DCFS chief Arthur Bishop steps down after Sun-Times, WBEZ reports
BY CHRIS FUSCO, FRANK MAIN AND TONY ARNOLD February 26, 2014 11:21PM
Updated: March 28, 2014 9:06AM
Arthur D. Bishop, who was appointed last month to run the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, stepped down Wednesday following a series of Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ reports that revealed a theft conviction and paternity case in his past.
The announcement of Bishop’s resignation came shortly after the news organizations had posted a story in which a daughter, Erica Bishop, questioned how Arthur Bishop could care for the state’s most troubled children given that he had shunned her for her entire life — even after DNA testing proved she was his daughter nearly 11 years ago.
“He’s supposed to be protecting the kids of the state — and you’ve got a kid out here you never done anything for,” Erica Bishop said. “He left me as a father, which I think that’s unfair to me and it’s unfair to my kids. . . . As far as them wanting to keep giving him higher positions to look over people’s kids, I don’t agree.”
Sun-Times and WBEZ reporters interviewed Erica Bishop on Tuesday morning and requested an interview with Arthur Bishop that afternoon.
On Wednesday afternoon — shortly after Erica Bishop’s statements were published online — Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed posted a story about Bishop’s resignation letter as the Illinois Secretary of State’s office was notifying other media that Quinn had appointed a new acting DCFS chief.
That interim director, attorney and social worker Bobbie M. Gregg, has worked at DCFS for about a year. Gregg, 57, is now deputy director of the agency’s Bureau of Operations.
Quinn administration aides indicated the governor plans to conduct a wider search for a permanent DCFS boss.
In his resignation letter, Arthur Bishop, 61, said his last day as DCFS chief will be Friday. Citing the upcoming gubernatorial election, he wrote: “I cannot be used as a distraction to the real issues that face the state and the children that remain in state custody.”
Bishop had been arrested on a felony theft charge in 1993 and accused of bilking clients of the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Community Mental Health Center out of more than $9,200, the Sun-Times and WBEZ reported earlier this month.
He did so by creating a “bogus” program for convicted drunken drivers, said Lucy Lang-Chappell, former executive director of the center, who was his boss. According to Lang-Chappell, Bishop had been improperly taking money from clients and providing them with forms they wrongly believed would allow them to get their drivers’ licenses back — though the center wasn’t licensed by the state to provide that service.
Bishop pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor theft in 1995, months after DCFS had hired him as a caseworker. He has maintained that he was innocent of the theft allegations and pleaded guilty only to avoid the strain on his family. He was sentenced to conditional discharge without having to pay any restitution.
Erica Bishop agreed to be interviewed this week after the Sun-Times and WBEZ disclosed the 2003 paternity case. In the nearly 11 years since DNA testing proved that Bishop was her father, the 27-year-old woman has had two kids of her own — a 9-year-old girl and a 6-month-old boy who’ve never met their grandfather, who also is an ordained minister.
Quinn administration aides had said both court cases are decades old and shouldn’t tarnish the stellar work that Arthur Bishop has done as a child advocate, including his previous job as head of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.
Erica Bishop bristled at that suggestion.
“For people to say I’m in the past, I’m not in the past,” she said. “I’m in the past only because nobody knows about me.
“You supposed to be a child advocate and a minister and all this stuff. . . . I watched videos of him on YouTube. All these little boys giving him so much praise . . . sitting down and talking to him like a father. A father? Seriously? A father? He’s sitting down telling these little boys, ‘I want to talk to you. I want to have a father-to-son talk with you.’ You never had a father-and-daughter talk with me.”
Erica’s mother, Yolanda O’Connor, claimed in court filings that Arthur Bishop knew Erica was his daughter from the time she was born in 1986, while Bishop was married to his current wife.
Arthur Bishop maintained he’d never met Erica — and didn’t even know O’Connor claimed Erica was his daughter until O’Connor served him with court papers.
The case ended with O’Connor winning a $4,175 judgment and health insurance coverage for Erica until she turned 18. But a judge denied O’Connor’s request for back child support after Arthur Bishop argued she’d “in fact concealed” that he was Erica’s father.
O’Connor represented herself in the case. Bishop was represented by Marina E. Ammendola — the lawyer who represented Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, in their high-profile custody battle over the boy known as “Baby T.” Bishop had been involved in the Baby T case as a DCFS caseworker in the late 1990s.
Erica Bishop said she recalled meeting her father when she was in high school, before her mom sued him.
Her mother, she said, drove a friend and her to meet Bishop at his DCFS office at the Thompson Center, where Bishop at first mistook Erica’s friend for his daughter.
“He went to my friend and talked to her. And I’m like, ‘Hello? She’s not your daughter, I am,’ ” Erica Bishop recalled. “Honestly, I was actually excited. And he killed my excitement.”
Their five- to 10-minute conversation was the longest the two have shared, but Erica Bishop has seen her father — and her half-siblings — at various times. Arthur Bishop has lived in Maywood for years, and Erica Bishop grew up in nearby Bellwood.
Erica, who paid her way through college and now works as a waitress, says she would have liked the opportunity to get to know her siblings. “Somewhere down the line, yeah, I wanted to know my brother and sister because I think we deserve to know each other. They might have kids. And I have kids,” she said.
She also said she isn’t interested in getting any more money from Bishop, who made $150,000 a year as DCFS chief.
“Financially, he can keep his money. He can die with it,” she said. “I feel like I was cheated. You took care of your other kids. Why you didn’t take care of me? . . . All I want is an explanation.”
Chris Fusco and Frank Main are Sun-Times staff reporters. Tony Arnold is a reporter for WBEZ.