Illinois Public Media News
Officials at an Illinois company that lost a bid for state employees' insurance contracts say they're not surprised by an audit critical of the procurement process.
The state audit was released Wednesday. It finds serious problems with the way Illinois awarded $7 billion in contracts for state workers' health insurance.
A spokeswoman for Urbana-based Health Alliance says many of the auditor's findings were pointed out in the company's original protest of the procurement.
The audit comes as the state is settling a lawsuit by Health Alliance over the contracts.
Health Alliance spokeswoman Jocelyn Browning says the company is focused on submitting a bid in a new request for proposals that's part of the settlement being worked out.
Health Alliance insures about 90,000 state employees and their dependents.
An Illinois appeals court has ordered a new trial for a man convicted in the 1980 rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl based on new DNA evidence.
The Fourth District Appellate Court reversed a trial court judgment that denied a new trial for 50-year-old Andre Davis.
Davis is serving an 80-year prison sentence after being convicted twice in the death of Brianna Stickle in Rantoul.
At Davis' request, DNA testing was conducted within the last few years that wasn't available at the time of the crime.
The court noted in its opinion this week that none of the evidence was a DNA match for Davis.
Davis is represented by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University's law school.
A Chicago man was charged Tuesday of computer hacking in collaboration with five other people aligned with the activist group Anonymous.
Federal prosecutors accuse Jeremy Hammond of stealing the credit card information of nearly 60,000 clients of Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Startfor), a global intelligence firm. Prosecutors say Hammond went by the name "anarchaos," among other online aliases.
A federal complaint alleges Hammond posted that information on a file sharing website resulting in at least $700,000 worth of unauthorized charges. The complaint also said Hammond helped obtain emails from Stratfor employees and put them on certain Internet websites.
The whistleblower website, Wikileaks started publishing emails from Stratfor in February. The website says it has nearly 5 million emails obtained from that company. It's not completely clear whether those emails are the ones prosecutors allege Hammond obtained by hacking into Stratfor's servers.
Hammond appeared in federal court in Chicago on Tuesday after being arrested the night before. He will be transferred to New York to stand trial.
Attorney Jim Fennerty represented Hammond in his initial Chicago court appearance. Fennerty also represented Hammond about two years ago when he was arrested for protesting at a Neo-Nazi gathering. He also confirmed Hammond had been detained for his opposition to Chicago's bid to host the Olympic Games, though Fennerty didn't represent Hammond in that case. Fennerty said he knows Hammond through his activism in Chicago.
"I like the guy. Maybe he does things I wouldn't do," Fennerty said.
Hammond is charged with three federal counts and faces a possible maximum sentence of 10 years for each of those counts.
"He does take them [the charges] very seriously. As you saw him today he looks kinda like - somebody said he looked kinda shell-shocked," Fennerty told reporters Tuesday.
Another four hackers were charged with similar counts in an indictment unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. A fifth hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, pleaded guilty last August. Monsegur is described in court papers as the ring-leader of the Anonymous sub-group LulzSec. Federal agents said Monsegur cooperated with the FBI in their investigation.
After weeks of delay, the Champaign County Board has agreed to seek out a needs assessment study for jail facilities.
The plan to bring in a consulting firm has been discussed for weeks. In Tuesday night's 5-hour committee of the whole meeting, the board agreed to an amended schedule for a criminal justice consulting firm to look at jail capacity needs. That firm will decide costs for either remodeling the jail in downtown Urbana, or expanding the satellite facility. The board is expected to award a contract by late July.
A number of amendments to the request for proposals were shot down. A couple came from Democrat Carol Ammons, who says she's still pleased overall.
"This process has long and tedious for the important reasons, right?" she said. "This is a huge undertaking, and I think we need a complete vetting of what we're going to actually do. And this is the beginning of that process."
Ammons did successfully seek out one motion, asking that a person of color from a minority-influenced county board district serve on a planning team that will also include sheriff Dan Walsh, State's Attorney Julia Reitz, and two other board members.
That suggestion didn't sit well with Reitz, who upset those who remained in the audience.
"Those of us who have volunteered to serve on this committee, to be part of this process, have the best interest of the county, and the system as a whole at heart," she said. "I'm absoutely willing to hear from anybody who has an interest, who wants to say something. But I do not think there needs to be a token person of color on the committee."
County Board Democrat and Facilties Committee Chair Tom Betz threatened to empty the room after members of the public snapped back at Reitz. The suggestion passed on a party line vote of 12 to 11, with all the 'yes' votes coming from Democrats. Ammons will ask the board to appoint her to that panel.
She and other members of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice have been critical of local authorities, saying there's a racial disparity of those incarcerated in Champaign County.
A tax on strip-clubs was approved Tuesday by an Illinois Senate committee.
The legislation would boost the cost of admission into clubs that serve alcohol by $5 per person. Revenue from the tax would support groups that work to prevent sexual assault.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said her proposal would address some of the violence toward women that she attributes to alcohol and nude dancing.
"I understand that this is a pretty contentious subject, largely because it's difficult to talk about in open conversation," Hutchinson said. "We are talking about something that is pretty easy to watch devolve into snickers and jokes about what it is we're trying to do here."
Hutchinson said there's a link between alcohol, strip clubs and crime, particularly violence against women.
However, club owner Michael Ocello said such studies are flawed and outdated. Ocello owns five clubs in the Metro East area, on the Illinois side of the river across from St. Louis. He said a majority of the state's 50 or so strip clubs would not survive the proposal, leaving 2,000 dancers, bartenders and other workers out of work.
"Many of these clubs have been impacted by the worst economy the country's ever seen in years, and a tax of $5 per person will kill most of these small business operations," Ocello said.
The measure was approved unanimously in committee and advances to the Senate floor. But several legislators who voted for it say they want more information before the final vote.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn weighed in on embattled University of Illinois President Michael Hogan.
Earlier this week, trustees told the president in a closed-door meeting that he has to repair a fractured relationship with faculty. More than a hundred influential faculty members have called on Hogan to resign.
Speaking on Tuesday in Chicago, Gov. Quinn said he has faith in the Board of Trustees, but when asked by a reporter if he "has confidence in President Hogan," the governor simply responded that he gets along well with him.
"I know Mike," Quinn said. "I enjoyed working with his predecessor...Mike Hogan, he's an easygoing fellow."
Quinn added that he believes everyone at the U of I should get along.
"My number one interest when it comes to the University of Illinois are the students," Quinn said. "I think they come first."
As governor, Quinn has a seat on the Board of Trustees, but doesn't regularly attend meetings and wasn't at Monday's session.
Board Chair Chris Kennedy said that trustees will review Hogan's job performance over the next couple of months. Meanwhile, the board is scheduled to meet on the Urbana campus next week.
Indiana state agencies will offer unemployment applications, food stamps, counseling and other services to southern Indiana storm victims at a central location in Sellersburg.
The state says the center will open at noon Wednesday on the first floor of Ogle Hall at the Ivy Tech campus a short distance west of Exit 9 off Interstate 65 along Indiana Route 311. After Wednesday, the center will be open 8 a.m.-8 p.m., seven days a week for at least 10 days
The American Red Cross also will offer basic necessities and essential items there. Among other services offered there will be tetanus shots, disaster recovery information and replacement of driver's licenses, license plates, vehicle titles and registrations.
The state says several local community action agencies will provide transportation to the center.
The price of a gallon of regular-grade gasoline rose to an average of $3.96.9 at the start of the week --- according to GasBuddy.com. That average had dropped by three-cents as of Tuesday, March 6. But that's still an increase of more than a quarter a gallon, according to the gas-price-tracking website.
GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan said several factors are contributing to high gas prices, including concerns about Iran, and problems with oil refinery and pipelines. DeHaan said that refinery capacity in the Great Lakes states typically shrinks this time of year, as refineries shut down for maintenance, in preparation for summer gas production.
"Some of it's planned --- like Citgo just disclosed that they're going to work on their plant in April," DeHaan said. "But as they restart their facilities, and tweak them for summer gasoline, we do have some unexpected issues that creep up."
The Citgo refinery is located in Lemont, west of Chicago. Other refineries in the region are located in northwest Indiana, the St. Louis/Metro East area, southern Indiana and near Toledo Ohio. DeHaan says he doesn't expect the sharp increases in gasoline prices to occur every week --- but he does think another spike is possible later this month.
GasBuddy is currently projecting nationwide gasoline prices to reach $3.75 to $4.15 a gallon by mid-May. But DeHaan said if the current round of price hikes continue, they may have to revise that projection upward.
Hundreds Attend Rally Opposing Dwight Prison Closure
Hundreds of people in northern Illinois have rallied to show their support for Dwight Correctional Center.
Ill. Rep. Candidates Brown & Roman Differ on Gambling Expansion
State Rep. Adam Brown (R-Decatur) and his GOP primary challenger, Rob Roman (R-Chrisman) agreed on most issues at a forum at the Champaign Public Library on Monday.
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