Senate Week in Review: September 29 – October 6

Governor Quinn’s scandal-plagued Neighborhood Recovery Initiative is poised to once again take center stage as federal prosecutors cleared the way for the bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission (LAC) to resume their investigation of the program. Senator Barickman serves as Co-chair of the LAC.

In advance of an Oct. 8 Audit Commission hearing, Senator Barickman and several other lawmakers are raising concerns that Governor Quinn has shuffled millions of dollars into a re-branded version of his failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and appears to be accelerating the pace of handouts as the election nears.

State spending records show $5 million in funds that were supposed to have gone statewide to help at-risk youth have been shifted to programs in Chicago that are virtual clones of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), including several to the same contractors whose misuse of funds from the previous program sparked multiple criminal investigations.

U.S. Attorney gives audit commission green light

The Legislative Audit Commission is set to resume its investigation of the original NRI program after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois informed the co-chairs of the bipartisan commission that he does not object to the Audit Commission resuming public hearings on the NRI.

In August, U.S. Attorney James Lewis had requested that the commission delay its investigation for 90 days so as not to interfere with federal investigators.

One of the witnesses subpoenaed by the Audit Commission has also said she will testify. Barbara Shaw, the former director of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority has informed the audit commission that she will comply with a subpoena issued before the hearings were placed on hold. She is considered to be a key witness and has firsthand knowledge of the preparation and roll-out of the $54.5 million grant program that is now under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Springfield and Chicago.

The Legislative Audit Commission has scheduled hearings for Oct. 8-9, at the Bilandic State Office Building in Chicago. The Oct. 8 hearing is set to begin at 10 a.m. in room Room C-600, and to continue the next day beginning at 9 a.m.

Quinn shifting money to NRI Clone

Governor Pat Quinn has shuffled millions of dollars into a re-branded version of his failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and appears to be accelerating the pace of handouts as the election nears.

State spending records show $5 million in funds that were supposed to have gone state-wide to help at-risk youth have been shifted to programs in Chicago that are virtual clones of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), including several to the same contractors whose misuse of funds from the previous program sparked multiple criminal investigations.

“This looks and smells just like the original NRI, and in fact, millions are being sent to many of the same agencies that were implicated in the Auditor General’s scathing audit,” said State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). “And just like the original NRI, millions of dollars are being thrown around right before the election.”

The shift in taxpayer funds occurred despite repeated assurances from Quinn that he shut down the NRI program in 2012. During a one-week period in September, Quinn pumped an additional $400,000 into just one entity – the Chicago Area Project. The Chicago Area Project is already under investigation for its hiring of the husband of Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown. The $400,000 brought the total handed to the group to over $1 million, less than six weeks before the election.

The $5 million was appropriated for Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services (CCBYS). The goals of the CCBYS program are to provide comprehensive and community-based individualized services to at-risk youth and their families to achieve family stabilization and reunification, thereby diverting or minimizing youth contact with the juvenile justice and/or child welfare systems. CCBYS providers are located throughout the entire state of Illinois. Grants are awarded through a competitive, transparent RFP process.

“We should do more to help kids and stop violence around the state.  However, Governor Quinn has chosen to take money out of these programs so that he can send it to politically connected groups in Chicago,” said Senator Barickman. “It’s frustrating to inform our local providers that their budgets are being cut so that Governor Quinn can increase funding to some of the same deficient providers who were identified in the NRI audit, including one group that owes the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

In February, Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland released a scathing audit on the first two years of NRI. It found that the program was hastily implemented just before the 2010 gubernatorial election, that Chicago aldermen influenced what agencies received the nearly $55 million, and that the entire program lacked proper oversight and transparency.

At least three grand jury subpoenas have been filed on the program, two from US Attorney’s offices in Chicago and Springfield, as well as from the Cook County State’s Attorney.

The bi-partisan, bi-cameral Legislative Audit Commission (LAC) has been reviewing Holland’s audit as well, but members are waiting until October to hear witness testimony so as not to interfere with the federal criminal investigation(s).

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