Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How Blagojevich fits into Illinois history

Given today's arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, we thought it might be helpful to consider the context of his arrest. Here is a list of Illinois governors tainted by corruption. Complete with page numbers, the information is gathered by Beverley Scobell at Illinois Issues magazine and contained in The Illinois Governors: Mostly Good and Competent.

Only one governor, Len Small (1921-1929) was indicted while in office. In July 1921, he was indicted by the attorney general whose appropriation he had cut (page 196, new edition of Governors book). Charges were conspiracy and embezzlement of interest money during Small's second term as state treasurer. The criminal trial held in Waukegan in 1922 ended with an acquittal. One historian suggested jury tampering because after the trial, four jurors received state jobs.

Four governors were indicted after their terms ended:

  • William Stratton (1953-1961) was indicted in 1964 for violating income tax laws. He was acquitted on tax evasion charges centered on campaign contributions (page 242)
  • Otto Kerner (1961-1968) was convicted in 1973 of conspiracy, income tax evasion, mail fraud and making false statements on income tax returns. He served 7 months of a 3-year sentence, released on parole when lung cancer was diagnosed (page 250 of the new edition of Mostly Good).
  • Dan Walker (1973-1977) was sentenced after pleading guilty to bank fraud, misapplication of bank funds and perjury in 1987. He served one and a half years of a 7-year sentence (page 272).
  • George Ryan (1999-2003) was indicted the December following his term on charges of tax fraud, racketeering conspiracy and other and crimes related to his actions as secretary of state. He was convicted in 2006 and began serving a 6 1/2 year sentence in November 2007.

One other governor, Joel Matteson (1853-1857), would probably have been indicted under today's laws. In the last year of of his governorship, he engineered the Scrip Scandal (page 80, new edition), where he cashed again notes issued to build the I&M Canal that had been redeemed but not cancelled. The state Senate Revenue Committee indicted him in 1859, held a trial, convicted then reversed the decision and finally acquitted him. He finally repaid the state more than $250,000 ordered by Sangamon County Circuit Court in 1863.

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