Hastert indictment upholds Illinois tradition of corruption
News that former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert was indicted took the state of Illinois — and much of the political world — by surprise.
According to the indictment, the Republican congressman from Yorkville, Ill., agreed to pay $3.5 million in hush money to an unnamed individual whom Hastert had allegedly wronged years ago. The low-key Hastert has been charged with evading bank regulations in withdrawing tens of thousands of dollars at a time to make the payments, then lying to the FBI about it.
Denny, Denny. Is that the best you can do? That’s not even public corruption, which is usually what happens to elected officials here in Illinois. After all, four of Illinois’ last seven governors went to prison.
In reporting this story, many news organizations referred to Illinois as the “third-most corrupt” state. Rankings differ, but a 2015 poll from Monmouth University gave the top spots to New York and California. Another method of measurement, such as this one from fivethirtyeight.com, says Louisiana, followed by Mississippi, have the most corruption per capita.
Isn’t it bad enough that Chicago has to put up with being called the Second City?
Anyway, as they say, practice makes perfect. Here’s what is no doubt an incomplete wall of shame: a list of other former Illinois politicians who have spent time in the slammer — or should have.
Rod Blagojevich, Democrat, governor 2003-2009, when he was impeached and removed from office. The two-term governor was convicted in 2010 and also in 2011 on several counts of corruption, including soliciting for bribes when trying to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of then-President-Elect Barack Obama. We’ll never forget his voice on those phone tapes saying, “I’ve got this thing, and it’s (bleeping) golden.” Blago is currently serving a 14-year sentence.
George Ryan, Republican, governor 1999-2003. Ryan was convicted of corruption in 2006 for steering state contracts and leases to political insiders and helping cover up bribes paid in return for truck drivers’ licenses while he was secretary of state and then governor. He served five years of a 6 ½-year prison term and is now free.
Dan Walker, Democrat, governor 1973-1977. He pleaded guilty to bank fraud, misapplication of funds, and perjury in the 1980s savings and loan crisis, all unrelated to his service as governor. He served 1 ½ years of a seven-year sentence and recently died.
Otto Kerner, Democrat, governor 1961-1968. He was convicted of bribery, tax evasion, and other counts, including arranging favorable horse racing dates as governor in return for getting horse racing association stock at reduced prices. He served one year of a three-year sentence.
Let’s not forget:
Paul Powell, Democrat, Illinois secretary of state 1965-1970, who died in office. Two days after his death, nearly $800,000 in cash was found in shoeboxes, briefcases, metal boxes, and envelopes under his bed. Also found: two cases of creamed corn, 49 cases of whiskey, and 14 cases of transistor radios.
Joel Matteson, Democrat, governor 1853-1857. After leaving office, a court ruled that he owed the state more than $253,000 in connection with a scheme to pay government contractors. His property was sold at auction.
Orville Hodge, Republican, state auditor 1953-56. He pleaded guilty in 1956 to embezzling more than $1.5 million from the state during his one term in office. He used the money to buy two planes, four autos, and homes in Illinois and Florida. Of course, as auditor, his chief task was to to guard against such thefts. He served 6 ½ years of a 10-year prison sentence and repaid the state. Hodge had only $81 to his name when he was released from prison and got a job as a clerk in his sister’s hardware store.
William Scott, Republican, Illinois attorney general 1969-1980. He was elected to four terms but left office when he was convicted of tax fraud, both personally and in his campaigns. He served seven months of a 366-day sentence and went on to join a Chicago law firm after the Illinois Supreme Court restored his law license.
And then there are the congressmen:
U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, Democrat, 1959-1995. The powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee pleaded guilty to corruption charges of mail fraud in the Congressional Post Office scandal of the 1990s. He served 15 months of a 17-month prison sentence and was pardoned by President Bill Clinton.
U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, Democrat, 1993-1995. He was first convicted of misconduct with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer on charges of sexual assault, obstruction of justice, and solicitation of child pornography. He was re-elected to the House in 1994 despite the charges against him but resigned after his conviction in 1995. He served more than two years in prison on those charges, but before his release, he also was convicted on federal wire and bank fraud charges and sentenced to more than six years. President Clinton commuted that sentence. Reynolds’ multiple attempts at political comebacks have not gone well.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Democrat, 1995-2012. Jackson succeeded Reynolds in office, only to face his own charges on misuse of campaign funds. He pleaded guilty to several charges, including wire and mail fraud. He used $750,000 in campaign funds to make personal purchases, including expensive watches and a fedora that had belonged to pop star Michael Jackson. He was released from prison in 2015 to transfer to a halfway house, but his wife, Sandi Jackson, is trading places with him. Sandi, a former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns to cover up the tax schemes.
A few, as they say, beat the rap:
William G. Stratton, Republican, governor 1953-1961. After leaving office, he was indicted on income tax evasion charges but was acquitted. He apparently was known as “Billy the Kid.”
Lennington Small, Republican, governor 1921-1929. He was indicted while in office of embezzling more than $1million in state funds while he was state treasurer. After indictment, he first refused to surrender to authorities for three weeks. He claimed that the separation of powers protected him from arrest, and he threatened to use the National Guard to place the state capital of Springfield under martial law to protect himself. He, too, was acquitted.
And this list doesn’t even include several other Chicago aldermen who have been convicted, or other state officials, like two state representatives convicted of bribery (Derrick Smith) or distributing child pornography (Keith Farnham). Then there’s Rita Crundwell, comptroller and treasurer in Dixon, Ill, who is serving a nearly 20-year sentence for embezzling more than $30 million from the small downstate town during her years in office and buying expensive race horses.
Also, former Rep. Aaron Schock, a downstate Republican, resigned from Congress in 2015 after reports of his free-spending ways with campaign and public funds. He’s now under investigation, too.
Do we have a proud tradition in this state or what?