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Monday, April 23, 2012

Illinois steps up efforts to fight jobless benefits fraud

The Illinois Department of Employment Security and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office have created two prosecuting attorney positions to help the agency's investigative staff combat unemployment benefits fraud, IDES director Jay Rowell announced Monday.

"Stealing money from those who play by the rules hurts our economy and cannot be tolerated," Rowell said in a news release. "We will use every tool in our possession to help those who want to help themselves and prosecute scammers to the fullest extent of the law."

The prosecutors, assistant attorneys general, who have begun work. "The IDES recovered $73.8 million in stolen benefit payments between calendar years 2009-2011," the release said. "More than $42 million dollars has been collected in tax garnishments so far in 2012."

The two prosecutors will be paid through IDES funds, and will work under Madigan.

"These attorneys will provide critical support in our ongoing efforts to recover money lost through fraud and criminal conduct," Madigan said in a news release. "At a time when essential government programs are facing budget cuts and families throughout Illinois are struggling, we are working to ensure that unemployment insurance benefits are going to people who need them."

George Zimmerman released from Florida jail as he awaits trial in Trayvon shooting on 10% of his $150,000 bail... Only $15,000 posted

Neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was released on $150,000 bail from a Florida jail late Sunday night, 12 days after he was arrested for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman, 28, was let out of the Seminole County Jail just before midnight.

Carrying a brown paper bag and wearing blue jeans and a brown windbreaker, Zimmerman refused to comment as he quickly got into a BMW SUV and was whisked away, flanked by at least three police cars.


It was not immediately clear where Zimmerman was taken.

“Zimmerman posted bond and was fitted with an electronic monitoring device prior to release,” the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Officials said Zimmerman’s GPS device will be monitored by the sheriff’s office and Seminole County Probation.

On Friday, Judge Kenneth Lester set bail and required Zimmerman to be fitted with an electronic monitoring device as part of his release.

Prosecutors had asked for $1 million.

Lester ordered Zimmerman to have no contact with Martin’s family and prohibited him from possessing firearms or drinking alcohol while awaiting trial on a charge of second-degree murder.

Zimmerman will also be on strict curfew and have to check in with authorities every three days.

During his bail hearing Zimmerman apologized to Trayvon’s parents, who were in the courtroom.

Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Feb. 26 during a confrontation in a Sanford gated community. He had reported the teen as looking suspicious to 911 just moments before the shooting.

Invoking Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, Zimmerman claims he shot Trayvon in self-defense

Emanuel event interrupted by mental health activists

Activists upset over cuts to mental health clinics interrupted Mayor Rahm Emanuel at an event Sunday.

The mayor was actually leaving the event at the time.

Emanuel's security detail and police kept the protesters at a distance.

Since announcing cuts and closures of mental health clinics, there have been numerous demonstrations by people who rely on the clinics for care.


Sarge's Sports page and Standings

It is still early in the season but see where your favorite team is currently ranked.


z - NY Rangers825124710941-18-515-7-211-8-115-3-210-6-23-3-03-2-04-1-2
x - Pittsburgh825125610838-23-313-10-111-8-114-5-113-2-34-1-15-0-14-1-1
x - Philadelphia824726910336-21-711-11-214-3-311-7-211-5-24-3-03-1-14-1-1
x - New Jersey824828610238-22-413-11-011-5-414-6-010-6-24-0-12-4-04-2-1
e - NY Islanders823437117927-30-78-13-37-11-212-6-27-7-41-3-24-1-12-3-1
y - Boston824929410238-23-312-7-119-4-17-12-111-6-15-0-12-3-04-3-0
x - Ottawa824131109234-22-812-5-39-12-313-5-27-9-22-3-04-2-21-4-0
e - Buffalo823932118928-26-106-11-313-6-59-9-211-6-12-5-04-0-15-1-0
e - Toronto823537108026-31-79-6-59-14-18-11-19-6-33-2-04-3-12-1-2
e - Montreal823135167824-28-127-10-310-8-67-10-37-7-42-2-13-3-22-2-1
y - Florida823826189433-19-128-7-513-4-312-8-45-7-60-4-22-0-43-3-0
x - Washington82423289234-22-88-8-414-6-012-8-48-10-04-3-02-3-02-4-0
e - Tampa Bay82383688429-29-69-10-17-12-113-7-49-7-23-4-02-1-24-2-0
e - Winnipeg823735108429-26-96-11-39-9-214-6-48-9-10-4-14-3-04-2-0
e - Carolina823333168225-27-123-14-313-3-49-10-58-6-43-3-13-1-12-2-2
Western Conference
y - St. Louis8249221110914-2-25-0-13-1-16-1-035-20-910-9-512-5-313-6-1
x - Nashville82482681048-7-32-3-11-2-25-2-040-19-516-5-313-6-111-8-1
x - Detroit824828610210-7-12-3-14-2-04-2-038-21-513-10-111-6-314-5-1
x - Chicago8245261110112-3-34-2-14-0-14-1-133-23-816-6-28-8-49-9-2
e - Columbus8229467656-9-31-2-22-4-13-3-023-37-45-17-29-9-29-11-0
* - Vancouver825122911111-6-12-2-16-2-03-2-040-16-811-6-318-5-111-5-4
e - Calgary82372916906-7-51-2-23-4-12-1-231-22-117-11-215-6-39-5-6
e - Colorado82413568813-4-14-2-15-0-04-2-028-31-59-9-28-14-211-8-1
e - Minnesota82353611815-9-41-4-11-2-23-3-130-27-79-6-511-12-110-9-1
e - Edmonton82324010748-7-33-1-12-5-13-1-124-33-711-9-08-11-55-13-2
y - Phoenix82422713978-7-32-4-13-0-23-3-034-20-108-9-313-5-213-6-5
x - San Jose824329109612-5-14-1-04-2-04-2-131-24-910-8-29-5-612-11-1
x - Los Angeles82402715957-7-42-1-32-4-03-2-133-20-1112-8-08-8-413-4-7
e - Dallas8242355898-7-33-4-13-0-22-3-034-28-28-11-114-6-012-11-1
e - Anaheim82343612808-6-43-0-32-4-03-2-126-30-86-11-310-7-310-12-2


1y - Chicago4816.750-36-1013-411-112-512-62-35-15-2
2y - Miami4618.719235-1114-212-59-411-73-33-35-1
3x - Indiana4123.641728-1811-78-39-813-55-14-24-2
4y - Boston3727.5781130-168-68-814-27-113-32-42-4
5x - Atlanta3826.5941031-179-811-611-37-94-22-41-3
6x - Orlando3628.5631229-1810-612-57-77-102-54-11-4
7x - New York3430

1y - San Antonio4716.746-15-36-04-25-132-139-611-312-4
2y - Oklahoma City4618.7191 ½13-56-03-24-333-1310-211-512-6
3x - LA Lakers4124.63179-95-21-43-332-1512-69-411-5
4x - LA Clippers4024.6257 ½11-53-22-36-029-1912-77-710-5
5x - Memphis3925.6098 ½13-34-25-14-026-2210-79-77-8
6x - Denver3628.56311 ½16-25-15-16-020-264-79-87-11
7x - Dallas3629.5541210-75-22-33-226-2210-88-98-5
8Utah3430.53113 ½11-73-44-24-123-238-48-97-10

NY Yankees96.600-4-35-39073+17Won 37-372.2
Toronto96.600-4-55-17870+8Won 36-431.9
Baltimore97.563.53-36-46871-3Won 16-415.7
Tampa Bay97.563.55-14-67678-2Won 25-551.6
Boston410.2864.53-51-57095-25Lost 53-720.6
Detroit106.625-6-44-27065+5Lost 15-569.0
Chicago Sox96.600.53-46-26753+14Won 36-441.4
Cleveland86.57111-47-27472+2Lost 17-326.6
Minnesota511.31352-43-75885-27Lost 23-73.9
Kansas City312.2006.50-93-35677-21Lost 100-1014.7
Texas133.813-5-28-19442+52Won 19-196.4
Oakland89.4715.54-64-35256-4Won 15-518.0
Seattle710.4126.53-64-46072-12Lost 43-76.0
LA Angels610.37574-62-46771-4Lost 14-632.0
National League
Washington124.750-8-24-25845+13Won 28-246.2
Atlanta106.62525-15-59166+25Lost 18-252.0
NY Mets86.57135-33-35362-9Won 14-618.0
Miami78.4674.55-22-65753+4Lost 25-515.3
Philadelphia79.43853-34-64346-3Lost 24-655.3
St. Louis115.688-4-27-38246+36Won 16-474.4
Milwaukee79.43844-53-46779-12Lost 13-734.5
Cincinnati79.43843-34-65369-16Won 14-618.1
Pittsburgh69.4004.53-33-63044-14Lost 14-65.6
Houston610.37554-52-57161+10Won 13-713.2
Chicago Cubs412.25073-71-55981-22Lost 13-76.7
LA Dodgers124.750-6-06-46858+10Lost 17-362.6
Colorado87.5333.55-43-37277-5Won 16-416.2
Arizona88.50045-53-36470-6Won 13-738.6
San Francisco77.50044-23-558580Lost 16-428.5
San Diego512.2947.54-71-56071-11Won 23-714.7

If the Politics don't rip you off then the Gas prices will

The average retail price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States declined for the first time since mid-December, dropping 5.44 cents over the past two weeks, the nationwide Lundberg Survey showed.

Drivers in Chicago continued to pay the most at the pump -- $4.26 per gallon -- even though prices fell nearly 19 cents from April 6.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline fell to $3.9127 on April 20, from $3.9671 on April 6, according to the survey of gasoline retailers in the continental United States. Still, drivers are paying 3.27 cents more for a gallon than they did a year ago.

"The decline began in California about six weeks ago," survey editor Trilby Lundberg said, adding that prices peaked there on March 9 at $4.3162 and fell in subsequent surveys by nearly 15 percent to $4.1669.

Prices in Tulsa, Oklahoma, remained lowest at $3.52 per gallon.

"If crude oil does not shoot back up we may find another price decline of 5-10 cents in the coming weeks," Lundberg said.

Average diesel prices fell 4.15 cents to $4.1735 compared with two weeks earlier.

(Reporting by Nicola Leske in New York; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Chicago cops have errors in crash reports SERIOUSLY

It's not uncommon for judges to dismiss tickets against drivers on the grounds that the citations contain major errors, like misidentifying the street where an alleged traffic violation occurred, because the mistakes call into question the police officer's accuracy in providing other information on the ticket.

While such blunders can simply be a lucky break for the driver if no one else is involved, the consequences of police documentation errors on public safety are potentially huge when crashes occur and people are hurt or killed, experts say.

This shortcoming has unfortunately been the case in Chicago for a long time, according to research that City Hall solicited, then tried to keep from the public.

Flawed or incomplete accident data compromise city transportation experts' ability to make good decisions about where to target spending for safety-related traffic fixes and install red-light cameras, the researchers in the city-commissioned study concluded.

State records show that Chicago data on traffic crashes have been wildly inaccurate over the years, with deaths underreported by as much as 179 percent, while the volume of angle crashes often associated with running red lights has been inflated by one-third in a snapshot taken six years ago.

More than 70 percent of crash reports filled out by Chicago Police Department officers were missing important data, and 30 percent had errors, according to the research conducted by the Illinois Department of Transportation at the city's request in 2008, based on 2006 data. Street names were frequently misreported, as was the proximity of crashes to intersections.

City officials said they are now trying to correct the problems through the improved training of police officers and clerical workers who compile the data, an easier-to-use accident form and better analysis of the raw data received.

"Extensive and repeated training is critical to improving the quality of the data. And we've seen improvements,'' said Pete Scales, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, which receives Police Department crash reports, reviews the data and passes it along to IDOT. He said errors in three key fields of the 106-field police accident report — "primary cause," "crash type" and "injury" — have declined dramatically since the changes.

The integrity of crash data has taken on added importance with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial push for speed cameras, which the City Council approved last week. Since 2003, red-light cameras in Chicago have caught millions of violators for fines up to $100. New speed camera fines offer the potential of a revenue bonanza for the city.

The experts who conducted the study found that the city took wrongly filled-out forms at face value and routinely plugged the information into its crash database.

"The Illinois Department of Transportation validates each of the reports with software and manually to ensure that the coded data on the report corresponds with the narrative provided by the law enforcement reporting agency," the research report said. "The Chicago Police Department, however, enters the crash data exactly as it appears in the hard copy of the crash report."

City officials dismissed the impact of the sloppy work, saying state transportation officials double-check the forms for consistency and accuracy, conduct backup fact-finding and make corrections to the accident reports.

A vivid example involved traffic fatalities. City totals were much smaller because they generally reflected only victims who died at the scene. State policy is to follow up on those hospitalized after a crash, some of whom die of injuries hours or days later.

But even with IDOT catching errors, the data can only be as good as the weakest link.

The failure of a police officer to put check marks on all the primary reporting boxes on an accident form or to take the time to write accurate narratives of the incidents means that certain types of crashes are grossly underreported, while others are exaggerated, officials acknowledged.

In turn, public funding that is spent to implement safety remedies is sometimes wasted on unnecessary roadway projects or diverted elsewhere, allowing dangerous traffic situation lead to repeat accidents.

Experts at CDOT have been aware of the problem for at least four years. They expressed concerns in writing in 2008 that bad data compromised their ability to make sound decisions on where to best focus road safety spending and position red-light cameras, records show.

Blaming sloppy police record-keeping and an absence of quality control over data, the experts concluded that city numbers on crashes were way off.

In 2006, for example, they said the city counted 63 traffic deaths in Chicago while a state database they considered far more accurate put the number at 176 deaths. That same year, records show, the city reported 1,594 victims of serious injuries in crashes in Chicago; the state pegged it at 3,337.

At the same time, city numbers for some key crash categories were far higher than the state's. The city count in 2006 for crashes involving pedestrians was 4,945, compared with 3,909 totaled by the state. For angle crashes, the city total in 2006 was 24,576, the state 16,392.

The internal alarm over untrustworthy crash data was first raised by officials at CDOT and the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications in a 2008 white paper, three years before Emanuel became mayor. Last month, his administration refused to release the document to the Tribune, saying it was exempt from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act.

The state, however, did turn over the city's findings in response to a similar open-records request. The research found its way into state documents because the city eventually used it to obtain a $250,000 IDOT grant aimed at improving the accuracy of its numbers.

"Without accurate data on the seriousness of the injury and relation of the crash to the intersection, the crash rate calculations and prioritization will be erroneous, and could result in the misdirection of funds," read the city's grant application.

Special Prosecutor asigned to Daley's Nephew

Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, considered one of the best lawyers in the country, has been appointed a special prosecutor to look into the 2004 death of David Koschman in a drunken confrontation with a nephew of then-Mayor Richard Daley -- and the follow-up investigation by Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors.

Judge Michael Toomin, who ordered the appointment of a special prosecutor, named Webb to the post this morning.

After questions were raised about the police investigation, Koschman’s mother, Nanci, asked that a special prosecutor look into the case.

No charges were ever filed against Richard “R.J.” Vanecko, a member of the powerful Daley family. After reopening the probe last year, Chicago police determined Vanecko had punched the diminutive Koschman after a drunken dispute in the Rush Street night-life district early on April 25, 2004.

Webb has epresented former Gov. George Ryan and has handled numerous other high-profile cases around the country.

In approving a special prosecutor earlier this month, Toomin ripped Chicago police and prosecutors for an investigation that he said raised "troubling questions" about the handling of the case.

"The system has failed (Koschman) up to this point," said Judge Michael Toomin, speaking in a slow, steady voice as he read prepared remarks from the bench.

"This is not a whodunit. We know who did it," Toomin said in clear reference to Daley's nephew, Richard "R.J." Vanecko. "We have a known offender and yet no charges."

Koschman, 21, had been drinking when he and friends argued with a group that included Vanecko. During the altercation, Koschman was punched or shoved, causing him to fall back and hit his head on the street. He died 11 days later.

After a lengthy Sun-Times investigative series prompted the calls for a special prosecutor, Alvarez's office began conducting a joint investigation with the city inspector general.

But Toomin said his review of the case found that it needs to be reinvestigated in part because about a year ago Alvarez called for an independent investigation but has also vigorously defended her office's work in the case.

In a 33-page written ruling released after Toomin finished his remarks from the bench, he quoted multiple times what Alvarez had said when she called for an independent investigation — "It would be a much cleaner investigation if it was somebody who hasn't been involved in the case."

A special prosecutor is needed now "to bring transparency to the mixed signals emanating from this troubling case," Toomin declared in his decision.

Alvarez told reporters she won't appeal Toomin's ruling, but she forcefully continued to defend her office's handling of the case and prosecutors' decision not to file charges against Vanecko.

She noted that Toomin agreed that her connections to Daley — he was state's attorney when Alvarez was hired as a prosecutor in 1986 — did not amount to a conflict of interest for her, as lawyers for Koschman's mother had contended.

"My oath of office does not permit me to run away from issues because they are difficult or unpopular or because I will come under false and unfair political scrutiny," Alvarez said a few minutes after the ruling was announced. "I will not be bullied into any decision on any case that is not supported by the law and admissible evidence."

She said members of the media who described her as a political outsider when she ran for state's attorney now "are trying to disingenuously (label) me as the ultimate political insider and someone who would sacrifice my integrity and throw a case. That innuendo is dishonest. It's misleading; it's absurd and personally insulting to me."

Locke Bowman, who represents the Koschman family, credited Toomin for taking action to begin correcting an injustice.

"There has been just a terrible mess created as a result of a flawed investigation, and we now have a glimmer of hope that we're going to get to the bottom of that mess," Bowman said as Koschman's mother stood at his side.

Toomin's ruling hinged in large part on allegations that police deliberately falsified reports to make it appear that Koschman, who was 5-feet-5 and 140 pounds, was the aggressor during the confrontation with the 6-feet-3, 230-pound Vanecko. The judge blasted police and prosecutors for saying that Vanecko acted in self-defense even though they had never interviewed him.

"The conclusion that must be drawn (is that) this was a defense conjured up by police and prosecutors, made of whole cloth," Toomin said.

He also said the investigation was plagued by what he called "missing-files syndrome, an affliction common to both the Police Department as well as the state's attorney's office."

Koschman's mother, Nanci, who had been pressing for a special prosecutor, said after the ruling that she was "just very happy that the judge listened to everything we had to say."

Her hands shaking and her lips quivering as she tried to hold back tears, she added: "And I hope I finally get some justice for David. I'll go see him this afternoon at the cemetery and tell him that we won one step. Now we'll go for the next one."