A political science professor who co-authored a report on corruption in Chicago's suburbs commented Wednesday on why long-time mayors like engage in corruption.
"They've become sort of little dictators for their suburbs. There's no meaningful resistance to challenge their decisions. They begin to think whatever they do must be right even if it is unethical," said University of Illinois at Chicago professor and political science department head Dick Simpson.
He and eight UIC colleagues authored "Green Grass and Graft: Corruption in the Suburbs," an examination of how corruption in Chicago extends beyond the city's borders. To address the problem, the authors advocate establishing an Inspector General to oversee the suburbs, requiring suburban officials to take ethics training and passing ordinances that put ethical procedures in place.
The report details various forms of corruption, such as the nepotism prevalent in Rosemont. The section labeled "Bribery and Kickbacks" (included at the end of this story) is dominated by a description of
Addressing the fact that Blase was mayor of Niles for 47 years, Simpson said, "One of the patterns we found is that those who had served the longest were much more likely to be corrupt."
The report cites Des Plaines as an example of a suburb which did things right after it discovered corruption, in the form of former Assistant City Manager William Schneider having ties to Jim Dvorak, a convicted felon accused of having ties to organized crime.
Des Plaines went to lengths to make things right, the report said, including Schneider resigning, the city ceasing doing business with two firms connected to Schneider and Dvorak, cooperating with an investigation and establishing an ethics ombudsman.
Simpson said it took a team of eight researcher/writers to compile the information in the report.
"Usually the perception is that there's only corruption in Chicago, or, given that four of the past seven governors have gone to jail, the state," Simpson said. "But we found 61 suburbs with evidence of corruption, and a total of 131 people convicted."
There's no magic fix for it, either.
"It takes multiple steps to create a new culture where it doesn't happen in the future," he said.
Following are the sections of the report on Niles and Rosemont.
Bribery and Kickbacks
Many elected officials and top government bureaucrats in suburban Chicago have been convicted of using their authority to solicit bribes from business and individuals. A corruption scandal in the middle-class suburb of Niles illustrates how elected officials can use their positions to enrich themselves. Nicolas Blase served as a mayor of Niles for 47 years until (he) resigned in 2008 under the pressure of federal corruption charges. That year Blase pleaded guilty for his role in a kickback scheme that involved him steering local businesses to a friend’s insurance company. Prosecutors said Blase pocketed more than $420,000 over three decades in return for pressuring businesses to use Ralph Weiner and Associates as their insurance broker. And according to a recent investigation, Blase also handed out about a half of a million dollars’ worth of perks for six retiring or retired village employees. These perks came in the form of retirement bonuses, village cars and cash payments authorized by Blase, and apparently not approved by the Village Board at an official meeting, which may be a violation of Illinois Open Meetings Act.
Nepotism has long been a significant issue in many Chicago suburbs and the village of Rosemont demonstrates how public officials can use their power to enrich friends and family. Donald Stephens served as mayor of Rosemont from 1956 to 2003 and he helped transform Rosemont from a small subdivision into a booming suburb. However, many of the beneficiaries of village contracts under Stephens’ administration had business or family connections to the mayor.
In the late 1980s four firms owned by Stephens’ relatives received millions of dollars in city business contracts without a competitive bidding process. For example, the mayor’s daughter-in-law, Catherine Stephens, was a part owner of two firms – O’Hare Tele-Communications Inc. and Professional Signs Inc. – that had village contracts to provide services at the Rosemont Exposition Center. Likewise, three firms owned by Stephens’ business associates received more than $18 million worth of contracts to expand the Rosemont Exposition Center in the 1980s.
Katherine Murphy Interiors Ltd., a firm owned by Mayor Stephens’ wife Katherine Stephens, received more than $1 million worth of village contracts for interior decorating between 1998 and 2001.22 In 2000, a company owned by the mayor’s son, Mark, received $3.8 million for cleaning and supervising the parking at several village properties and facilities. Mark Stephens’ company, Bomark Inc., had similar contracts with the village dating back to the mid- 1980s.
Nepotism remained as prevalent under Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens as it was before his father died in 2007. In 2010, ten members of the Stephens family received a combined $950,000 from the village.25 Mayor Stephens received a $125,000 salary. Donald Stephens II, the brother of Bradley Stephens, received a $144,885 salary as the police superintendent. His son, Donald Stephens III, received a $140,613 salary as first deputy police superintendent. The Mayor’s cousin, Christopher Stephens, received a $193,462 salary as the head of the village’s convention center.
In addition to the Stephens family, several other village employees had ties to Rosemont leaders. Harry Pappas, who was married to village trustee Sharon Pappas, was the highest paid village employee in 2010 with a $230,000 salary for running the Allstate Arena. City records showed that Rosemont Clerk Deborah Drehobl and village trustees Ralph Di Matteo, Karen Fazio and Jack Hasselberger also all had family members who worked for the village in 2010.