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Study: Suburban corruption merits creation of inspector general

Dick Simpsformer Chicago alderman head UIC's Political Science Deptartment presented results report detailing corruptithhas afflicted more than 60 suburbs Cook

Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman and head of UIC's Political Science Deptartment, presented the results of a report detailing corruption that has afflicted more than 60 suburbs in Cook and surrounding counties and has ensnared more than 100 public officials and police officers, including 17 mayors and village presidents. He is calling for a suburban inspector general to rein it in. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: July 27, 2012 6:12AM

Saying that suburban municipalities are copying the corruption playbook of Chicago, a former city alderman on Monday proposed the creation of at least one independent suburban inspector general’s office to police local officials.

Dick Simpson, who now heads the political science department at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said corruption costs taxpayers at least $500 million a year statewide, and suburbs aren’t as “clean” as their popular image suggests.

“Many contracts and businesses in the suburbs have bribery and corruption as part of (their) business expenses,” Simpson said.

At a news conference at the Cook County Building in Chicago, Simpson unveiled a report — “Green Grass and Graft: Corruption in the Suburbs” — that he co-authored documenting corruption cases that have ensnared more than 100 suburban public officials, including at least 17 mayors and dozens of police chiefs and officers dating to 1974. The report says more than 60 suburbs in Cook and surrounding counties have been affected.

“Somebody has to do something,” Simpson said. “This is not a minor problem. This is a major problem.”

The report says that patterns of corruption in the suburbs include officials with ties to organized crime, nepotism and patronage, police officers aiding criminals, kickbacks and bribes to public officials, large-scale economic developments profiting officials, their families and friends; and outright theft of public funds.

Simpson suggested the state, the counties or the suburbs themselves could create an inspector general’s office or offices. A local inspector general’s office could cost $500,000 per year, he said. But Simpson said that would be a fraction of the cost of the problem, which he called a $500 million-a-year statewide “corruption tax.”

The inspector general would refer cases to the state’s attorney, Illinois attorney general and U.S. attorney.

Simpson said that U.S. attorneys often are tied up pursuing Chicago corruption cases, and state’s attorneys are too politically compromised to fight crooked politicians.

“The truth is that most of the state’s attorneys have a political base and the political base doesn’t want to prosecute their own officials,” Simpson said.

He said the office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan “should be doing much more” to fight suburban political corruption instead of acting as a consumer advocate.

Southland mayors weighed in both for and against the idea.

“Why do I want to create another expense for the taxpayers?” said Oak Forest Mayor Hank Kuspa, who said safeguards to fight local corruption already are in place.

Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki, however, said “there’s a place for it. ... If nothing else, it puts people on notice that someone will be snooping around. That’s not bad at all.”

Simpson estimated an inspector general office could be established within a year with the right support. He said a “champion in government” needs to helm the cause. He said he has spoken to a member of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s staff about the plan.

David Hoffman, Chicago’s inspector general from 2005 to 2009, endorsed the idea, calling an inspector general a “very efficient tool to maximize integrity and protect public interests.”

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