Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 09, 2011

Chicago Man Convicted in Plot Against Danish Paper

A federal jury convicted a Chicago businessman on Thursday of helping plot an attack against a Danish newspaper that had printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad but cleared him of the most serious charge that accused him of cooperating in the deadly 2008 rampage in Mumbai.

The jury reached its verdict after two days of deliberations, finding Tahawwur Rana guilty of providing material support to terrorism in Denmark and to the Pakistani militant group that had claimed responsibility for the three-day siege in India's largest city that left more than 160 people dead, including six Americans.

The jurors, who were not identified in court, declined to talk to the media to explain their split verdict. Though the jury found him not guilty of the most serious accusation, Rana still faces up to 30 years in prison on the other two charges.

"We're extremely disappointed. We think they got it wrong," defense attorney Patrick Blegen told reporters.

At the center of the trial was testimony by the government's star witness, David Coleman Headley, Rana's longtime friend who had previously pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks and helping plot the attack against the Danish paper. That attack was never carried out.

Rana, who did not testify, was on trial for allegedly allowing Headley to open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration law services business in Mumbai as a cover story while Headley conducted surveillance ahead of the November 2008 attacks. He was also accused of letting Headley travel as a representative of the company in Copenhagen.

The trial was highly anticipated because of Headley's testimony. His five days on the stand provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which took credit for the Mumbai attacks, and the alleged cooperation with Pakistan's top intelligence agency known by the ISI. The trial started just weeks after Navy SEALs found Osama bin Laden hiding outside Islamabad, raising concerns that Pakistan may have been protecting the world's most wanted terrorist.

Pakistani officials have denied the allegations and maintained that it did not know about bin Laden or help plan the Mumbai attacks.

During his testimony, Headley described how he said he took orders both from an ISI member known only as "Major Iqbal" and his Lashkar handler Sajid Mir. Through emails, recorded phone conversations and his testimony, he detailed how he met with both men - sometimes together - and then communicated all development's to Rana.

Rana's defense attorneys spent much of the time trying to discredit Headley who they say duped his longtime friend. They attacked Headley's character saying how he initially lied to the FBI as he cooperated, lied to a judge and even lied to his own family. They claim he implicated Rana in the plot because he wanted to make a deal with prosecutors, something he'd learned after he became an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after two heroin convictions.

Headley's cooperation means he avoids the death penalty and extradition.

After the verdict was read, one of Rana's attorneys approached his wife and said "I'm sorry," then huddled with her in conversation. A day earlier, Rana's wife, Samraz Rana, told The Associated Press that Headley and her husband were not as close as prosecutors had portrayed during the trial.

While much of Headley's testimony had been heard before - both through the indictment and a report released by the Indian government last year - he did reveal a few new details. Among them was that another militant leader Ilyas Kashmiri, who U.S. officials believed to be al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan, had plotted to attack U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Kashmiri was reported killed on June 3 by U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan. While U.S. officials haven't confirmed the death, Pakistani officials say they're certain Kashmiri is dead.

Headley testified that he began working with Kashmiri to plan the attack on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, which angered many Muslims because pictures of the prophet are prohibited in Islam.

The trial was also the public's first chance to get a glimpse of the admitted terrorist who in a voice so soft attorneys had to repeatedly ask him to speak up while he detailed how he posed as a tourist while he took hours of video surveillance ahead of the attacks on India's largest city. Mir, Iqbal and Kashmiri were charged in absentia, along with three others, in the case. Rana was the only defendant on trial.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime, media

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 09, 2011

Copper Thieves Have Been At Work Lately in C-U, on UI Campus

A rash of copper thefts in the area is spreading into the University of Illinois campus.

A top officer in the U of I police department says thefts of copper downspouts from campus buildings have taken place in the past, but there have been five reported thefts in the past five days. Two weeks ago, an area recycler reported that more than a ton of copper scrap had been stolen from its lot.

Lieutenant Roy Acree says scrap dealers have been asked to help identify any suspects.

"They've been working really well with us so far, and hopefully we'll be able to, with the extra patrols that we're doing so far and by working with the steel people in town, we'll be able to come up with a suspect or suspects," Acree said.

Acree says copper prices are rising, but he thinks general economic conditions are prompting some people to steal metal to make ends meet. He also believes the most recent thefts could be tied to one or two groups, though he says the groups might not be cooperating with each other.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

Champaign’s Farmers Market Returns Thursday

A new tradition of fresh produce starts up again in Champaign Thursday.

It's the 3rd year for the Farmer's Market on North First Street. Manager Wendy Langacker says the sales of meats, fruits, crafts, and fresh cut flowers has served as an economic boon to the area, a part of town once considered a food desert when the North First Street Association was formed.

"They figured that one way to kind of kill two birds with one stone was to have a farmer's market," said Langacker. "So it would not only bring potential customers for their business by bringing them to the market and having them see the area, but it also would bring fresh, healty food to the people in that area."

Langacker says one of the real goals of cooking demonstrations and recipes available on site is getting young people to like vegetables.

"I think one thing that people really experienced last year was when you buy things that are at peak, or as I call seasonal cooking, the flavors are just multiplied," said Langacker. "And I had several famiiles come back, and say 'my kid never eats vegetables, now they love vegetables."

The Champaign Farmer's Market will include local musicians, including a steel drum performer on Thursday. New vendors include a seller of specialty cakes and cupcakes, and a maker of locally made dog biscuits. The market is also pet friendly

The market runs from 3 to 7 p.m. each Thursday thru September 1st at 201 North First Street. Meanwhile, the University of Illinois' Sustainable Student Farm will start up its own Thursday produce stand in the Urbana campus quad, beginning Thursday. It runs from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

Energy Assistance Program Scaled Back This Summer

An energy program that helps offset the cost of air conditioning bills for low-income Illinois residents is being scaled back this summer.

Because of possible federal funding cuts, the state is telling agencies that administer the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program not to expect any federal aid.

LIHEAP provides utility bill aid to households with incomes of up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

"Though the reduction in federal funding for LIHEAP is unfortunate, the state's decision is necessary to help heat homes across Illinois next winter, which is the program's top priority," said Mike Claffey, a spokesperson for Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Claffey said Illinois could face a 60 percent reduction in federal funding for the program for fiscal year 2012, from $246 million to $113 million.

Cameron Moore, the CEO of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, said the lack of funding means hundreds to thousands of area residents may struggle to cool their homes this summer.

"You know, it's one of those things that's going to affect a lot of people, and I certainly think some of them negatively," Moore said. "At this point, we're hoping other agencies will work together to hopefully at a minimum provide fans for folks, maybe cooling centers. There are sort of some common responses to this kind of need that you see in other communities."

If the humidity becomes dangerous, Governor Pat Quinn could declare a state of emergency, prompting federal and state agencies to provide cooling centers.

Categories: Economics, Environment, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

IL Attorney General Reviewing Troubled College Savings Program

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office says it is reviewing a troubled college savings program.

Spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said Wednesday that Madigan is "looking into some issues'' at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. She did not elaborate.

The commission runs the prepaid tuition program College Illinois. A state audit released in April questioned management of the program's invested funds and said it had a continuing deficit of more than $300 million.

Lawmakers then ordered a more thorough audit.

College Illinois lets parents and others invest money now and lock in a future tuition level. But it's not guaranteed, so investors would be out of luck if the money runs out.

A spokesman said the commission had not been contacted by the attorney general or other officials.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

UI Launches $100 Million Fund Drive for Student Scholarships

With a $2 billion fundraising project nearly complete, the University of Illinois is turning its attention toward raising money for students in need.

Leaders at the university are launching a campaign to raise $100 million over the next three years to assist students who would otherwise be eligible for state assistance. The state's Monetary Award Program has faced several years of hardship, and last year MAP turned down more than 100,000 requests for aid.

U of I Foundation spokesman Don Kojich said the new "Access Illinois: The Presidential Scholarship Initiative" may evolve into an ongoing appeal.

"We're really going to focus the next three years on the scholarship initiative and see how much of dent we can make in that unmet need, and then evaluate it as we move forward," Kojich said.

The university is unveiling the new fund drive Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting in Chicago. Among the first donations will be a $100,000 gift from President Michael Hogan and his wife, Virginia.

Kojich said students in all three U of I campuses could be eligible for help from the fund. The money may supplement an existing scholarship program or could be based on any need- or merit-based criteria.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

Closing Arguments Begin in Blagojevich Retrial

Prosecutors began making their final arguments to jurors Wednesday at the corruption retrial of Rod Blagojevich, after presenting a streamlined case in which they tried to portray the ousted Illinois governor as a serial liar.

Government attorney Carrie Hamilton told jurors that Blagojevich took an oath to fulfill his duties as governor.

"What you have learned in court at this trial is that time and time again, the defendant violated that oath," Hamilton said. "He used his powers as governor to get things for him."

Attorneys for Blagojevich had rested their case earlier in the day after calling defense witnesses that included a former congressman, a former state budget office employee and an FBI agent. Prosecutors then called rebuttal witnesses including two Canadian building executives and two FBI agents.

Jurors could start deliberating as soon as Thursday afternoon, depending on the length of closing arguments by both sides.

In their three-week case, prosecutors called about 15 witnesses and played FBI wiretaps of Blagojevich. They sought to prove charges including that he attempted to shake down executives for cash by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses, and that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery.

Prosecutors told jurors that Blagojevich is heard, over and over, scheming to profit from his decisions as governor. They have argued that such talk itself is a crime, and the fact that his schemes failed doesn't change the fact they were illegal.

In the retrial, the prosecution called around half the witnesses as in the first trial last year. Prosecutors asked witnesses fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges. Unlike the first go-around, the prosecution barely touched on Blagojevich's lavish shopping or his lax, sometimes odd working habits.

Blagojevich's first trial ended with a hung jury, with the panel agreeing on a single count - that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor. Before the initial trial, Blagojevich repeatedly insisted he would speak directly to jurors, but he never did. His lawyers rested without calling a single witness.

The impeached governor was the star witness of the three-week defense presentation this time. Under a grueling cross-examination, Blagojevich occasionally became flustered, but he repeatedly denied trying to sell or trade the Senate seat or attempting to shake down executives.

In often long-winded answers, Blagojevich argued that his talk captured on FBI wiretaps was merely brainstorming, and that he never took the schemes seriously or decided to carry them out. And though the judge barred such arguments, Blagojevich claimed he'd believed his conversations were legal and part of common political discourse.

Defense attorneys had also called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. In several motions, they've also accused the government of thwarting them, including by repeatedly objecting to their questions during cross-examination.

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

Old Name for Danville’s New Hockey Team, and Indoor Football to Return

Danville's new minor league hockey team will take the name of an old one. The Danville Dashers will become the westernmost team in the Federal Hockey League, when it begins play this coming fall. Home games will be played at the David S. Palmer Arena. That same arena hosted the old Danville Dashers, playing in the Continental Hockey League in the 1980s.

The Palmer Arena will also host a new indoor football team, beginning in 2012. The Ultimate Indoor Football League announced Tuesday that it's launching an expansion team in Danville, with play to begin next March.The team will mark indoor football's return to Danville for the first time since the Danville Demolition played one season for the American Indoor Football Association in 2007. The UIFL is holding a contest to choose a name for the new team.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: State Parks Struggling Yet Popular

More and more people are taking advantage of their area state parks for camping, fishing and other recreation. In fact, nearly 2,000,000 people a year pass through two state parks along Route 150. Yet the agency charged with running them has seen significant budget cuts in the past decade. In this installment of our "Life on Route 150" series, Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers visited the parks and took a snapshot of their health.

(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2011

Former Chicago Schools Head Tapped to Lead State Ed Board

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn named Chicago schools chief Gery Chico as chairman of the State Board of Education on Tuesday.

Chico's "decades of experience" in education and administration will be a boon to the state's schools, Quinn said at an announcement in Chicago.

Chico became president of the Chicago school board in 1995 when the city took over the schools. He helped close a budget deficit, build new schools and repair old ones, and got credit for raising test scores.

Quinn said in Chicago Tuesday that Chico's "decades of experience'' in education and administration will be a boon to the state's schools.

"I really think it's important to have a leader of distinction, leading our mission of education," Quinn said. "I can't think of anyone better than Gery Chico."

The State Board of Education has less sway over Illinois public schools than a local school board. The state panel is a policymaking body that oversees state and federal grant money and implements education law.

Chico and Quinn said they would focus on a bipartisan reform law that the Legislature sent to the governor this spring and which deals mostly with teachers' rights and qualifications. Quinn also will make early childhood education and helping local governments to build new schools priorities. Chico said he would try to develop board partnerships with other educational organizations such as universities to bring new opportunities to the classroom.

"Teachers and education literally brought us to where we are today," Chico said. "And as the governor said, it is the heart and soul of our state."

Chico lost the Chicago mayor's race this year and finished fifth in the 2004 Democratic Senate primary that Barack Obama won.

Chico replaces Jesse Ruiz, who has served as chairman since September 2004. He was the first chairman appointed under a law signed that month by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich which the governor to name seven new members and the chairman.

The idea was to make the board more accountable to the governor, who months earlier had made an infamous budget speech in which he called the state board "a Soviet-style bureaucracy" in an effort to create an education department that answered to him.

Ruiz retained respect in the Legislature and education communities after the impeached governor's downfall and Quinn praised him Tuesday, saying he chose Chico after looking for someone with similar qualities.

Members of the Illinois State Board of Education receive no salary but are reimbursed for expenses and paid $50 a day when the board meets once a month.

(AP Photo/(M. Spencer Green)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

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