From Illinois Public Radio - News Local/State -

DCFS Director Once Pleaded Guilty To Theft, Was Sued For Child Support

Gov. Pat Quinn’s new director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services pleaded guilty to stealing from clients of a West Side social service agency and later became embroiled in a child-support battle over a daughter he said he never knew he’d fathered, records show.

Arthur D. Bishop, 61, had a felony theft charge pending against him when then-Gov. Jim Edgar’s administration hired him as a DCFS caseworker in 1995. He’d been accused of bilking patients of the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Community Mental Health Center out of more than $9,000, fighting the case for more than two years before pleading guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor theft.

Paternity case

Court records also show a paternity case was filed against Bishop in 2003, when he was a DCFS deputy director. DNA tests showed he was the father of Erica Bishop, then 17.

Her mother, Yolanda O’Connor, said Bishop knew Erica was his daughter from the time she was born in 1986. Bishop said in court papers he’d never met the girl and didn’t know O’Connor claimed Erica was his daughter until she served him with court papers.

Bishop, who was married to another woman when Erica was born, “denies his own daughter’s existence when he knows in his heart of hearts that he visited us on numerous occasions at my parents’ house when she was a child,” O’Connor said in a December 2003 court filing. Bishop “even asked me if he could live in with me if his wife put him out after she learned the truth. . . . All I want is for [Bishop] to just be a man about the situation and take responsibility for his child.”

O’Connor secured a $4,175 judgment and health insurance coverage for Erica until she turned 18, records show. But a judge denied her request for back child support after Bishop argued she’d never sought “support of any kind” from him and “in fact concealed” that he was Erica’s father.

Bishop declined to be interviewed for this story.

Governor stands by appointment

Quinn administration aides say the governor stands by his decision to make Bishop the state’s top child-welfare official.

“The governor appointed Arthur Bishop because of his decades of excellent work and respected leadership at the Departments of Juvenile Justice and Children and Family Services,” Quinn press secretary Brooke Anderson said. “The governor feels he has the right experience to lead this very difficult agency.”

DCFS spokeswoman Karen Hawkins said: “We believe it’s inappropriate to raise decades-old issues that have long been resolved and have nothing to do with his performance as director.”

Bishop, who makes $150,000 a year, takes over DCFS at a pivotal time. The agency admitted in December to undercounting the number of child-abuse and neglect deaths in Illinois following a series of Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ reports that prompted criticism of the agency from legislators and some child advocates.

The agency also has been accused of failing to keep a close eye on its finances. In December, Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued South Side businessman George E. Smith, a friend of former DCFS director Erwin McEwen, to recover millions of dollars in state grant money Smith allegedly misspent. No criminal charges have been filed.

Quinn brought in Richard H. Calica to reform the agency. But Calica died of cancer in December, and Quinn then shifted Bishop from his post heading the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice — a job he’d held since August 2010 — back to DCFS, where he previously worked from 1995 to 2010.

Early work in counseling

Before his career in state government, Bishop was a substance-abuse counselor at the Bobby E. Wright center. According to his Sept. 17, 1993, arrest report, he received $9,262 from clients and failed to turn over that money to the center between May 5, 1992, and July 23, 1993.

Bishop created a “bogus” program for convicted drunken drivers, said Lucy Lang-Chappell, former executive director of the center, who was his boss. He was improperly taking money from patients and providing them with forms they wrongly believed would allow them to get their driver’s licenses back, though the center wasn’t licensed by the state to provide that service at the time, Chappell said in an interview.

She said the scheme was exposed when a patient came to the center in July 1993 with a currency exchange check the patient wrote to the center for his participation in the DUI program. The man said Bishop visited his home that day and insisted he replace the check with one written directly to Bishop, according to Chappell.

Chappell said she confronted Bishop with what the patient told her — and fired him on the spot.

The center was forced to reimburse “a stream of patients” for checks and cash they’d given Bishop, Chappell said. An insurance policy eventually covered the center’s losses, she said.

Another employee of the center also pleaded guilty in the theft, records show.

Bishop “really betrayed me and everybody else at the agency,” Chappell said. “The thing that really saddens me is that this is a man who is supposed to be over children and families — and this kind of thing happened. … He did something to the patients that was totally unethical, against the rules of the agency, and we were liable.”

Bishop has maintained that, despite his guilty plea, he was innocent of the theft allegations. At a 1994 court hearing, his lawyer said Bishop turned over the money he collected to Chappell, who says that’s “totally false.” Chappell, now retired, wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing, and other current and former Bobby Wright employees backed up her recollection of events in interviews with Sun-Times and WBEZ reporters.

In 2010, before Bishop was appointed director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, he gave a written statement to the Illinois Senate asserting that he was wrongly accused.

'Totally false accusation'

“In 1993, following an increasingly strained professional relationship with the CEO, Dr. Lucy Lang-Chappell, resulting in a verbal disagreement regarding programming, I walked out of her office,” Bishop wrote. “Soon thereafter, I was informed that she had made allegations that I had stolen funds. This was a totally false accusation.”

Bishop told the Senate he made an “agonizing” decision to plead guilty to the misdemeanor to end the strain on his family.

Chappell was incredulous after being read Bishop’s statement. “He took the money from numerous patients,” she said.

While Bishop’s felony case was pending — and after he was fired from the Bobby Wright center — he worked briefly at Maryville Academy before being hired as a DCFS caseworker in March 1995, records show.

When he applied to DCFS in 1994, state officials could not consider the arrest in weighing whether to hire him, according to Hawkins, who said: “By law, under the Human Rights Act . . . DCFS is forbidden from considering arrests in making employment decisions — and this matter was still in the courts.”

On Nov. 2, 1995, Bishop pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft and was sentenced to a year of conditional discharge, records show. He didn’t have to make restitution, Hawkins said.

“Director Bishop has consistently disclosed the details of this guilty plea on state applications,” she said.

Bishop, an ordained minister, was in the news in the late 1990s when he was a DCFS caseworker involved in a high-profile custody battle involving the boy known as “Baby T.” Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and his wife Anne Burke, now an Illinois Supreme Court justice, ultimately won guardianship of the child.

O’Connor filed the paternity case against Bishop in March 2003, with the court summons listing his Maywood home and his DCFS office. Bishop hired Marina E. Ammendola — the lawyer who represented the Burkes in the Baby T case.

O’Connor, who didn’t have a lawyer, said she sued Bishop to get him to help with college expenses for Erica, who’s now a medical assistant.

“He didn’t want to do anything,” O’Connor said. “He has a good heart. But my daughter wants to nail him to the cross because he’s never been there.”

O’Connor said Erica’s stepfather, not Bishop,  “taught her how to ride a bike, how to drive. He was there for her at prom. If [Bishop] wants to make things right, tell him to call her and talk to her. . . . Apologize.”