Illinois House approves plan for Medicaid hospital financing

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois House has approved a revised plan to access federal Medicaid money for hospitals.

The plan OK’d today would provide $3.5 billion in state and federal money for about 200 hospitals. It answers federal requirements that more Medicaid patients be covered by managed-care programs.

The House voted 107-7 for the plan. Hospitals pay an assessment upfront that’s matched by federal funds.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago says his plan provides 58 percent of the money will go to hospitals serving impoverished urban areas and others in rural areas which often are the only health care facilities for miles around.

But the revamped formula would still force closures of two hospitals.

The House OK’d a second plan 110-0 to authorize state officials to monitor managed-care claims and denials.

Illinois House approves plan for Medicaid hospital financing

Illinois private school scholarship program receives more than 33,000 applications

Empower Illinois said Wednesday it received applications on behalf of more than 33,000 Illinois students for the state’s new K-12 private school scholarships on the first evening its updated application process went live.

The nonprofit tried to launch a massive statewide application process Jan. 31, but its website couldn’t handle the traffic.

There were no technical issues Tuesday night, the nonprofit reported.

“Our mission is to provide as many students as possible with access to the school that best suits their needs,” said Myles Mendoza, executive director of Empower Illinois. “We knew demand was strong. Now that the system is operational, we will put every effort toward working with our network schools to raise the funds needed to meet this demand statewide.”

Empower Illinois is the largest organization overseeing the controversial Tax Credit Scholarship program, which was part of the school funding overhaul approved by lawmakers last year.

Critics say the program is similar to vouchers because it diverts taxpayer dollars to support private education.

The program aims to assist families with certain incomes by offering scholarships that cover 50 percent to 100 percent of the average cost to educate a student.

It’s not clear yet how many students in the Springfield area are seeking scholarships for private school.

Shaun Riedell, director for office of development for the Springfield Catholic Diocese, said Wednesday the diocese does not have access to the data showing what schools students are seeking scholarships for.

“We hope to know that sometime after next week,” he said.

To date, Empower Illinois says the tax credit scholarship program has received more than $45 million in pledged donations.

The scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and those still interested in applying can do so at

Contact Jason Nevel: 788-1521,,

Illinois private school scholarship program receives more than 33,000 applications

Growing signs that Aaron Schock prosecution on shaky ground

  • FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2016, file photo, former Illinois U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock talks to reporters in Peoria Heights, Ill. Growing sympathy for defense arguments, seeming confusion among the prosecution team and a disgruntled judge are some of the signs that the corruption case against Schock may be at risk of unraveling. (Matt Dayhoff/Journal Star via AP, File) Photo: Matt Dayhoff, AP / Journal Star

Photo: Matt Dayhoff, AP

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FILE – In this Nov. 10, 2016, file photo, former Illinois U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock talks to reporters in Peoria Heights, Ill. Growing sympathy for defense arguments, seeming confusion among the prosecution team and a disgruntled judge are some of the signs that the corruption case against Schock may be at risk of unraveling. (Matt Dayhoff/Journal Star via AP, File) less
FILE – In this Nov. 10, 2016, file photo, former Illinois U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock talks to reporters in Peoria Heights, Ill. Growing sympathy for defense arguments, seeming confusion among the prosecution team … more

Photo: Matt Dayhoff, AP

Growing signs that Aaron Schock prosecution on shaky ground

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CHICAGO (AP) — Growing sympathy for defense arguments, seeming confusion within the team of federal prosecutors and a disgruntled judge are among the signs that key portions of the corruption case against former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock may be at risk of unraveling.

The question on which the outcome of the Illinois Republican‘s case may rest — and one an appeals court is currently mulling over — is whether prosecutors based their charges on ambiguous House rules in violation of separation-of-powers clauses in the U.S. Constitution.

Schock, who gained notoriety for redecorating his Capitol Hill office in the style of the “Downton Abbey” TV series, has long argued prosecutors did just that by bringing charges he illegally sought reimbursements for a $5,000 office chandelier and other personal spending.

But that constitutional argument has gained more support elsewhere since the 2016 indictment as prosecutors out of the U.S. attorney’s office in central Illinois have disclosed their evidence against the longtime Peoria resident, a prodigious GOP fundraiser in Congress before he resigned in 2015 amid scrutiny of his spending.

“I think there is a genuine dispute here,” said Daniel Petalas, a Washington lawyer and former prosecutor in the Department of Justice‘s public integrity section.

Real constitutional concerns and imprecise rules on which multiple charges are based “make this case an aggressive extension of the prosecutorial role,” he said.

The U.S. House weighed in last month — days after Schock asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to toss all 22 remaining charges on constitutional grounds. Schock’s trial in U.S. District Court in Urbana, 130 miles south of Chicago, can’t start until the 7th Circuit rules sometime in the next few months.

A friend-of-the-court filing by House counsel insists it’s not taking a stand on whether or not Schock is guilty. But it then devotes 23 pages to reminding the 7th Circuit that precedent “forbids prosecution of congressional officials on charges that depend for their validity on a debatable interpretation of congressional rules.”

Federal courts widely agree that the Constitution bars prosecutors, as members of the executive branch, from charging legislative-branch members based on unclear congressional rules. They can be charged on the basis of clear rules that call for no interpretation, courts have also said.

Schock’s appeal contends all the charges against him derive, directly or indirectly, from imprecise House rules. It singles out rules relied on to charge Schock on the allegedly fraudulent chandelier reimbursement. Rules prohibit reimbursements for “decorations” and “furniture”, the appeal says, but they don’t define either word.

Prosecutors’ response to Schock’s appeal is due in March. But when the same issues arose in trial court, they balked at the notion the House rules are unclear. And they asserted that half of the charges have nothing to do with House rules anyway, including ones alleging Schock falsified campaign records and income tax returns.

“This prosecution,” one filing by prosecutors said, “is based on an unambiguous rule in the criminal law, applicable to laborer and Congressmen alike: do not lie or engage in a scheme to lie to obtain government or other funds.”

Schock’s trial judge, Colin Bruce, has given credence to constitutional arguments from the defense, albeit only partially.

In October, he tossed one count that alleges Schock illegally pocketed leftover constituent-event fees, saying the charge rested on vague House rules prosecutors have no authority to interpret. And Bruce left open chances of dismissing more counts for the same reason, depending on how prosecutors structure their case for jurors.

Bruce, like Schock’s lawyers, also framed the case as one that tests a bedrock principle of the American political system.

“The case is rife with potential issues related to the separation of powers,” he wrote in his October ruling dismissing two of 24 original counts.

Prosecutors in Schock’s case raised the judge’s ire in a series of contradictory filings in which they first denied ever telling a grand jury Schock wasn’t showing up to testify — potentially prejudicing jurors against him. They later acknowledged they had, in fact, told the jurors that 11 times. Suspects aren’t required to testify before a grand jury because of protections against self-incrimination.

Lingering distrust of prosecutors could influence how Bruce rules on critical pre-trial motions, which often include what evidence can be entered at trial, said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago and managing director of the investigations firm Berkley Research Group.

“If there are close calls, your reputation before a judge is sometimes all you have,” he said. “Nothing is more important — and that has been tainted in this case.”

There may also be signs that Department of Justice brass could be losing confidence in the case.

After local prosecutors filed a notice that they were appealing Bruce’s dismissal of two counts, a surprise February filing by Washington-based Justice Department official William Glaser withdrew that appeal, letting the dismissals stand.

Schock can by no means rest easy.

He’s still facing eight wire-fraud counts, one for seeking reimbursement for the chandelier. Each carries a maximum 20-year prison term. The other charges are: five counts of falsification of election commission filings, six of filing false federal income tax returns, two of making false statements and one of mail fraud.

A best-case scenario for Schock is that the 7th Circuit throws out the majority of the charges, Cramer said. But he added that even if just one or two survives, prosecutors can be expected to push to go to trial anyway.

Schock’s lawyers know their best hope is to get courts — perhaps even the Supreme Court if they lose in the 7th Circuit — to jettison as many charges as possible on constitutional grounds. Cramer said nuanced constitutional arguments won’t play well with jurors disgusted by a steady stream of political corruption cases in Illinois.

“It is very hard for a defense lawyer to say, ‘Yes what he did was wrong, but these aren’t crimes they are just violations of rules,'” Cramer said. “That’s a tough argument. … A trial jury is not going to have much patience for that.”

Growing signs that Aaron Schock prosecution on shaky ground

Chicago cardinal joins Illinois’ gun control effort


SPRINGFIELD – Wednesday morning, Cardinal Blaise Cupich joined calls for more gun control in Illinois, a state with already some of the nation’s most stringent gun restrictions. Cupich joined the effort following the high school shooting in Parkland Florida two weeks ago.

“Our young people are shaming the adult world to recall that the principle rights among all those we hold inalienable in this nation are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Cupich told reporters in a press conference hosted by the Catholic Conference.

He said children in Newtown and Parkland were denied those rights. 

The head of the Chicago Archdiocese said students who’ve been traumatized by the shootings are “shaming” adults for their inaction to restrict gun violence. He then asked of those that stand against what he called “common sense” gun laws,”Who are you protecting?”

The Illinois House is expected to consider several bills Wednesday that would place more restrictions on gun use in Illinois. 

Chicago cardinal joins Illinois’ gun control effort

‘Going rate’ to buy a job in Dorothy Brown’s office? $10,000, feds allege

One employee told federal investigators that the “going rate” to a buy a job in Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office was $10,000, to be paid to her personal bagman.

Another said in an FBI interview it was well known that showering gifts on Brown could earn you a promotion, citing a trip Brown took to India that was partially paid for by relatives of one of her top employees.

Financial records appeared to back up the claims, including transactions showing the alleged bagman— who is also a clerk’s office employee — paid $40,000 directly to Brown and a company she controlled. The clerk later deposited $30,000 of those funds into her campaign war chest.

Those allegations are among several startling new details revealed by federal prosecutors in a court filing in the pending case against Beena Patel, one of Brown’s former aides whose relative helped fund the India trip in 2013.

The filing shows in the greatest detail yet the scope of the grand jury probe into pay-to-play allegations of corruption in Brown’s sprawling office, which prosecutors said remains an active criminal investigation.

Brown has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has not been charged despite an investigation that has been underway for nearly five years. She won a fifth term as clerk in 2016 even though the Cook County Democratic Party had dropped its endorsement of her after the federal investigation was disclosed.

The new filing by prosecutors came as lawyers for Patel are asking a federal judge to throw out evidence seized from her cell phone in 2015 because of alleged deficiencies in the search warrants obtained by the FBI.

Patel, a former associate clerk who at one point supervised close to 500 office employees, has pleaded not guilty to charges she lied on two separate occasions to a federal grand jury investigating corruption in Brown’s office.

Another employee, Sivasubramani Rajaram, was convicted in 2016 of falsely testifying to the grand jury that he had not talked with Brown after his 2014 hiring. Prosecutors alleged that to secure the job, Rajaram had paid a $15,000 bribe to Brown disguised as a loan to Goat Masters Corp., a goat meat supply company that Brown and her husband had recently founded. Rajaram was sentenced last year to probation.

In their 16-page response Tuesday, prosecutors wrote that they presented plenty of evidence to justify the search warrants, including interviews with current and former employees as well as records showing loans and other financial dealings between Brown and people who worked for her, including Patel and Rajaram.

The filing said that at the time the search warrants were executed in 2015, the alleged bagman — referred to only as Employee One — had paid a total of $30,000 “in recent years” to Brown’s personal accounts and another $10,000 to Goat Masters. Brown later loaned the $30,000 directly to her campaign fund.

When law enforcement approached Employee One about the payments in September 2014, he refused to speak to agents, according to the filing. Cell phone records showed the employee immediately called Brown and several co-workers after the encounter.

After giving Employee One a letter of immunity from prosecution, he testified before the grand jury, denying the payments were bribes, prosecutors said. He characterized them as business loans that he had agreed to give to Brown and her husband because “she is a nice candidate,” according to the filing.

Patel, 55, who left the clerk’s office in August 2016, was indicted on three counts of making false declarations before a grand jury. According to the charges, Patel and other employees routinely helped raise money for Brown’s campaign by hitting up co-workers for tickets to fundraisers. Patel also pressed Brown’s chief of staff to promote an employee whose brother had made hefty political donations to Brown, the indictment alleged.

The Tribune has reported that Brown first came under investigation after the sale of a North Lawndale building owned by Patel’s brother, Narendra, a west suburban businessman and longtime campaign donor to Brown who is now deceased.

Narendra Patel gave the 2,275-square-foot, triangle-shaped property on South Pulaski Road to Brown’s husband, Benton Cook III, at no cost in June 2011, records show.

Within months, Brown’s husband put the property in the couple’s name. Later, they transferred it to the Sankofa Group LLC, a for-profit company Brown had set up years earlier out of her Chicago home.

The couple then sold the run-down building for $100,000 to developer Musa Tadros, county documents show. Over the years, Narendra Patel and his company, Medstar Laboratory Inc., contributed more than $86,000 to Brown’s campaign, state records show.

Twitter @jmetr22b


Prosecutors allege Dorothy Brown took $15K bribe, but her lawyer calls it loan »

Ex-top aide to Dorothy Brown indicted on charges she lied to grand jury »

Dorothy Brown can’t ‘end-run’ First Amendment, judge says in denying delay »

‘Going rate’ to buy a job in Dorothy Brown’s office? $10,000, feds allege

Bernard Schoenburg: Kennedy ad seems to outreach his own policy

A television ad for Democratic governor candidate Chris Kennedy makes a pretty strong statement about school funding — but even Kennedy doesn’t preach what he seems to say in the ad.

“We have to make sure that education is paid for at the state level, and not through local property taxes,” Kennedy says in the 30-second spot.

The state now pays only about a quarter of K-12 school costs in Illinois, and most of the rest — and by far the majority, is paid for by local property taxes.

So is Kennedy advocating an end to property-tax funding for schools?

“No,” he told the editorial board of The State Journal-Register this week. “I don’t think we could go that far. I don’t know of a state where there’s no reliance on local property taxes. And I’m a big believer in allowing local communities to do what they’d like. And if you’re a local community and you’d like to put on a special tax so your school has certain resources, so be it.”

I asked his campaign spokeswoman, Rebecca Evans, about what seemed like the no-property-taxes statement.

“He has said consistently we can’t rely on local property taxes to fund education,” Evans said. “The bulk of funding needs to come from the state.”

Kennedy has been very critical of the property-tax assessment system, including his call for Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios to resign.

The Kennedy ad includes pictures the candidate’s late father, Robert F. Kennedy, and uncle, President John F. Kennedy.

“I come from a family that has embraced the notion that we’re all in this together,” he says.

He also says what while he sees the “failing of the government” in Illinois, he believes in “building things up, not in tearing them down.”

“I believe that compromise is not surrender,” he also says. “I know this is doable. I know we can do it. Let’s go where we need to go.”


— Contact Bernard Schoenburg:, 788-1540,



Bernard Schoenburg: Kennedy ad seems to outreach his own policy

Cardinal Cupich calls on lawmakers to act to combat gun violence

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich Wednesday called for Illinois lawmakers to enact laws in an effort to combat the gun violence in the state and in the country.

During a Statehouse news conference, Cupich said “sensible gun-safety regulations” will not infringe on legitimate rights of law-abiding people to use guns.

However, Cupich did not endorse specific bills that are before the House and Senate today and are scheduled for votes at the same time a large rally is scheduled to protest gun violence. Cupich said the bills remain “in flux” right now making it difficult to speak about them in specifics.

“It’s is now up to those we elect to serve the common good to act to stop the rampant violence that has turned our schools, our churches, theaters and our streets into places of slaughter,” Cupich said.

He said the “youth of our nation are shaming the adult world into action.”

Not long before Cupich held his news conference, a group of House Republicans held their own news conference to say the legislature is rushing to pass gun control measures that are flawed. They said more time should be given to refine the bills to ensure they will not have unintended consequences.

Cupich agreed that the legislature has time to enact gun control measures, since it is scheduled to remain in session until the end of May.

“Let’s make sure that we build a coalition among people. It will take time to get it right,” he said. “Let’s do it in a considered, thoughtful way and yet make sure that we don’t allow the clock to be ticking on in such a way that delay means defeat.”

Cardinal Cupich calls on lawmakers to act to combat gun violence