Missing money looks suspicious
When taxpayer dollars disappear, it's important to find out if more than incompetence is involved.
A state audit released last week told the story of a $50 million-plus boondoggle.
The audit, no doubt, produced its share of disgust among beleaguered taxpayers, but it ought not to stop there.
State Sen. Christine Radogno, the Republican leader in the Illinois Senate, is calling for a federal investigation into how this money was dispensed and where it went before disappearing into the ether.
Some of Radogno's colleagues are pointing fingers at Gov. Pat Quinn for this outrageous waste, and he is responsible for the administrative failings. But federal investigations are conducted to ferret out criminal activity, not political responsibility.
Too much money has disappeared to write this off as an administrative misadventure.
The money was intended to finance a Neighborhood Recovery Initiative aimed at reducing violence in some of the Chicago-area's most dangerous neighborhoods. Quinn and Co. conceived the plan after an epidemic of fatal shootings prompted ministers in the city to ask for government intervention.
Overseen by the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, a state agency subsequently dissolved, the $50 million-plus made available by Quinn was supposed to support anti-violence programs.
It takes more than money to solve serious social problems like street violence. But state officials made their efforts even more difficult by giving Chicago's aldermen authority to decide who did or did not get grants.
Talk about putting the fox in the hen house. The results are available to anyone who has the stomach to read Auditor General William Holland's report of this fiasco.
Given how badly these programs were overseen, it's hard to believe there were not massive thefts. That's why Radogno said she is going to ask Holland "to forward his findings to the inspector general" and for federal prosecutors "to take a look at it."
"I think there's plenty of reason to think that there may have been actual crimes committed. But I don't know that for a fact yet," she said.
We don't share Radogno's enthusiasm for an inspector general's inquiry. It would be largely duplicative of Holland's audit with no definitive impact. Inspector general investigations were common during the tenure of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the results were mostly nil. It's a different story altogether with a federal investigation. Wrongdoers can be identified and prosecuted.
What happened here stinks. But it may well be that a disaster of this proportion was no accident, but, instead, the result of criminal designs. The feds should take a look and see if they can find out.