Gov. Pat Quinn has halted a $9.7 million state grant program whose recipients included the The Al Malik Temple for Universal Truth, which spent $20,000 in taxpayer funds to teach kids about how their name and birth date influenced their destiny.
It would have cost less to buy the kids newspapers so they could read horoscopes, but that would not have rewarded political supporters of state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago). And that's what the program was all about.
"Nearly half of the 48 grant recipients . . . were found to be running dubious programs or declined to show how the money was spent," the Tribunereports.
"In one case, a church sat darkened and padlocked during after-school hours even though it was presented as a tutoring center. In another, a woman used her grant for billboard ads to encourage teens to attend community college but pocketed nearly half the money.
"All of the questionable projects shared the same sponsor: Hendon."
The Tribune first reported on the grant program last July and found that "Powerful Senate Democrats quietly gave out the money to handpicked nonprofits, schools, businesses and churches. The lawmakers funneled the money through the Illinois State Board of Education, which rubber-stamped the choices."
Hendon was unapologetic then ("Yeah, I take chances on people") and is unapologetic now ("Even though everybody might not get it right, that's no reason to kill a program that we have to have").
But when asked by the Trib last July about the qualifications needed to get the state grant money, Hendon joked that groups merely needed to be registered with the secretary of state's office - and spell his name right.
Of course, Hendon didn't act alone.
"The after-school funding program was launched three years ago in a deal between Gov. Rod Blagojevich and a handful of influential Senate Democrats," the Tribune reported last year.
"The legislative leaders chose recipients before the groups filed formal applications. The board of education later sent applications and received often-sparse details back. They awarded the money but never visited the programs to see if they existed."
It turned out some didn't. And Hendon doesn't care.
"My job is to legislate and appropriate, and I am going to appropriate all I can," he told the Tribune, which also published last July a story about Hendon called "West Side's King Of Grants."
"Hendon pointed out that former U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) - who later went to federal prison for mail fraud - earned praise for 'bringing home the money' when he was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee," the Tribune reported.
"Well, I'm the West Side chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," Hendon said.