Former State Rep. Connie Howard pleads guilty to mail fraud
BY DAVE MCKINNEY AND CHRIS FUSCO Staff Reporters July 24, 2013 11:43AM
Updated: August 26, 2013 4:11PM
SPRINGFIELD — Former State Rep. Constance A. “Connie” Howard, a once-prominent South Side Democrat, pleaded guilty to a single count of mail fraud Wednesday for skimming tens of thousands of dollars from a charity she created and using the cash for “personal and political” purposes.
Howard, 70, admitted in federal court she siphoned about $28,000 of $76,700 raised by her “Tee Off For Technology Celebrity Golf Outing” between July 2003 and February 2008. That money, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Springfield, went for her “personal and political use, including expenses associated with the promotion of her campaign.” It also enriched an unnamed “legislative aide” who managed her office.
As a lawmaker, Howard chaired the House Computer Technology Committee. Her golf charity was billed as a way to raise scholarship funds for students pursuing computer-science degrees.
As of 2007, Howard claimed to have given out 50 scholarships, authorities learned. But she admitted in her plea agreement she awarded only five scholarships worth $2,500 each.
As part of her plea deal, prosecutors are recommending she serve six months in prison and six months on home detention. She will remain free on bail until she is sentenced Nov. 21.
Howard, who took her seat in the House in 1995, also might be stripped of her $56,994-a-year legislative pension.
The General Assembly retirement system will suspend that benefit once Howard is sentenced and ask Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to determine whether her crime, a felony, arose out of her legislative service, said Tim Blair, who oversees the pension fund. If it did, state law calls for Howard to lose her pension.
Howard abruptly resigned in July 2012, citing “personal reasons” after federal investigators subpoenaed records from two state agencies about the Let’s Talk, Let’s Test Foundation, an AIDS awareness group she created.
That foundation, which was not referenced in her criminal case, got more than $1.9 million in state money beginning in 2006. State officials have attempted to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars that was allegedly misspent by the nonprofit, which was run by Lloyd Kelly, a Howard campaign donor.
Kelly, 52, of Chicago, was arrested by federal authorities in May and accused of spending Let’s Talk, Let’s Test funds on his home and on Howard’s campaign, including payments to her staff. His trial is set for Oct. 1 in Springfield.
Howard isn’t named in Kelly’s indictment, but details in the document make clear she’s the “Public Official A” accused of benefitting from Kelly’s alleged scheme.