Jim Dey: Of crimes and misdemeanors, political missteps and going to pot

Jim Dey: Of crimes and misdemeanors, political missteps and going to pot

A little more than two years ago, Paul Pless got caught fiddling around with numbers.

A month ago, Pless allegedly was caught fiddling around with a prostitute.

One mistake cost him his job as the assistant dean of admissions at the University of Illinois College of Law. The other resulted in his arrest.

The McLean County State's Attorney's office this week charged the 41-year-old Pless with a Class A misdemeanor in connection with his Dec. 30 arrest on the charge of solicitation of a sexual act. Pless faces a Feb. 19 hearing on the charge before Judge Michael Stroh.

A UI law graduate, Pless is represented by McLean County lawyer Tristan Bullington. Ironically, Bullington is a 2009 UI law graduate, one of hundreds of students Pless would have reviewed for admission.

Pless, who resides in Dewey and now is in the real estate business, was among four men — ages 41 to 56 — who were arrested that day in connection with a prostitution sting operation directed by the vice squad at the Bloomington Police Department.

State's Attorney Jason Chambers said he did not wish to release too many details because "it's an ongoing case." But he said police were working with a "confidential source" who arranged to meet the men at the hotel.

"Obviously, there were police officers involved but there was a confidential source" who was posing as a prostitute, he said.

After their arrests, the men were taken to, and then released on their own recognizance from, the McLean County jail. Under Illinois law, an individual convicted of a Class A misdemeanor can be sentenced up to 364 days in jail and fined up to $2,500. However, most of the penalties imposed under the statute are far less severe, particularly for individuals with no criminal record.

Pless is a one-time star of the UI law school who received lavish pay and generous praise. Known for his ability to attract outstanding students, he resigned under fire in fall 2011 after investigators concluded he manipulated law school applicants' grades and test scores to make them look more academically impressive than they really were.

Pless engaged in his improprieties in six of 10 law school classes that were examined by investigators from a Chicago law firm hired by the UI. The investigation began after the UI's ethics office received an anonymous tip suggesting Pless was engaging in improprieties.

Because the legal community is rather small, State's Attorney Chambers said he is aware of Pless' UI background but that it is nothing more than an interesting sidelight to the case.

"We're not treating (the case) as anything more or less than what it is," Chambers said.

Campaign misfire

Local state Sen. Mike Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, announced last week what everyone who pays attention has known for months: He's running for state treasurer.

But his series of announcements didn't go exactly as planned.

Here's how Rich Miller, who oversees CapitolFax.com, a Springfield-based website, described it.

"Sen. Mike Frerichs has pulled his treasurer campaign announcement video off YouTube and replaced it with a new one. The embarrassing move had to be made because Frerichs claimed in the original video that he had 'led by example' by 'ending free lifetime health care for legislators.' Actually, Frerichs voted against that bill," Miller said.

Frerichs acknowledged the inaccurate statement in his campaign video and said he had confused his vote against that bill with a vote for an earlier version of the bill.

"My media team and I were talking about various reforms I had supported. I think what happened is that we saw the bill and saw the first version, which I had voted for," Frerichs told Capitol Fax.

Using the imperial "we," Frerichs said he had voted against the bill he originally said he voted for because he said among those losing free health care forever were university employees.

"We definitely misspoke, we messed up, we're moving forward," Frerichs said.

Frerichs' misstep, however, allowed Republican state Rep. Tom Cross, who is seeking the GOP treasurer nomination, to take a shot at Frerichs.

It's pretty clear that Frerichs and Cross don't like each other. So Cross was not reluctant to heap scorn on Frerichs.

In his own campaign ad, Cross attacked "dishonest politicians like Mike Frerichs."

The Cross ad quotes Frerichs' misstatement about "ending free lifetime health care for legislators" and stated: "The problem? It's not true. Frerichs voted against ending lifetime health benefits and voted to increase his own pay. Twice.

"... Mike Frerichs. Just another dishonest politician we can't trust — especially with our tax dollars."

If the Cross ad sounds harsh, it's consistent with the language each candidate has used against the other.

When Cross visited Champaign-Urbana last fall to discuss his campaign, Frerichs said the former Republican House member had "contributed to many of the most hazardous fiscal decisions leading to our current fiscal crisis." Frerichs also said he has spent much of his time in the Illinois Senate trying "to clean up the mess (Cross) helped to create over the last 20 years." More recently, Frerichs has described Cross and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner as "clueless candidates who denigrate low-income working families and stack the deck against working families just trying to get ahead."

Marijuana on campus?

The University of Illinois declared total war against smokers Jan. 1, officially making the entire campus smoke-free. But in a time when smoking cigarettes is considered a social ill and smoking marijuana a social benefit, will the lame, the halt and the blind be able to toke up within the UI's vast forbidden zone?

If you have a headache on campus, feel free to take an aspirin. But state bureaucrats say that if you have a malady the state agrees is so serious as to require medical marijuana, forget it.

The Department of Public Health recently issued nearly 50 pages of administrative rules to cover this first step toward legalization of marijuana in Illinois. The rules state that individuals are barred from "smoking medical cannabis in any public place where an individual could reasonably be expected to be observed by others, in a health care facility or any other place where smoking is prohibited under the Smoke Free Illinois Act."

Imagine, a university that prides itself on compassion and tolerance barring the ill from consuming legal medicine. Sounds like grounds for bringing back "Hash Wednesday."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 351-5369.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion

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Sid Saltfork wrote on January 30, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Yep, it is still a Republican newspaper.