After almost 10 years of improvement, public corruption in Illinois spiked in 2019, and the state remains the second most corrupt in the nation, while Chicago still is the most corrupt city, according to a new report from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"We're making progress, but we ought to be making progress a lot faster," said former Chicago Alderman Dick Simpson, a political science professor at UIC and principal author of "Corruption Spikes in Illinois," the 13th anti-corruption report produced by the university since 2009.
Simpson said federal charges in 2020 against several people in the ongoing bribery investigation involving Commonwealth Edison and former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan likely will contribute to the city and state's corruption rankings in years to come.
Madigan, 78, a Chicago Democrat who resigned his House seat last week, lost his bid for another two-year term as House speaker in January. Madigan had been speaker for 36 of the past 38 years. He hasn't been charged in the ComEd investigation and has denied wrongdoing.
The probe has resulted so far in the indictment of four people on criminal charges that allege bribery conspiracy, bribery and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records as part of a scheme to win Madigan's support for legislation benefiting the utility.
The UIC report cites more-recent instances of alleged corruption but ranks Illinois and the Chicago metropolitan area in 2019 based on the latest available U.S. Department of Justice data on public corruption convictions.
From 1976 to 2019, Illinois had 2,152 federal convictions, making it the second-most corrupt state on a per-capita basis, behind Louisiana, the report said. Even though the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) isn't a state, it had a per-capita public corruption conviction rate that was six to 10 times higher than either Louisiana or Illinois.
California, New York and Florida had more convictions than Illinois in the 43-year period, but their populations are larger.
Illinois had 32 total corruption convictions in 2019, including 26 from the Chicago-based Northern District.
Even though convictions declined in recent years, the Chicago area's cumulative total of 1,770 convictions, with an average of 42 convictions each year, made it the most corrupt in the nation, the report said.
Second place was the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with a total of 1,588 convictions, or an average of 37 per year, followed by New York/Manhattan, with 1,361 convictions or 32 per year; the Miami area, 1,234 or 29 per year; and Washington, D.C., 1,199 or 28 per year.
The metropolitan-area rankings weren't adjusted for population in the report.
"The statistics do not completely reflect it, but 2019 was a highly explosive year, during which some of the most important corruption in the history of Chicago and Illinois was exposed," the report said.
All of 2019's action involving corruption wasn't captured in federal conviction reports because of pending cases, according to the report.
The report highlighted several events in 2019, including:
— A federal complaint charging Chicago 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke with attempted extortion. The case remains pending.
— A May 2019 raid by federal authorities of the City Club's offices in Chicago for documents about ComEd. According to WBEZ, the raid was executing a subpoena seeking information on political hiring and contracting at Commonwealth Edison and that Michael Madigan was named in the subpoena.
— John Coli, the former secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 727 and former president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, which represents more than 100,000 members in Illinois and Indiana, pleaded guilty to accepting $325,000 in cash from Cinespace Studios as part of an extortion scheme. Three days after Coli's guilty plea, state Sen. Thomas Cullerton, D-Villa Park, was indicted by a federal grand jury for doing little or no work for the Teamsters but accepting more than $250,000 in salary and benefits as an organizer, in violation of federal labor law.
— The home of state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, was raided in September 2019 by federal authorities looking for evidence of bribery related to the placement of red-light cameras in suburban municipalities. He was indicted and pleaded guilty in 2020, then died in December of COVID-19-related complications.
Simpson said Illinois needs tougher ethics laws to cut down on public corruption. Ethics reforms have been mentioned as top priorities by Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois House and Senate this legislative session.
The UIC report is available online at http://bit.ly/Corruption13.