State grant cash is easy pickings

State grant cash is easy pickings

The latest Springfield scandal doesn't register high on the state's corruption meter, but it does show business as usual continues in Illinois.

Not that it's big news — at least not in our corruption-scarred state — but there's another scandal brewing that involves state legislators, state grants and the state of confusion that reigns when charlatans request tax dollars to do good works.

The basic problem, of course, is that there is little oversight into how that money is spent — until it's too late.

Federal prosecutors in Springfield announced this week that they have charged Lloyd Kelly, a onetime aide to former Chicago state Rep. Constance Howard, with diverting more than 200,000 taxpayer dollars to personal use. He allegedly paid himself a $50,000 bonus, bought tickets to a football skybox and purchased real estate. The feds said Kelly also used an additional $22,000 to pay Social Security and withholding taxes on the bonus he didn't earn.

The money Kelly allegedly spent was supposed to be used for AIDS awareness. Kelly identified himself as the executive director of the "Let's Talk, Let's Test Foundation," a now-defunct group that Kelly allegedly created with Howard. She served as the chairwoman of the foundation board.

The feds' announcement appears to be one of a series of criminal charges relating to the use and abuse of state grant money by organizations seeking grant support and to legislators who played crucial roles in arranging for them.

News of the investigation broke last summer when federal investigators began to subpoena grant records from state agencies, including the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Shortly after, two legislators, Chicago state Sen. Rickey Hendon and Howard, suddenly resigned.

Neither has so far been charged, but, according to news reports, Howard is the unnamed Public Official A whose activities were outlined in the Kelly indictment.

It's pretty clear state officials didn't exert themselves while vetting the AIDS awareness group before giving it $1.7 million. They followed up closely after the money was spent, discovering that the organization didn't keep good financial records and couldn't explain its expenditures.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sought to recover the money, but her office said there is none to recover. Oh well, it's just taxpayer money, and there's plenty more where that came from. In Illinois, there's always plenty of cash for politically connected ne'er-do-wells.

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