The University of Illinois has deemed Chicago as the city of big scandals and the corruption capital of America.
In 2013, there were a staggering 45 public judicial corruption convictions and 1,642 convictions over the past 38 years. Chicago’s Judicial District had the most corruption scandals in the U.S. for two years in a row.
Four Illinois governors have been convicted of corruption, however, Rod Blagojevich was the most memorable. He was found guilty on 17 out of 20 counts in his second corruption trial.
Illinois is only the third-most corrupt state when viewing statistics by state, according to a 2015 article by the Chicagoist. New York appears in first place with 2,657 public judicial convictions and California comes in second with 2,549.
Judicial corruption in Chicago dates back to the incorporation of the city, in the 1800s. Chicago has been a “one party town,” since the 1920s. The Democratic consortium controlled every branch of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branch.
The federal probe of the Cook County Circuit Court system began in the 1970s with prosecutor Jim Thompson. He successfully exposed a number of aldermen under the broad use of the Federal Mail Fraud statute.
The most historic investigation into Chicago’s judicial corruption would be Operation Greylord. In 1976, the FBI was assigned the task of investigating systematic corruption in the Chicago judicial system.
Greylord was an investigation administered, not only by the FBI, but also the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Chicago Police Department of Internal Affairs, and more.
Operation Greylord was a plethora of undercover efforts that used authentic judges and lawyers, who willingly posed as crooked officials.
Harold Conn, a 57-year-old court clerk, was the first case to be presented in federal court.
On March 15, 1984, he was found guilty of 10 racketeering and extortion charges. He was the “bagman” for judges who were willing to exchange favorable rulings for a fee.
Conn had been working for the court 27 years before his arrest. He was working in the traffic court at the time of the Greylord investigation.
During Conn’s eight-day trial, 27 clandestinely recorded tapes were provided as evidence. The tapes included conversations between Conn and undercover agents posing as defense attorneys. According to The New York Times, he had taken $1,600 from the agents. The money was connected to seven different cases.
Conn eroded the Cook County Court system by implementing “two systems of justice.” One form of justice for those who paid and another for those who did not.
Alongside the FBI, there were strong allies within Cook County and local police, who caught: 92 judges, 48 lawyers, 8 policemen, 10 deputy sheriffs, 8 court officials, and one state legislator. Nearly all were convicted, according to Chicago Tribune archives.
In 2004, the FBI investigated 850 cases, brought 655 indictments, and 525 convictions.
The primary victims of judicial corruption are the citizens, as it is an abuse of public trust. Profiteering in the government strikes at the core of social order and lawfulness.
Citizens pay an overwhelmingly large corruption tax and endure a decline in government services. Graft costs Illinois approximately $500 million a year.
There is a surfeit of ways to change Chicago’s reputation as the most corrupt city. It may take time, but there are solutions to fix the judicial corruption in Chicago.
First, demand increased transparency and liability. The government can do this by appointing additional inspector generals and public officials and encouraging more citizen participation in government and politics. Furthermore, they can put an end to the political machine and rewrite the culture of corruption in Illinois.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Unless a man is honest we have no right to keep him in public life, it matters not how brilliant his capacity, it hardly matters how great his power of doing good service on certain lines may be… No man who is corrupt, no man who condones corruption in others, can possibly do his duty by the community.”
Roosevelt clearly states that virtue is essential to public servants. If a person wishes to serve the country they must display integrity in both their personal and public lives.
Written by Breanna Harris
Edited by C. Milne and J. Smith
The New York Times: Jury Finds Clerk in Chicago Guilty
Chicagoist: Chicago’s Judicial District has the Most Corruption in the US
ABC 7: Blagojevich ‘stunned,’ guilty on 17 of 20 counts
Chicago Tribune Archives: Inside Greylord
Top and Feature Image Courtesy of Carol Vinzant’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License