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The Watchdogs

Investigations of City Hall, county government, politicians, education, business and pocketbook issues affecting taxpayers and consumers.

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Fighting gun violence in Chicago with trees, rakes and cleanup crews

The city is spending millions to beautify the public spaces where shootings are most likely to occur. It’s a strategy research has found can help fight crime as well as neighborhood blight.

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A database of FBI files on people with Chicago and Illinois ties

The Sun-Times has compiled a database of FBI records on notable people with ties to Illinois, including politicians, gangsters and religious leaders. Keep checking back for updates.

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2 aldermen fronted measures for embattled Ald. Edward Burke that benefit his law clients

Patrick Daley Thompson and Michael Zalewski put their names on moves that would bring millions of dollars in property tax breaks to businesses that hired the now-indicted Southwest Side alderman.

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FBI files shed light on nearly a century of threats to Chicago politicians — and an alderman suspected of being a secret communist

The ire that’s been directed over the years at political figures in Illinois often has been about race, patriotism and gun control, according to a new Sun-Times database compiled from FBI reports.

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FBI records reveal one Catholic bishop’s views on race, another’s taste for angel food cake

The agency kept tabs on Chicago Cardinal John Cody and his views on MLK, and its files on Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen were filled with details about what he did, the people he saw and even what he liked to eat.

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Auction date set for properties once controlled by Rev. Leon Finney Jr.

It will feature 15 properties across the South Side owned by the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, which is now in bankruptcy.

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Lori Lightfoot orders review of Rev. Leon Finney Jr.’s ‘significant portfolio’ of CHA buildings

The mayor called the South Side minister ‘an iconic person’ who has ‘done good work over the course of his life’ and said his downfall is ‘clearly disappointing.’

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Parishioners stand with Rev. Leon Finney amid fraud allegations: ‘His heart’s in the right place’

Days after a judge’s stinging rebuke of the longtime Chicago powerbroker was reported by the Sun-Times, Finney forcibly removed a reporter from Sunday service at his church.

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Decades in the public eye earned Rev. Leon Finney Jr. respect — and reproach

Starting out as a community organizer in Woodlawn on the South Side, Finney has long moved comfortably through the halls of power. At 81, he still has the ear — and respect — of some of the city’s most influential people.

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Rev. Leon Finney Jr.’s free fall

For decades, the Rev. Leon Finney Jr. won praise from Chicago politicians and appointments to powerful public posts. In just 10 years, his nonprofits got more than $20 million in taxpayer money while managing about a quarter of the city’s public housing. Now, he faces allegations of fraud and self-dealing.

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Tennessee, whose governor opposes legalizing marijuana, pulls out of Illinois’ weed business

Its treasurer has sold off that state’s stock in a company that owns and leases back a $25 million cultivation center in downstate Barry after learning from a Sun-Times reporter his agency had invested in the business.

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Cops in Koschman case: Daley’s nephew shouldn’t have been charged

Five years after Richard J. ‘R.J.’ Vanecko pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, Sgt. Sam Cirone, who’s fighting a year’s suspension, and three former Chicago police colleagues still say Vanecko acted in self-defense.

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Amid scrutiny, some parents back off giving up custody to help their kids get college aid

They say higher ed costs are exorbitant and that what they did is legal. A judge who’d OKed nine guardianship transfers questions another, saying, ‘It doesn’t sound right to me. It just doesn’t.’

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Ed Burke just got $1.9M in tax refunds, interest for car rental agencies at Midway Airport

It’s another eye-opening instance of the indicted Chicago alderman mixing his law firm’s business with city business. And it resulted from big errors by former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios.

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Convicted in Silver Shovel, he’s now doing political work for Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough

‘I’ve made mistakes, and everyone has,’ Yarbrough says when asked about James Blassingame, who was found guilty in the late 1990s corruption case of being a middleman for bribes to a Chicago alderman and others. ‘How long should we be punishing him?’

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More trouble over Toni Preckwinkle’s Hyde Park condo, where her son faces eviction after a series of incidents

The Cook County Board president’s son and his family are tenants in a condo she owns but maybe not for long after an eviction lawsuit and assault and gunfire allegations.

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You can’t take it with you. So what happened to the $241,565 in dead pol’s war chest?

What particularly piques my interest is that one person who might be in a position to solve the mystery is Ald. Carrie Austin, heir to Frost’s 34th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.

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Illinois Senate prez says indicted Sen. Thomas Cullerton is still ‘a valued member of the caucus and a friend of mine’

The Villa Park Democrat has raised about $30,000 in campaign contributions since the first news report, in April, that he was under investigation, records show.

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How a Waukegan truck stop became a gambling gold mine — the latest installment in ‘The Bad Bet’

The owners of one of Illinois’ largest video slot and poker companies are behind efforts to influence city politics, expand gambling and build a casino near land they control.

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Despite being blamed in 50 babies’ deaths, inclined infant sleepers available online, Sun-Times finds

UPDATE: Facebook says it has removed the posts for the recalled items that the Sun-Times found and brought to the company’s attention.

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Tearful Ald. Carrie Austin says she’s a victim of political and media ‘persecution’

Austin calls the Sun-Times to complain about a story detailing the 14 times that she and her six children and stepchildren have declared bankruptcy, often while holding government jobs.

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Once-powerful Chicago Teamsters boss’s long fall

John T. Coli Sr. pleaded guilty Tuesday in an extortion case involving Cinespace Chicago Film Studios. But there’s much more you should know about the longtime union leader.

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Embattled alderman and her kids: a trail of bankruptcies

Now under federal scrutiny, Carrie Austin and her 6 children and stepchildren have filed 14 times to get out from debts including taxes and unpaid parking fines. Most cases were filed while they were on City Hall’s payroll.

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Four Corner Hustlers flip: Key witness cooperating against reputed boss Labar ‘Bro Man’ Spann, feds say

Sammie Booker, a top gang enforcer tied to 5 killings, took a plea deal, avoiding a possible death sentence. A court filing shows he’s 1 of 3 co-defendants helping prosecutors.

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Rosemont under scrutiny by the FBI, sources tell the Sun-Times

Agents have questioned current and former village employees about a contract given to a politically connected security company and over possible wrongdoing in the suburb’s public safety department.

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How Illinois pols have pocketed more than $5 million in what Barack Obama once dubbed ‘legalized bribery’

Dozens of former elected officials have kept campaign cash for themselves. It’s all legal under a loophole in the state’s ethics reform. ‘I’m the charity,’ says one ex-legislator who pocketed $583,357 — the biggest money-grab.

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Lobbyists who paid Kevin Quinn are brothers of Madigan lawyer hired for ‘independent’ review of harassment claims

Kelly Smith-Haley was hired by Madigan in February 2018 to "receive and investigate harassment allegations" regarding the speaker’s political staff, according to a Feb. 16, 2018 letter Madigan sent to the House Democratic caucus and to staffers.

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3 other states, numerous public pension funds aiming to profit off legal weed in Illinois

Tennessee has invested even though Republican Gov. Bill Lee opposed a move in that state to legalize even medical marijuana. The other state governments: Texas and Alaska.

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University of Chicago agrees to pay $2.6 million after Bridgeview woman dies following heart test

‘Literally, she bled to death,’ says daughter who filed a successful medical malpractice lawsuit.

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Clout contractor in Carrie Austin probe got millions in no-bid add-ons on city deals

The work awarded by the Emanuel administration ‘was completed to the city’s satisfaction,’ according to a city spokesman who says there’s nothing ‘remarkable about this contract except that it involves a firm that is otherwise in the news.’

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Officer who lost Glen Ellyn job after slur about Mexicans now a cop in heavily Mexican American Melrose Park

Soon after his department hired Frank Fazio III, Mayor Ron Serpico reported a $1,250 campaign contribution from someone with that name — which he now will donate to charity.

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Madigan’s 700K club: Seven pols give big bucks to speaker — as his legal bills pile up

Since the beginning of July, those allies of the powerful Illinois House speaker have put three quarters of a million dollars into the speaker’s two political committees: Friends of Michael J. Madigan and the 13th Ward Democratic Organization.