Rickey Hendon has been silent since abrupt resignation from Senate
BY MARK BROWN firstname.lastname@example.org July 17, 2012 8:48PM
Updated: August 19, 2012 6:36AM
Rickey Hendon, where are you?
The flamboyant former state senator and alderman — who styled himself as one of the most accessible and quotable public officials in Chicago for more than two decades — has steadfastly maintained radio silence for nearly a year and a half now since his abrupt resignation.
He doesn’t call. He doesn’t write. The cell phone number that many reporters kept on speed dial has been disconnected. And nobody can remember the last time they saw him at Wallace’s Catfish Corner, one of his favorite West Side haunts.
But Hendon’s fingerprints turned up all over a federal criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, where seven people — most of them with some connection to his political organization — were charged with paying kickbacks to a make-believe federal official in exchange for $25,000 government grants.
While Hendon is not named in the complaint, among the defendants are his former campaign treasurer, Dean Nichols, of Oak Park, and three others who had been paid for doing work for his campaign committee — Reggi Hopkins, Regina Hollie and Anthony Johnson, all of Chicago. Another defendant, Elliott Kozel, had been a small-time Hendon campaign contributor.
The criminal complaint goes out of its way to mention that Nichols was the treasurer for a campaign committee for a former Illinois state senator, which is how the U.S. attorney’s office blows a kiss to somebody like Hendon to make sure he knows they’re still thinking about him.
They also mention that the nephew of this former state senator has drawn their attention. The complaint says that the senator, clearly meaning Hendon, insisted that his nephew get cut in on two grants totaling $210,000 that he helped Hopkins obtain in 2007 and 2008.
Hendon had received plenty of prior notice that the feds have him in their sights.
Long before Tuesday’s arrests, it had been previously reported that federal authorities out of Springfield were investigating allegations that thousands of dollars from state health-care grants had been paid to Hendon campaign workers. Two women involved with the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association were indicted last June for allegedly siphoning off $500,000 from state grants that Hendon had helped them obtain.
Back when he was talking, Hendon would tell you there was never a point in his career when the feds weren’t after him.
All the way back in 1996, Hendon said he was offered a $5,000 bribe to sponsor legislation affecting the Illinois cemetery industry by an FBI agent posing as the business partner of undercover mole John Christopher. (By the way, as long as we’re at it, John Christopher, where are you these days, too?)
Hendon said he turned down the money and boasted afterward that he could always smell out any effort by federal authorities to set him up. As of this date, he has never been charged.
When you read through the criminal complaint involving the seven individuals who thought they could receive $25,000 cash grants for a $5,000 kickback, you wonder at first how anybody could be so stupid and venal.
But the more you read, you start to understand that there was precedent in their circle for thinking that’s how government grant money was handled. Some of the defendants had received other grants.
It’s not exactly correct to say that Hendon has disappeared entirely. He was very much a part of Sen. Annazette Collins unsuccessful re-election campaign during the March primary and was seen with her on election night. A couple of other legislative and judicial candidates reported paying him as well. He’s cashing his legislative pension checks. Friends say he’s still playing on a softball team.
You may recall that Hendon briefly held out hope in late 2010 of becoming the African-American community’s unified pick for mayor in 2011, but either came to his senses or got what he wanted to back off.
The truth is that most of us in the news media have always enjoyed talking to Hendon. He’s what we call colorful, and while I suppose we could be accused of enabling him, we never gave him any grant money to hand out.
Senator, it’s time to find your voice again — and explain why so many of your friends are headed for jail.