Illinois is the second-most corrupt state in the nation, according to the University of Illinois-Chicago. And corruption costs the state economy at least $550 million per year. But the size and scope of government corruption is nothing new for Illinoisans.
What is new? Powerful Illinois lawmakers, Chicago aldermen, local mayors and business interests are involved in what appears to be one of the most wide-ranging federal corruption investigations in state history. This report is a continuously updated list of individuals and organizations that have been questioned, targeted, investigated, indicted or convicted as part of law enforcement’s anti-corruption activity in Illinois in 2019.
In addition to knowing the faces of corruption, Illinoisans should understand the structural factors that give rise to misconduct in government, and know that the state could go a long way toward shedding its corrupt image by adopting policies that are common in other states. The Illinois Policy Institute supports the following anti-corruption reform measures, many of which were recommended in a 2009 state report released following the indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich:
- Adopting revolving door restrictions on state lawmakers becoming lobbyists.
- Empowering the Illinois legislative inspector general to investigate lawmaker corruption. As is, this muzzled watchdog office must seek approval from a panel of state lawmakers before opening investigations, issuing subpoenas and even publishing summary reports.
- Mandating state lawmakers recuse themselves from votes in which they have a conflict of interest. There is no current state law or even parliamentary rule requiring Illinois lawmakers to disclose a conflict of interest or to excuse themselves from voting on issues where they have personal or private financial interests.
- Reforming the Illinois House rules, which grant more concentrated power to the House speaker than any other legislative rules in the country.
- Using objective scoring criteria for capital projects, akin to Virginia’s Smart Scale model. This ensures infrastructure dollars are directed by need rather than clout.
- Passing a bipartisan constitutional amendment to end politically drawn legislative maps in Illinois.
Last updated: Nov. 11, 2019
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park
- 41-count federal indictment in August alleged Cullerton pocketed around $275,000 in salary and health benefits from the Teamsters for a do-nothing job. Pleaded not guilty.
- Disclosure of his charges came soon after Teamsters chief John Coli pleaded guilty to extortion charges
- Distant cousin of Senate President John Cullerton
- Following the indictment, Senate President Cullerton removed Tom as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee and named him chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee
- Arrested on one count of bribery of a state official in October. Allegedly bribed a state senator in August in exchange for support of gambling-related legislation, which he also worked on as a registered city of Chicago lobbyist. Resigned from the Illinois House of Representatives following arrest.
- Former House Assistant Majority Leader and chairman of the Appropriations-Capital committee, which was key to passing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s $45 billion infrastructure plan and gas tax hike. Thanked Pritzker for the capital bill in resignation letter.
- Son, Luis Arroyo Jr., is a Democratic Cook County Commissioner
- 36th Ward committeeman for the Cook County Democratic Party
State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago
- In September, the FBI and IRS raided Sandoval’s home as well as his government offices in Springfield and Cicero
- Former chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, key driver of Pritzker’s infrastructure plan and gas tax hike
- Sandoval warrant shows federal agents seeking documents related to: Red-light camera company SafeSpeed, Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, asphalt boss Michael Vondra, at least four Commonwealth Edison or Exelon executives, Ceasar Santoy and his architectural firm Studio Arq., Gold Rush Gaming and its CEO Rick Heidner, and five unnamed Illinois Department of Transportation employees
State Sen. Terry Link, D-Gurnee
- Senate Assistant Majority Leader; member of the Legislative Ethics Commission
- Believed to be the unnamed senator who wore a wire in the case against Arroyo. The Arroyo complaint says a state senator became a federal source in 2016, but was dropped after authorities received evidence of the senator filing false income tax returns. He is now working with federal officials with hopes of receiving a reduced sentence, according to the complaint. Link denies he is the state senator involved in the Arroyo charges.
- Berwyn alderman and Pritzker’s appointee to the Illinois Tollway Board. Resigned from Tollway Board in October following release of unredacted Sandoval warrant, which showed authorities sought information on Santoy and his architecture firm. Pritzker also withdrew his nomination.
- Santoy’s attorney said officials told Santoy neither he nor his company are a target of the investigation
- Voted for contracts with red-light company SafeSpeed in Berwyn. According to Illinois Policy Institute analysis, Berwyn has generated $19.2 million from red-light cameras since 2009, the highest lifetime total of any municipality outside Chicago.
Ald. Willie Cochran
- Sentenced to one year in prison on one count of felony wire fraud in June
- Admitted to stealing $14,000 from a charity he created for needy children and seniors in his South Side ward. Used the stolen funds to pay for fancy dinners, Mercedes-Benz accessories, his daughter’s college tuition and a gambling habit.
- Cochran is the 34th Chicago alderman convicted on corruption charges since 1972, and the third of the last four 20th Ward aldermen to be indicted while holding office
Ald. Ed Burke
- Indicted on 14-count corruption charge in May, including allegations that he tried to steer business to his property tax law firm by strong-arming the owner of a Burger King franchise in his ward. Pleaded not guilty.
- Longest-serving alderman in Chicago history (1969-) and the most powerful member of Chicago City Council prior to the most recent federal investigation.
- Former Chicago Finance Committee Chairman (1983-2019) and former chairman of the influential judicial slating subcommittee of the Cook County Democratic Party.
- 14th Ward committeeman for the Cook County Democratic Party
- Longtime partner in one of the most lucrative property-tax appeals firms in Chicago, Klafter & Burke. Stepped down earlier this year.
- Wife Anne Burke became chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in 2019, despite a WBEZ report identifying at least 10 instances in which she decided on cases involving parties who at the time were clients of Klafter & Burke.
- Top political lieutenant for Burke’s 14th Ward office, charged in Burke indictment for allegedly aiding in shakedown of Burger King franchise owner. Pleaded not guilty.
Ald. Carrie Austin
- Federal agents raided her 34th Ward office in June; investigation includes her purchase of a West Pullman home
- Second-longest serving sitting alderman, behind Burke
- Vice chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party, sitting 34th Ward committeewoman
- Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019 ended Austin’s 12-year tenure as head of the Chicago City Council Budget Committee
- Vocal defender of patronage hiring
- The Cook County Land Bank Authority in 2017 signed off on a property tax delinquency deal benefitting Austin chief of staff Chester Wilson Jr.
Former Ald. Danny Solis
- Announced in November 2018 he would not seek re-election. In January, news broke that he had been wearing a wire in conversations with Burke, which led to Burke’s indictment.
- Was the fourth-longest serving sitting Chicago alderman (1996-2019). Originally appointed to his seat in 1996 by Mayor Richard M. Daley to replace Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, who was convicted on bribery charges
- Former chairman of the influential City Council Zoning Committee (2009-2019)
- According to a federal court affadavit, Solis received sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of a farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey and campaign contributions in exchange for City Council actions
- The FBI secretly recorded a meeting between Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and a hotel developer who had been directed to Madigan’s law firm by Solis
Former Chicago Department of Aviation Deputy Commissioner Bill Helm
- Authorities questioned Helm and seized his phone in September. Helm was named in search warrants and subpoenas served to state Sen. Martin Sandoval and a number of suburban local governments.
- Helm moonlighted as a consultant for red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC while earning $125,000 a year at the city of Chicago’s aviation department, a job he quit in August
- Received a cut of every ticket charged from red-light cameras in Matteson and Glendale Heights, according to the Chicago Sun-Times
- Matteson has charged motorists more than $5.6 million in red-light camera tickets from five cameras since 2016, according to Illinois Policy Institute research