A clout-heavy couple convicted of stealing more than $3 million in state grant money to support a lavish lifestyle of yacht-club memberships, luxury cars and vacation homes also had a sweetheart deal with the University of Illinois at Chicago that reaped them hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.
A business owned by Leon Dingle Jr. and his wife, Karin Dingle, leased out a portion of a small, one-story building they owned on the West Side to UIC for storage. They collected nearly $700,000 in rent over seven years from the state university — more than twice the $310,000 they paid for the entire building, university and property records show.
The Dingles’ Advance Health, Social & Educational Associates Inc. shared the 9,000-square-foot building at 2234 W. Walnut with UIC between the summer of 2006 and the fall of 2013, when the lease expired. That was about a year after the couple’s Oct. 4, 2012, indictment in a federal grant-fraud case in Springfield.
The university’s lease with AHSEA also included a 10,000-square-foot parking lot behind the building, which is three miles northwest of UIC’s main campus and a mile from the UIC Medical Center.
When the university signed the lease, Leon Dingle was treasurer of the Illinois Medical District Commission, a government agency that oversees development within a 560-acre swath of the West Side that includes the UIC hospital campus. Four years earlier, Dingle and his fellow commissioners agreed to put up a $30 million office building at 1747 W. Roosevelt that UIC is now buying on an installment contract.
Bill Burton, a university spokesman, says UIC used the Dingles’ property on Walnut Street to store out-of-season equipment, including snow plows and road salt, as well as office furniture that was in the process of being relocated.
UIC crews had to cross the Eisenhower Expressway to get to the site, but Burton says, “The distance from campus wasn’t a particular concern. It wasn’t that far away.”
Now, all of the equipment UIC was storing at the Dingle site is back on campus “as part of ongoing efforts to reduce costs,” Burton says.
“Property that had been stored at the location . . . was moved to various storage facilities on campus” when the lease with the Dingles expired, according to Burton. “Some of the furniture was sent to the surplus warehouse to be repurposed for other units.”
University officials would not discuss how UIC learned the Dingle site was available, whether Leon Dingle’s role as a medical district commissioner influenced the decision to sign the lease and whether there was an appraisal to justify the rent.
Over the seven-year, four-month term of the lease, UIC paid $1.43 per square foot, on average — slightly more than the $1 a square foot the Dingles are now asking to lease the building, records show.
The university’s lease with the Dingles wasn’t subject to competitive bidding. UIC requires bids for any lease that exceeds 10,000 square feet or costs more than $100,000 a year. It ended up leasing 5,549 square feet inside the Dingles’ building, paying as much as $96,404 a year in rent, records show.
Leon Dingle, 77, and Karin Dingle 75, both of Chicago, each faces the possibility of as much as 20 years in prison when they are sentenced July 1 in Springfield.
In December, a federal court jury there took five hours to find the Dingles guilty of conspiracy, mail fraud and money-laundering for stealing $3.4 million in state grants awarded by the Illinois Department of Public Health to not-for-profit groups under Leon Dingle’s control.
The money was part of $11 million the state health department gave the organizations for AIDS, cancer and other health-related programs in minority communities. That included $4 million the state agency awarded when it was headed by Dr. Eric Whitaker, President Barack Obama’s longtime friend.
Leon Dingle was AHSEA’s president and Karin Dingle its vice president.
None of the charges they faced involved the UIC lease, but federal prosecutors took note during their trial of UIC’s payments to their company, saying those rent payments ended up in an AHSEA bank account along with state grant money.
Leon Dingle, who has a doctorate in public health, has been a force in Chicago’s black community for decades, frequently appearing at events sponsored by the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
In 1991, then-Cook County Board President Richard Phelan appointed Leon Dingle to the medical district commission. Phelan’s successors John Stroger and Todd Stroger reappointed Dingle, who remained on the board until Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle replaced him in March 2012, seven months before his indictment.
In 1993, the Sun-Times reported that Dingle had been named one of 10 board members for UIC’s Center for Urban Business. University officials said they had no documents to show how long he served on that board.
A year later, he and his wife bought the 2234 W. Walnut property for $310,000, records show.
It’s unclear whether any other tenant shared the building with AHSEA before UIC.
Dingle referred questions to his criminal defense lawyer, Edward M. Genson, who declined to comment.
Initially, UIC had a five-year lease for the building and parking lot, agreeing to pay AHSEA $96,404 a year between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2011. UIC’s facilities management department renewed the lease for $84,000 a year between Nov. 1, 2011, and Oct. 31, 2013.
Altogether, the university paid the Dingles $698,221.