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Shake this up, please

Thursday, Dec 18, 2014

* It’s been abundantly clear for some time now that the state’s grant programs need a complete rethink

A federal jury Wednesday found a Chicago couple guilty on all counts in a state grant scam trial that featured testimony about power, money and sex and saw a high-profile ruling that one of President Barack Obama’s golfing buddies was a hostile witness.

The seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated for about five hours on the fate of Leon and Karin Dingle, who faced conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering charges. Prosecutors contended that the Dingles helped themselves to $3.36 million in state grant funds that were supposed to fight AIDS, flu and cancer in minority communities and misrepresented or concealed where the money went.

During the trial, prosecutors sought to prove money went instead to underwrite luxury cars, a Marina Towers condo, a son’s mortgage, yacht club expenses, and maintenance of vacation homes in Hilton Head, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., two places the Dingles are putting up for sale. Prosecutors will seek to recover money at sentencing April 9. Most counts carry potential 20-year sentences.

Springfield-based U.S. Attorney James Lewis said a central Illinois task force investigation that so far has netted more than a dozen people on state grant abuse “goes on until we come to the end.”

Those millions would’ve been appreciated by groups that actually do great work. But too many grants are handed out to political cronies, and this is just one example of what results.

* More

The Dingles and their co-defendants, who earlier pleaded guilty, stole what amounted to $2 of every $5 they received in grant funds form IDPH from 2004 to 2010, prosecutors said. The scheme involved $11 million of mostly no-bid, upfront-funded grants ostensibly doled out for AIDS- and cancer-awareness campaigns in minority and under-served communities. […]

The case against Dingle, a well-regarded and successful Chicago businessman, and his wife was part of a probe that had drawn four previous guilty pleas. Quinshaunta Golden, the former IDPH chief of staff who controlled the grants, pleaded guilty to bribery, mail fraud and making false statements. She conspired with former agency human resources director Roxanne Jackson to split ill-gotten gains; Jackson pleaded guilty to bribery and tax fraud. They await sentencing.

Lewis would not comment on further indictments in the IDPH case. He noted that Dr. Eric Whitaker, a close friend of Obama’s who served as IDPH director from 2003 to 2007, is not a target of the investigation. Whitaker made the list of government witnesses, and although never summoned, Bass repeatedly invoked his name to establish a landscape of access and influence Dingle allegedly cultivated to breed criminal activity.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

24 Comments
  1. - Gubment - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 10:36 am:

    There are various layers of oversight and definitions of grants by state agencies. I fume when the bad gets lumped in with the good. We legislate to the lowest denominator in instances like this…

    An organization that abuses a grant will mean those that follow the law and regulations will see more regulations and more paperwork that divert from the purpose of the grant dollars.

    By all means take the politics out, let organizations prove their worth with outcomes and services, not more oversight, boxes to check, etc.


  2. - MrJM - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 10:38 am:

    Yes, but what about the $3 of every $5 that they didn’t steal?

    – MrJM


  3. - Cassidy - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 10:44 am:

    DCEO is reportedly trying to get as many “member initiative” grants out as they possibly can before Rauner takes over and closes that program down.


  4. - Amalia - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 10:45 am:

    the key is oversight. there are supposed to be outcomes and budgets which matter, site visits, regular communications with those who hand out the money. yes, there are bad apples. but there are also lots of grants. and there should be. things should be awarded to good operations outside of government. but the oversight is important. running government, and NGOs, not easy. mistakes are made, but, baby/bathwater.


  5. - Anonymous - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 10:47 am:

    The grant system is the most prone to the “Waste, Fraud, and Abuse”, but I could be wrong. Many contenders here. Unless it has changed, the scoring process was intended to give the appearance of impartiality and fairness, but in the end political greed too often won out. I think it will remain so unless upstanding politicians prevail. I won’t take bets on that


  6. - Cassandra - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 10:54 am:

    It seems to me that I remember that a state legislator had a proposal to improve grant monitoring after one of the recent grant scandals, suggesting that federal guidelines be followed. Not sure what happened to his proposal but I believe it involved using more stringent federal guidelines.

    In any case, yes, Rauner needs to prioritize this issue, as taxpayers remember these scandals when politicians come to them to raise their taxes. And he is going to have to find revenue somewhere-income tax increase extension, service taxes, grt, whatever.

    My liberal friends always tell me that a little misfeasance is just part of the process of getting taxpayer $$$ to people who need it. I’ve never accepted that and I hope Rauner doesn’t either.


  7. - Wordslinger - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 10:55 am:

    Cassidy, “reportedly” where? Where did you read that?


  8. - Norseman - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 11:01 am:

    This grant was tightly run by the COS for now obvious reasons. Member initiatives are a problem because the sponsoring Solon doesn’t want the grantee to be hassled. Hopefully recent legislation will help with that.


  9. - Toure's Latte - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 11:01 am:

    If abusers do significant time and face sufficient penalty, the odds go down others will game the grants for personal gain.


  10. - proudstatetrooper - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 11:04 am:

    I always believed the Auditor Generals role should be expanded to place auditors in each of the largest departments and agencies in the State for overview of grants and spending overall. Too many times money is spent foolishly or not in the best interests of the taxpayer. Someone independent of the agency to say NO or get a couple bids might be the answer to some of these issues. Not that it would have prevented this scam but oversight is necessary before the check is written.


  11. - Sir Reel - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 11:09 am:

    Gubment is right. In Illinois abuse only seems to lead to more red tape ostensibly to prevent future abuse. Legitimate grant programs suffer.

    Then new ways around the red tape are found.

    The cycle continues.


  12. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 11:12 am:

    Consider it shook.
    Kotowski, HB2747. Imposes stricter federal review standards for state grants, etc.
    Effective immediately.


  13. - Not it - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 11:41 am:

    Nevermind that the groups would have appreciated the money, the people they serve would have appreciated it more. How my h has the disease spread and infected others because of these corrupt individuals? Shame on them.


  14. - Downstate Illinois - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 11:55 am:

    Worse is that these were front-loaded grants when existing non-profits struggle to pay bills. They are stuck with funding that only comes after they submit bills for reimbursement.

    I’m not against front-loaded grants or grants that come with regularly scheduled funding (such as monthly or quarterly). The state’s actions to back away from such grants has driven non-profits into the ground, and prevented small agencies, both non-profit and local governments, from writing for grants because they don’t have the extra cash to start new projects.


  15. - Team Sleep - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 12:01 pm:

    This is just like the line I tell my older son when one of his pals causes trouble in class and escalates a situation:

    “Sorry, bud, but sometimes it only takes on person to ruin it for everyone.”


  16. - A guy... - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 2:01 pm:

    Just sick.


  17. - Anyone Remember - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 2:21 pm:

    Before we pass anymore legislation, I would humbly request every legislator and CapFax commenter review Barbara Shaw’s NRI testimony, particularly pages 228-237.

    http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lac/nri/Transcripts/10October%208,%202014%20Legislative%20Audit%20Commission%20Meeting%20Transcript.pdf

    New laws + no staff = the same mess that exists in procurement. In my time in Springfield, the only grant monitoring unit that was anywhere near properly staffed was the pre-Blagojevich IDOT Division of Traffic Safety.


  18. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 2:42 pm:

    Back in the 70s and early 80s there was a very good monitoring system for mental health, developmental disabilities, and alcohol/drug abuse grants. It disappeared as a result of continuous cuts in staffing


  19. - Rowdy Yates - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 2:56 pm:

    Lenient sentences for white collar crime invites even more of these frauds. Lock Dingle up for 20 years and throw away the key and then you will get more of these thieves to “reconsider” their errant ways. Maybe every state has this amount of political crooks but it just seems that Illinois seems to act as a magnet for these characters. The “risk versus reward ratio” is such in Illinois that it seems like it attracts these political crooks much like a light bulb attracts moths on a mid-summer evening.


  20. - Demoralized - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 4:00 pm:

    ==It disappeared as a result of continuous cuts in staffing==

    And the “that’s not an excuse” people will come out of the woodwork in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1

    It takes people to monitor these things. If you want to give out money you better have people to oversee them. I can tell you from personal experience that most grants I have been associated with are not monitored. Paperwork is reviewed but nobody goes out to see what these people are doing. Why? Nobody to do it. So, if people want to whine about this sort of thing going on that’s fine, but they better be the first people to stand up and support hiring more workers to fix the problem. If they aren’t then they are part of the problem.


  21. - Soccermom - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 4:30 pm:

    This is what happens when you boast of having the lowest number of state employees per capita in the nation. We have outsourced so many fundamental activities — which may not be bad, so long as there is adequate oversight.


  22. - Kakistocracy Kid - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 5:15 pm:

    What about Whitaker’s alledged ignorance of these shinnaggins? “Should have known” comes to mind.


  23. - dr. reason a. goodwin - Thursday, Dec 18, 14 @ 9:36 pm:

    It’s very hard to convince the average taxpayer to embrace keeping the higher income tax rate when this nonsense keeps coming up.


  24. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 12:28 am:

    Schnorf, the old DCCA also had a well-staffed (and proportionally Fed-funded) grant-monitoring office until Blago took office.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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