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The Mechanics
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Crime Thu Oct 22 2015

Three Female Public Officials Going Down the Corruption Escalator

Three women public officials in Chicago in the past 10 days took rides on the corruption escalator. It's a "down" escalator, from scandal headlines, to indictment, to conviction, to prison, and then emerging at the bottom with a ruined careers and reputations in tatters.

It's a familiar ride taken by many Chicago elected and appointed officials. But this week, the headliners were all women.

Former Alderman Sandi Jackson, Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Dorothy Brown, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk are all on different stages of the corruption ride, but they are all headed in the same direction.

Sandi Jackson, Dororthy Brown & Barbara Byrd-BennettSandi Jackson, Alderman of Chicago's South Side 7th Ward and wife of former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., on Tuesday entered a federal prison camp for women in West Virginia to begin serving a one-year sentence for income tax evasion. She and her husband looted more the $750,000 from campaign accounts and spent the money on personal clothing, furniture and luxury items. She did not report much of it on their tax returns. She also failed to report $15,000 in taxable income earned through her political consulting firm, J. Donatella and Associates. The Congressman's campaign paid more than $452,000 to her firm over 10 years. Mrs. Jackson, who was indicted and pleaded guilty in February of 2013, is nearing the bottom of her corruption slide.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, on October 13 pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks for steering $23 million of no-bid contracts to her previous employer, SUPES Academy, while concealing that she was still employed by its owners. With scandal news, indictment and conviction behind her, Byrd-Bennett is more than halfway down the escalator. She has yet to go to prison. Her sentencing is on hold because Federal prosecutors expect her cooperation as they continue to investigate who else may be involved in the CPS scandal. Also last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that federal prosecutors were investigating millions of dollars worth of contracts given to former employers of Byrd-Bennett when she was head of Detroit's public schools.

The re-election bid by Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court, ran into some trouble last Wednesday when the central committee of the Cook County Democratic Party decided to reconsider its endorsement of her in the upcoming March primary election. They are expected to decide later this week. The previous week, the BGA, Fox TV 32 and the Sun-Times reported that federal prosecutors have an active grand jury investigation of Dorothy Brown's conduct including loans she may have received from employees "in connection to employment." Dorothy Brown's activities have come under news media scrutiny on numerous occasions since she was first elected in 2000. But this time, with an ongoing federal investigation and the news media pounding away, she has both feet on the escalator going down.


Thomas J. Gradel is a freelance writer and political researcher. He is the co-author with Dick Simpson of Corrupt Illinois: Patronage Cronyism, and Criminality, published in February 2015 by the University of Illinois Press.

Photos courtesy of Chicago Tribune

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Pete / October 23, 2015 9:35 AM

The downside of gender equality - in Chicago politics, the women are getting as corrupt as the men.

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