Every Monday through Friday Illinois First Lady Patti Blagojevich arrives at the Chicago Christian Industrial League to raise money to help the city’s most needy citizens. Hired last September, she works out of a small office in the League’s brand new facility in North Lawndale.
The First Lady has not spoken publicly since her husband, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was arrested by the FBI on corruption charges on December 9, 2008. She agreed to be photographed but declined to speak to both NBC Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times.
Patti Blagojevich was hired as a fundraiser for the 99-year-old institution, but an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC Chicago shows the Christian Industrial League is in dire financial trouble and that internally, the Board members have discussed the possibility of bankruptcy.
According to the Christian Industrial League’s interim executive director, Mary Shaver, private funding has dropped, federal HUD money has been lost and the facility is now only half full.
Many of the financial problems can be traced back to when the Christian Industrial League moved from its home in Greektown to a plot on Roosevelt Road.
The new $25 million state-of-the-art shelter opened in 2006. It provides food for the hungry, beds for the homeless, and job training for the willing.
For 97 years, the Christian Industrial League was located in Chicago's Greektown neighborhood, an area that in the last decade has become prime real estate.
Today condos selling for more than a half a million dollars sit on the old site.
Among the condo developers are two politically powerful and well-connected businessmen. Michael Marchese is one of Mayor Richard Daley's closest friends. William Cellini is a Springfield multi-millionaire indicted in the ongoing pay-to-play federal investigation.
An investigation by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak shows that taxpayers of the City of Chicago paid $13.5 million to facilitate the Christian Industrial League's 2006 move from Greektown to North Lawndale. And with that move the Marchese-Cellini team was free to begin building.
The Christian Industrial League was ready to move after nearly a century at the old site.
"The buildings were falling down around us," Shaver said.
But trouble was already looming, according to documents obtained by the Sun-Times.
Memos written by officials inside City Hall and the Christian Industrial League warned the mayor's office that costs associated with the move were out of control.
"There's a four year trail that shows the Christian Industrial League never had any money to fund its share of the building," according to Sun Times reporter Tim Novak, "which is why they ended up hiring Patti Blagojevich."
Paul Camenisch, the Vice President of the Christian Industrial League's Board of Directors, admits internally there was talk about the possibility of bankruptcy.
"We are not currently planning on bankruptcy, do not expect that to happen," Carmenish said, "but it would be irresponsible of us not to admit that that possibility sits there. But we hope it's remote."
When asked if the city shared any responsibility in over-extending the Leagues finances Camenisch said no. "I would not blame them. They may have led us to do this, but I'm not sure it was their responsibility to prevent it."
As for the Marchese-Cellini condo development, according to Marchese's company, sales have slowed due to the economy and only about half the units have been sold.
This is not the first controversial city development Marchese has been a part of.
In 1999 his company bought a 17-acre property on the west side from the CTA for one dollar and built a shopping center.
There is a different type of controversy for Cellini, who is charged with attempting to shake down an investment firm in order to get campaign contributions for the governor. In November, Cellini's attorney entered a plea of not guilty to the charge.
As for the first lady, she continues her work but there remains a serious question, given her family's legal problems, about her ability to continue to raise funds.
Next December, the Chicago Christian Industrial League turns 100, with a cloudy financial future.
"At this point we are planning a centennial celebration. It may not be as elaborate as most, but our plans are to be here," Camenisch said.
Neither William Cellini or Michael Marchese agreed to be interviewed for this story.
The Christian Industrial League has worked out a plan with lenders to try and come up with a better financial plan, which may include joining forces with another group to help those in the greatest need.