Practically the first thing WC saw on arriving in downtown Chicago to enroll in law school was a cop fixing a ticket. Some guy in a suit had parked at a fire hydrant. WC and his taxi driver watched as the suit and the cop negotiated the bribe.
The first week of law school, WC’s Civil Procedure professor, Harry “the Rat” Reese, took the class over to Cook County Courthouse. There, WC watched the in-court clerk auction the calendar. And met the Chief Judge. Who was indicted the next week for corruption.
In WC’s second year of law school, the entire Chicago Avenue precinct, the cops for the area where WC lived, were indicted for soliciting and receiving bribes. Every one of them; from the precinct captain to the newest foot patrolman. All of them eventually plead guilty.
In WC’s third year, all of the lift bridge operators along the Chicago River turned out to be Daley Machine hacks, and the only barge still using the river – and necessitating employing all of those lift bridge operators – turned out to be owned by the Daley Machine.
So WC emerged from his three years in Chicago with pretty low expectations for its politics, even after Mayor Richard J. Daley died and the Daley machine dissolved in a fog of federal indictments.
Everything since then has only confirmed WC low opinion of Illinois politics. Consider just the state’s governors:
- Otto Kerner, Jr. (D), governor from 1961 to 1968; Stratton’s successor and later a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, was convicted of 17 counts of bribery, conspiracy, perjury, and income-tax charges from his time as governor, and received three years in prison and a $50,000 fine in 1973. He was prosecuted by one of WC’s law professors and future Illinois governor Big Jim Thompson.
- Daniel Walker (D), governor from 1973 to 1977, was later involved in the savings and loan scandals and convicted of federal crimes related to fraudulent loans to himself from his own First American Savings & Loan Association of Oak Brook. He was sentenced to seven years in prison with five years of probation following his release.
- George Ryan (R), governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted in 2006 of corruption related to his time as Illinois Secretary of State in the 1990s, when commercial driver’s licenses were issued to unqualified truckers in exchange for bribes, and one of the truckers was involved in a crash that killed six children. Former governor Jim Thompson, whom Ryan had served under as Lieutenant Governor of Illinois in the 1980s, was manager of the law firm that defended Ryan. Ryan was released in 2013.
- Rod Blagojevich (D), governor from 2003 to 2009, and Ryan’s successor, was impeached and removed from office by the Illinois General Assembly in a unanimous vote in January 2009 after being tied to multiple “pay to play” schemes, including attempting to sell the former Senate seat of recently elected President Barack Obama. In August 2010, he was convicted of lying to the FBI in connection with the investigation, but the jury deadlocked on 23 other charges. Blagojevich was retried on 20 counts from his 2010 trial and on June 27, 2011, Blagojevich was convicted on 17 counts of fraud, acquitted on one count and the jury was hung on two. On December 7, 2011, Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
And that’s just the governors, and then only the ones that got caught. The embarrassing tradition has continued, most recently with the Redflex scandal.
John Bills, the managing deputy commissioner at the Department of Transportation, helped steer a lucrative City of Chicago contract to Redflex. Redflex is an Australia-based red-light camera vendor. In return for the fraud, Redflex hired Bills’ friend Martin O’Malley, who was paid $2 million for his services as a “contractor,” making him one of Redflex’s highest paid employees. O’Malley then paid much of that money to Bills, who used it for personal expenses. Beyond the second-hand bribes, Redflex employees, gave Bills a Mercedes and a condominium in Arizona.
Bills was indicted and found guilty in January on 20 counts of mail and wire fraud, bribery, extortion, and many other charges stemming from the corrupt contract. Bills was sentenced last week to ten years in the pen, and ordered to pay restitution of some $2 million. The City of Chicago terminated the Redflex contract in February 2013, and awarded a new stop signal enforcement contract to Xerox ACS.
But really, John Bill’s little swindle is practically a tradition in Cook County. Research released by the University of Illinois at Chicago reports that Chicago and Cook County’s judicial district recorded 45 public corruption convictions for 2013 and an astonishing 1642 convictions since 1976 – the year after WCleft Chicago – when the Department of Justice began compiling statistics.
Maybe it’s something in the water? Naw. As Cassius observed, “The fault is not in our stars, dear Brutus, but in ourselves.” And, yes, WC knows Cassius was encouraging corruption when he said that.