Illinois Republican corruption; the gift that keeps on giving
From the AP story in the Chicago Trib:
A one-time top aide to former Illinois House Republican Leader Lee Daniels has been charged with using state employees to work in campaigns on state time and trading $1.3 million in taxpayer money for a no-show job in the private sector for a favored candidate.They say any publicity is good publicity. For the beleaguered Illinois Republican Party and GOP leader Cross, this certainly isn't.
Michael Tristano, 49, of Glenview, a former chief of staff to Daniels, was charged in the nine-count federal indictment with fraud, theft and extortion conspiracy.
There was no allegation of any wrongdoing on the part of Daniels.
Tristano was one of the most powerful staff at the Statehouse in Springfield in the 1990s heading a staff of 100 with a $5 million budget. Outgoing Gov. George Ryan named him to a seat on the Illinois Pollution Control Board in 2000 and his wife, Sandra, is a Cook County judge.
The Tristano indictment, assigned to U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle, grew out of the seven-year federal investigation of political misconduct under Ryan. It was returned Wednesday and announced at a news conference Thursday where officials remarked on the growing barrage of political corruption cases in Illinois.
Robert D. Grant, Chicago's top FBI agent, said that this city has only the fourth largest complement of FBI agents nationwide but more agents at work on corruption than anywhere else.
"The fundamental question is, is there something inherently wrong in this state?'' he said. [Depends on what your definition of "is" is. My neighbor's cat could answer that one.]
Daniels, who remains a member of the Illinois House, said he had no comment about the indictment of his former chief of staff.
Though the indictment contained no allegation of wrongdoing by Daniels, the former Republican leader from west suburban Elmhurst has been another focus of the federal government's investigation. Fitzgerald said the investigation is ongoing.
At the Statehouse in Springfield, Daniels' successor, Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, told reporters that "if what is alleged in this indictment is accurate or true, it's inappropriate and unacceptable behavior.''
"Our office has been fully cooperative with the U.S. attorney's office, since Day One -- fully cooperative -- and will continue to be,'' Cross said.
The allegations are not new but grew out of the government's investigation of former Ryan aide Scott Fawell, now serving a 61/2-year racketeering sentence, and Republican political consultant Roger Stanley, a one-time state representative sent to prison for corruption.
Daniels, a state representative since 1975, was House Republican leader from 1983 to 2003 but stepped down as allegations of state employees doing campaign work on state time shook his grip on the GOP caucus. He also resigned as state Republican chairman as the scandal grew. He was working on the House floor Thursday.
The alleged offenses took place when Daniels and his Republicans were fighting fierce duels in many districts with Speaker Michael J. Madigan of Chicago and his Democrats for control of the House with bills meaning millions of dollars to labor and business hanging in the balance.
Tristano allegedly sent House staffers into hotly contested districts, ordering them to use their vacation time, compensating time off and sick days to do the work. He lied to authorize payment of travel expenses for the employees who went out to campaign, the indictment said.
It also said he arranged a grant of $1.3 million to the south suburb of Willow Springs that would benefit a real estate partnership in which Stanley had an interest. In return, the partnership gave a no-show job to a southern Illinois House candidate so that he would not have to work and could devote his full time to campaigning, according to the indictment.
The Capitol Fax Blog reveals the ugliness from up close here.