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Blago Scandal Fallout Keeps Staining Politicians

Two prominent Illinois politicians who might have been appointed senator instead of Roland Burris are in hot water.

by
Doug Ross

Bio

January 14, 2009 - 12:19 am

The fact that Roland Burris will apparently be seated as the next U.S. senator from Illinois doesn’t mean that corruption charges against other candidates connected to the scandal are going to go away. That includes questions surrounding two prominent Illinois politicians who very well might have been appointed instead of Mr. Burris.

In the complaint filed by the U.S. district attorney against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, the unnamed “Senate Candidate 3” played a minor role.

Pundits assert that “Senate Candidate 1″ was Barack Obama’s choice: his friend Valerie Jarrett. And “Senate Candidate 5″ was reportedly Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., a man with a better sense of “fundraising” than Carolyn-esque entitlement.

But who was “Senate Candidate 3″?

That would appear to be none other than Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Schakowsky herself has avoided major scandal in the minefields of Illinois politics. But her husband has a deeply troubling history with non-profit organizations. This history leads to some intriguing and sordid story lines that involve other non-profits and other “Senate Candidates.”

There’s something about Jan

In 2006, Anne Leary reported that Schakowsky’s husband, Robert Creamer, was sentenced to five months in prison and eleven months of house arrest for bank fraud and tax violations involving a non-profit called the “Illinois Public Action Council” (IPAC). The indictment charged Creamer with floating “check and wire transfer deposits between bank accounts to … hide their deficiencies … [and used] the inflated balances to pay expenses of his organization, as well as his own salary and … expenses.”

Creamer resigned his longtime leadership positions after “the FBI questioned him about a $1 million overdraft. … [He was also charged] with failing to pay more than $300,000 in federal income taxes for employees of the group and for himself between 1996 and 2000. Four other counts allege he filed false income tax returns between 1996 and 1999. … Each count of bank fraud [carried] a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and [a] $1 million fine.”

Schakowsky herself served on the board of IPAC while her husband was “swindling nine financial institutions of at least $2.3 million while he ran a public interest group in the 1990s.” And USA Today reported that Schakowsky “co-signed the fraudulent tax returns.”

Schakowsky’s curious earmark: SALF

Last year Schakowsky authored a 2009 earmark for another Chicago-area nonprofit called “The Save A Life Foundation” (SALF), which is described on her website as a “Community Response Systems Initiative.”

In truth, SALF is a mysterious organization with a questionable founder and a troubling history.

A 2006 ABC investigation revealed that while SALF received millions of dollars in government funds and corporate donations, it made a series of “misleading claims [including] deceptive credentials that raise doubts about [its] integrity, funding and training.” According to ABC, founder Carol Spizzirri represented herself as a registered nurse specializing in kidney transplants. But ABC claims she never received a degree of any kind nor was she ever registered as a nurse in Illinois.

ABC also interviewed the president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, a watchdog organization which says that government agencies were defrauded by Spizzirri’s claims that she has a nursing degree and license. SALF charged Chicago-area schools at least $50,000 over the past two years.

Spizzirri pays herself $120,000 a year, according to filings with the IRS and Illinois state officials. ABC also reports that she travels on a “generous expense account while working to obtain additional government funding for expansion of her organization nationally.”

ABC also noted that Spizzirri fabricated circumstances of her daughter’s death when lobbying lawmakers.

But ABC wasn’t finished with SALF. In 2007, a follow-up investigation revealed more problematic activities linked to Save-a-Life and possible misuse of public funds.

SALF and Emil Jones

During its second investigation ABC questioned Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones, who was listed as a spokesperson for the organization.

Save-A-Life has received millions of dollars in state and federal funding, and has listed powerful State Senate President Emil Jones as one of its major backers. … “I’ve never supported it funding-wise,” Jones said.

And Jones says the charity is not currently slated to receive money in next year’s state budget. The apparent cut-off of government funds follows I-Team disclosures about Save-A-Life founder Carol Spizzirri.

Both senators Trotter and Jones have been given awards by Save-A-Life, Jones for saving someone from choking in a Springfield restaurant. Since then, Jones says he has been wrongly listed as Save-A-Life’s “Illinois spokesman” and that he has never even helped fund the group.

“What do you mean support? I saved a woman’s life down here in Springfield and this group came together, and they want to honor me for the woman choking to death in the Globe restaurant. Remember that?” Jones said.

The problem for Jones is a little-known Internet tool called Google.

Not only is Jones known as “The Godfather of the Southside,” but he is considered by many to be Barack Obama’s mentor.

And last month — just before the Blago scandal broke — Illinois State Senator Emil Jones’s name was leaked as the front-runner to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate.

Someone is lying about Jones’ funding of SALF

Although Jones claims that he never financially supported SALF, some public records appear to contradict him. Put simply, either Jones or SALF is lying about his relationship with the non-profit. A perusal of SALF’s website and a review of its IRS forms seem to show that Jones was deeply involved with SALF.

For example, in 2004 SALF claimed Jones had “yet again … led the Illinois State delegation in securing a spot for SALF in this year’s budget.”

In 2005, SALF named Jones its spokesperson and specifically thanked him for his funding of its efforts.

President Jones has lead [sic] the challenge in helping SALF pass an Illinois mandate for all police and firefighters to be trained in CPR and First aid prior to graduating from their academy in 1993, He has supported state funds to allow SALF to train over one million Illinois school children in these life saving skills. President Jones is a true humanitarian by saving the lives of three individuals by using the Heimlich maneuver. As our State Spokesman he will encourage others to follow his example of bravery to learn vital skills, especially our school children, should they ever be faced with a life-threatening emergency. — Carol Spizzirri, SALF President/Founder.

And on SALF’s IRS 990 forms (non-profit tax returns), Jones was listed as director in both 2004 and 2005.

Bad news for either Jones or SALF

Whether or not Sen. Jones personally approved state funding for the organization, it would appear to be a conflict of interest for a state legislator to be a board member of an organization that is receiving state funding. That would be especially bad news for Sen. Jones, who recently had to be browbeaten by Barack Obama to sign an Illinois ethics bill.

But perhaps Jones was unaware that SALF had listed him on their IRS returns. In that case, the organization could be in trouble with both state and federal officials.

Even worse, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, the original protagonist in our little saga, looks to be formulating a 2009 earmark at federal taxpayers’ expense.

Shouldn’t Jan Schakowsky be investigating SALF, not funding them?

This bizarre sequence of events begs a host of questions:

  • Why is Schakowsky funding SALF and not investigating them (that is one of her roles in Congress, after all)?
  • Why is either SALF or Emil Jones lying about his involvement with the group?
  • Did someone lie to the IRS about Jones’ directorship and thereby falsify a tax return?
  • Did Jones fund an organization for which he serves as a director and, if so, is that a serious ethical violation for the State senator?
  • Where did all the millions already sent to SALF go?

Repeated calls to the offices of both Jones and Schakowsky have not been returned.

And I thought the Clintons were exciting.

Doug Ross is an investigative journalist and satirist residing in Sunnyvale, California. He blogs at Doug Ross Journal.
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