact that the December 8th phone call ... took place."
A message seeking comment left on a voice mail overnight at the U.S. attorney's office wasn't immediately returned.
Blagojevich faces 23 charges at his April retrial, after jurors at his first trial last year agreed only on one of 24 counts and convicted him of lying to the FBI. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have been ordered to file all pretrial motions by next week.
The defense's latest filing comes just two weeks before Chicago's mayoral election. Emanuel has a considerable fundraising advantage and leads in polls in the race to replace retiring Mayor Richard Daley.
Emanuel has said little about the Blagojevich case publicly, often citing the ongoing legal proceedings for not commenting in detail. The White House report released in 2008 by the then president-elect's office concluded neither Emanuel not anyone else on Obama's staff had had any "inappropriate discussions" with Blagojevich or his aides.
It found that Emanuel had had "one or two telephone calls" with Blagojevich and "about four" with Harris, who testified for the government at Blagojevich's first trial. Tuesday's motion also goes out of its way to say the defense isn't accusing Emanuel of doing anything untoward.
"Blagojevich makes absolutely no assertion that Rahm Emanuel was ever involved in, or aware of, any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise," it says.
Still, the motion's focus suggests the ousted governor's attorneys could make Emanuel a part of their defense strategy, which could cause him some political discomfort. He did not testify at the first trial, though both prosecutors and the defense have left open the possibility he could be called at the second trial.
A voice message left overnight for Emanuel campaign spokesman Ben Labolt was not immediately returned.
In their motion, defense attorneys contend details of final conversation they say took place between Emanuel and Harris would support Blagojevich's claim that he merely hoped to forge a deal in which he would name Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat in exchange for her father, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, pushing a legislative package favored by the governor.
Prosecutors have portrayed the supposed Madigan deal as a red herring designed to obscure multiple bids by Blagojevich to effectively sell the seat not for the benefit of his Illinois constituents, but for his own personal gain. About half of the pages in Tuesday's defense motion are blacked out, including names and excerpts from wiretap recording transcripts that federal Judge James Zagel has ruled aren't pertinent to the case and should remain under seal.
(Photo courtesy of feastoffun.com/flickr)
The Champaign Unit 4 School District is mulling over the idea of building a new school to relieve overcrowding at Central High School.
The school board held the fourth public meeting Monday night to discuss the project, this time including board members of the Champaign City Council and the city's park district.
Seven sites are being considered to house the new school. Four of the sites are near the north end of Prospect Avenue, two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign. Each location is roughly 60- to 80-acres. Lynn Stuckey, a parent of a Central High School student, said wherever a new school is built, location is key.
"Frankly, I'm not in favor of a new high school given the locations that I've seen," Stuckey said. "I live four blocks away from Central High School. I like the location, and I think we can do more to keep our school in the middle of our community."
School board President Dave Tomlinson said the seven sites are being reviewed based on population growth and proximity to public transportation. Tomlinson added that the board is still gathering input from the community, and has not made a final decision on how it will proceed.
"We need more people to give us input...because we're not going to make the best decision we can unless we have the right input," Tomlinson said.
If a new school is built, voters would have to approve a tax referendum of at least $50 million to begin construction.
Feedback about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org
Further tests from two environmental experts confirm that contaminants remain in the soil near the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
Residents of the 5th and Hill neighborhood say evidence uncovered Monday from an old pipeline at Boneyard Creek proves that Ameren has failed to properly address the remnants of the site. The residents say if the city repealed its Groundwater Restriction Ordinance, it would force Illinois' EPA to require the utility company to do the necessary groundwater extraction. Environmental investigator Bob Bowcock said when he told the agency about the pipeline, the EPA chose to ignore it.
"They had conducted an environmental investigation," he said. "They said there was no evidence of a pipeline, they denied its existence, and basically said they wanted nothing further to do with environmentally investigating it. We call on the Illinois EPA to do the right thing, to conduct a proper environmental investigation, and get their butts out there and do the job right, and do it now."
Members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers say the groundwater ordinance offers no protections for human health or the environment, and only protects corporations by exempting them from the costs of cleaning up the pollution for which they're responsible. Bowcock said vapors from chemicals like benzene are exposing residents to levels that can cause blood-borne cancers.
5th and Hill neighborhood resident Magnolia Cook said she was hopeful as Ameren started its cleanup on the former plant site, but her opinion changed quickly.
"I was outraged and heartbroken when I learned that Ameren is planning to leave the toxic groundwater in place in this neighborhood - a site surrounded by a day care, woman's shelter, and people's homes," Cook said. "This is not a toxic site miles away from anything surrounded by cornfields. This is a site with toxic chemicals in the soil and groundwater in a residential neighborhood."
If the city of Champaign doesn't repeal the groundwater ordinance, Bowcock said lawsuits against Ameren are likely. He said the utility did the bare minimum of cleanup by only removing soil on its own property. Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the gas plant site is in line with Illinois EPA standards, and does not pose a threat to human health or safety. Morris also said there is no evidence of a pipeline coming into the old gas plant site, and that the utility's remediation of the gas plant site will be completed next year.
The Champaign City Council will discuss the groundwater ordinance in Tuesday's study session, which begins at 7 p.m.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The Illinois attorney general is suing to stop a former Chicago police commander convicted of lying about the torture of suspects from getting his $3,000 a month pension.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said Monday it has filed a lawsuit against Jon Burge and the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago seeking to end Mr. Burge's pension benefits.
Mr. Burge was sentenced last month to 41/2 years in prison for lying in a civil lawsuit when he said he'd never participated in or witnessed the physical abuse of suspects. A pension board vote on terminating Mr. Burge's pension failed last month.
Ms. Madigan's lawsuit claims that the pension board unlawfully allowed Mr. Burge to keep the benefits.
Mr. Burge's attorney Thomas Pleines said his office intends to "vigorously defend" Mr. Burge's right to keep his benefits.
"These [pension board] trustees are elected to their office, and they took a long, hard look at the facts in the case, and they rightfully concluded that events that occurred 10 years after Jon Burge was no longer a police officer were not related to his service, and therefore he was entitled to keep his pension," Mr. Pleines said.
A bill meant to get more tax revenue from online retailers is on Governor Pat Quinn's desk. As Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports, it's a measure the governor probably would not be considering if people paid more attention to paying the state use tax.
(Photo courtesy of Maximum PC)
The manager at Willard Airport says commercial flights there won't be affected by the possible closure of the U of I's Institute of Aviation.
Steve Wanzek likely the biggest impact would be the downgrading of the airport's control tower, since 90-percent of the takeoffs and landings are pilots in training through the U of I. On Thursday, university administrators recommended that the Institute close once current students complete their degrees, or by the spring of 2014.
Wanzek said the Federal Aviation Administration could lose a few jobs at Willard, as well as training opportunities.
"A hundred-thousand activities in a non-O'Hare (International Airport) environment is a lot of activity, and they get a lot of exposure for trainees here," Wanzek said. "And that opportunity for the FAA will diminish as the institute slows down and if it goes away."
But Wanzek said the potential closing of Aviation won't affect Willard's efforts to construct a new tower, which he said should be finished by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the President at Flightstar hopes to make up for a loss of about $100-thousand in revenue that the Institute brings his facility each year - if it does close by 2014. Bill Giannetti said the loss is significant, but his business will survive. Flightstar does maintenance and charter flight service at the airport.
Giannetti said it is a shame that the Institute of Aviation and its deteriorating buildings have gone neglected by the U of I for years.
"My fear is the Institute will shut down, the FAA will build a new control tower, so we'll have a number of buildings that are going to be empty, going into a state of neglect, kind of like what we've seen with some of the buildings in Rantoul," Giannetti said. "These are old buildings. They really, at some point, needs to be demolished."
Gianetti said he had hoped the U of I would construct a new facility for Aviation, making it competitive with other schools that have better facilities.
Illinois' economy is not growing yet, but it's one point closer to doing so, according to the University of Illinois's Flash Index.
The monthly reading of the state economy was at 95.9 in January, up from 94.9 in December. Any number below 100 reflects economic contraction. But U of I Economist Fred Giertz said the Index has shown gradual improvement over the past eight months.
"This is one of the bigger jumps," Giertz said. "Any one month, you have to be careful about it - it could be an anomaly. But it's going in the direction that's expected, of a substantial increase, which is what's happening at the national level."
Giertz referred to national economic figures, which showed a sharp drop in the unemployment rate in January, even though job growth was weak. Illinois's 9.3% unemployment rate for December was slightly better than the national rate of 9.4% --- although Giertz said both were high, considering the improving economy. Now that the national rate has fallen to 9%, Giertz said he wants to see how the new state numbers stand in comparison, when they're released in about a week.
The Flash Index is based on Illinois tax revenues. Giertz said January's improvement was due to growth in state income and sales tax receipts, rather than corporate taxes.
Mitsubishi Motors North America said Friday that it will begin production of a new SUV crossover at its plant in Normal, Illinois next year, promising to keep the facility open less than a month after its 1,100 union employees agreed to wage concessions.
The state of Illinois said it will give the company $29 million in tax incentives as it begins production of the new Outlander Sport.
The new vehicles, which Mitsubishi started making late last year, will replace four existing models now made at the Normal plant that will be phased out, Mitsubishi Motors North America President Shinichi Kurihara said Friday at the plant.
"Mitsubishi Motors remains fully committed to producing vehicles in Normal," he said. "We will build vehicles here not just for the United States, but for many nations around the world."
Mitsubishi has said the new model is part of its worldwide efforts to rejuvenate sales. It plans to produce the vehicle for North America as well as emerging markets such as Brazil and India.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who was with Kurihara at a news conference, said the state agreed to the incentives to help keep the plant - one of the largest employers in the Bloomington-Normal area - open.
"Mitsubishi's decision to produce a new generation of automobile here in Illinois is a strong testament to the strength of our work force and the state's appealing business climate," Quinn said.
The facility's union workers recently agreed to cut their pay by $1.67 an hour, a concession Mitsubishi said it needed to keep the plant open. In all the plant employs 1,300 people, about half of whom commute from surrounding communities and as far away as Peoria and Champaign, the company has said.
The plant now makes the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle. All four will be phased out over the next few years.
A suspicious brown paper bag at the Champaign City Building this morning turned out to be nothing more than food.
A bomb squad unit was called after a city worker reported a suspicious package left outside the building at a little after 7 a.m. Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said emergency crews used a large water cannon to destroy it.
"The way we look at it is this could also have been an explosive," Daniels said. "We've seen across the country where packages have been called in and they were explosive, and what happens is if you just go up to it and start to manhandle it, you can be very badly injured or killed."
Daniels said most suspicious packages reported to police are found not to be dangerous, but he said precautions are always taken keep everybody safe. Traffic was blocked off on a section of Neil Street, between University Avenue and Park Street near the location of the package. City employees were allowed back in the building by 9 a.m.
The parent organization of Provena hospitals in Urbana and Danville is exploring a merger with another Catholic hospital system.
In a joint release, Mokena-based Provena Health and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care say they have signed a non-binding Letter of Intent to look into combing their organizations.
In the release, Provena Health President and CEO Guy Wiebking said that a merger would "leverage the benefits" of their health care services under the federal health care reform law. Resurrection President and CEO Sandra Bruce said their common heritage as Catholic healthcare organizations could be a foundation for improved care in the communities they serve.
Provena Health and Resurrection Health Care operate six hospitals each, and dozens of other facilities, including clinics, nursing homes and home health agencies. Most are in Illinois. Their joint release states that combined, the two organizations would have a medical staff of nearly 5-thousand physicians and over 22,000 other employees.
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