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Ex-head of nurses group pleads guilty to mail fraud and money-laundering

Updated: February 27, 2013 9:08PM

SPRINGFIELD — The former head of a Chicago group that helped promote black nurses pleaded guilty Wednesday to mail fraud and money-laundering as part of a state grant fraud scheme in which she siphoned off $500,000 for her personal use.

Margaret Davis, the former program director for the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association, agreed to the plea deal with prosecutors in federal court in Springfield and could face a prison term of up to 41 months.

“Did you do what he said you did?” U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough asked Davis, 62, after assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy A. Bass read details of her plea agreement in open court.

“Yes, your honor,” Davis replied.

“I’m pleading guilty because I am guilty,” she said moments later.

Davis will be sentenced July 22.

In June 2011, federal prosecutors in Springfield charged Davis and another Chicago nurse Tonja Cook with siphoning $500,000 from state grant funds for Davis’ “personal use.”

Davis admitted that from December 2005 to June 2009, she solicited on behalf of her organization and received 15 different grants and contracts totaling $1,062,000 from four different state agencies.

Davis got a $460,000 state grant to train minority nurses in 2006 with sponsorship from former state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), who has not been charged with wrongdoing in her case.

That minority-nurses training grant sponsored by Hendon came from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, then headed by Jack Lavin, who is now Gov. Pat Quinn’s chief of staff.

Another $577,473 in grants Davis obtained came from the state’s Department of Public Health when it was headed by Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, a longtime friend of President Barack Obama, and Whitaker’s successor, Dr. Damon Arnold, the Sun-Times previously has reported.

There is no indication that Whitaker, Arnold or Lavin are targets of any investigation.

Hendon, a West Side Democrat, unexpectedly retired from the Senate in February 2011.

Last June, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that “thousands of dollars” in state grants awarded to Davis’ organization to bolster health care in minority communities instead went to pay Hendon campaign workers and Democratic candidates Hendon supported.

That explosive allegation came from Davis’ co-defendant, Cook, in four interviews with state and federal authorities between October 2010 and May 2011, records show.

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