Chicago’s still the nation’s corruption capital — and Blagojevich is the poster boy

And Illinois — where four of the last 10 governors have served prison sentences — remains the nation’s third most corrupt state.

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Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, freed from prison by President Donald Trump, spoke to the media outside his home on Feb. 19, 2020.

A week after being freed from prison by President Donald Trump and returning home to Chicago, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich as signed with Cameo, a web service where notable people will record personalized video greetings for strangers — for a price.


As former Gov. Rod Blagojevich settles in after returning home from prison, Chicago continues to be the most corrupt city in the country.

And Illinois — where four of the last 10 governors and 35 Chicago aldermen have served prison sentences — remains the nation’s third most corrupt state.

As we reported in our Anti-Corruption Report last week, Chicago has rung up a total of 1,750 public corruption convictions from 1976 through 2018. This is even more troubling when compared to the second-place city, Los Angeles, which saw 200 fewer convictions in the same period.

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Our report examines the most recent data provided the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice covering 1976 through 2018. It shows that on a per capita basis Illinois remains the third most corrupt state. New York, California, Texas and Florida each have more total public corruption convictions than Illinois, but their populations are larger, and on a per capita basis they rank lower than Illinois.

Consider some of the highlights of corruption in our city and state in 2018, the last year for which the data is available:

● Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for killing Laquan McDonald.

● 20th Ward Ald. Willie Cochran was indicted in 2016 and attempted but failed to get the charges against him dismissed in 2018. A year later, Cochran pled guilty to taking $14,000 from a 20th Ward charitable fund and using the money for personal expenses. And it appears there will be plenty of other aldermanic indictments and convictions in the year ahead.

● Also in 2018, Alaina Hampton, a former staffer for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Democratic Party of Illinois and Friends of Michael J. Madigan of retaliation. Hampton claimed that Kevin Quinn, a Madigan aide who was her supervisor on three political campaigns, harassed her in his pursuit of a romantic and sexual relationship. She alleged she suffered crippling fear and anxiety and was forced to quit. In 2019, Hampton’s lawsuit was settled for $275,000.

Altogether there were 18 federal corruption convictions in Illinois during 2018, ranging from major to less well-known cases.

Although the total number federal convictions for public corruption tapered off slightly in 2018, there was an increase in news articles about investigations launched and other anti-corruption activity underway. Thus, it is highly likely that investigations begun in 2018 will lead a tsunami of convictions of high level public officials in 2020 or 2021.

Most notably in 2018, federal agents raided the City Hall offices of City Council Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke. They also removed computers and other potential evidence from Ald. Burke’s 14th Ward office. Burke’s later indictment revealed that a wiretap on his cell phone recorded his alleged shakedown of businessmen.

A month after the Burke raid, news organizations revealed that 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis was under investigation by federal prosecutors, and he had cooperated with them by secretly recording his conversions with Burke and other aldermen over two years.

The Burke and Solis investigations, which were underway in 2018, plus fallout from the investigations of then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, and Teamster boss John Coli, strongly suggest that there will be numerous public corruption convictions in 2020 and 2021.

And now President Donald Trump has pardoned Blagojevich, who remains unapologetic. Blagojevich’s defense is that “everybody does it.”

In a town and state born and steeped in machine politics, thousands of other public officials certainly have stolen from us. But Blagojevich remains the poster boy for our local corruption.

A copy of our report can be found at:

Dick Simpson is a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Thomas J. Gradel is a former political consultant.

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