<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Chicago Political News and Chicago Politics]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Tue, 04 Aug 2015 06:43:43 -0500 Tue, 04 Aug 2015 06:43:43 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Schock Still Spending Campaign Funds: Documents]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:45:52 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/schock+investigates.jpg

It has been more than four months since Aaron Schock resigned from office, after NBC5 Investigates and other news organizations raised questions about how he was spending his campaign money and congressional funds. But new documents filed last Friday with the Federal Election Commission show the former Peoria congressmanis still spending his campaign money, even as he’s under federal investigation.

NBC5 Investigates found that since resigning from office Schock has paid more than $1 million in legal fees, to seven different law firms, from his main campaign fund, Schock for Congress.

He has also drawn from that fund and two others – the Schock Victory Committee and his Leadership PAC, the GOP Generation Y Fund – to issue refunds to some of his donors, totaling more $95,900.00.

But even after the legal fees and refunds, Schock still has more than $2.2 million in campaign money in the three funds.

NBC5 Investigates examined the most recent disclosures for all three of Schock’s campaign committees, focusing on expenditures from mid-May on – a full two months after Schock stepped down from Congress.

On May 19, the GOP Generation Y Fund transferred $22,081.92 to Schock for Congress, with a notation that the full amount was paid to The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado. The Little Nell is a ski resort which describes itself as “one of the few Five-Star, Five-Diamond hotels in North America.”

The campaign disclosure describes the expenditure as “PAC Event Facility Rental,” with no additional explanation. As NBC5 has reported, Leadership PACs such as Schock’s are not required to provide more than a two- or three-word description about how or why they spend their money.

Schock continued to pay out campaign money in mid-June – three months after resigning from Congress – including $3,870.86 for airfare, car-rental, and what appears to be a last-minute hotel room. And he paid two bills to the car service Uber, totaling $1,287.46, in May and June alone.

In addition to the new campaign disclosures filed on Friday, Schock also filed his 2014 Financial Disclosure Statement with Congress. In it, he finally discloses his purchase of a business called Menards Peoria LLC.

NBC5 Investigates revealed the existence of this company last spring and tried repeatedly to get details from Schock, with no response. The disclosure statement filed Friday reveals that he bought the company in May of 2014, paying somewhere between $500 thousand and $1 million for it, but there are no further details about exactly what the company is. (The home-improvement store Menard’s confirms that it has no association with Schock’s company.)

The former congressman was summoned last week to Federal District Court in Springfield, to answer allegations that he had not provided all information and documents requested as part of a federal investigation. Schock’s attorney says the former congressman is cooperating fully.

NBC5 Investigates attempted to contact Schock for comment, but did not get a response.

<![CDATA[Mel Reynolds Accuses Justice Department of Racism]]> Fri, 31 Jul 2015 18:56:52 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/Mel+Reynolds.png

A visibly angry Mel Reynolds accused the Justice Department of racism Friday, after appearing for a bond hearing in Federal Court.

“In 2015 they want to treat a black man like he’s a slave,” Reynolds said. “I guess I was too uppity!”

At issue, the government’s effort to have Reynolds placed on electronic home monitoring, after receiving assurances that his new residence was not too close to a school or day care center. A pre-trial services officer had raised the question, citing Reynolds’ conviction on sex charges nearly 20 years ago.

“Mr. Reynolds came back from Africa to face these charges,” said attorney Richard Kling. “And I think it’s nuts to suggest he go on electronic monitoring. I think it’s denigrating and I think it’s ridiculous!”

A pre-trial services representative explained that while Reynolds is only charged with misdemeanor charges of failing to file his taxes, the electronic leash was needed to make sure that he abided by residency rules keeping him at least 500 feet from where children might be congregated. But after court, Kling said that flies in the face of how much bigger fish were treated in the same court.

“My understanding is that Mr. Hastert was not asked to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet for a lot more serious felonies,” Kling said. “Mr. Reynolds is charged with misdemeanors, they don’t involve violence, they don’t involve sex.”

Indeed, the former congressman asked to address the court himself, and emphasized the point that he would abide by all of the judge’s rulings.

“I came back to America,” he said. “There is no reason on God’s Earth I would just disappear. I think it’s overkill!”

In the end, the judge denied the government’s request for electronic monitoring, but set a condition of bond that Reynolds must report any change in his living arrangements within 24 hours. He was also required to surrender his passport.

“How on Earth can the standard be so different, than what happened to Denny Hastert?” an incredulous Reynolds asked reporters after court. “He walked in. He walked out. There was no suggestion of home monitoring or anything like that. Why is a black man being treated totally different?”

<![CDATA[What You Need to Know as Plastic Bag Ban Takes Effect]]> Sat, 01 Aug 2015 09:09:38 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/jewel+twinkie+bag.jpg

The new ban on plastic grocery bags in Chicago goes into effect Aug. 1, but many stores won't ditch the plastic completely.

While the flimsy plastic bags that have become synonymous with many grocery stores will no longer be available, sturdier plastic bags will join the ranks of the reusable cloth bags in their place.

The law, which was approved by City Council last year, allows stores to hand out "reusable plastic bags" that are at least 2.25 mils thick. The bags must also have handles and be able to hold at least 22 pounds of groceries at least 125 times.

Mariano's is one of the only large retail grocery stores that plans to completely do away with plastic, which is arguably the whole point of the ban. Beginning Aug. 1, the store will offer paper bags for free or reusable cloth bags for purchase as low as $1.

Jewel-Osco, Target and Walmart will offer the sturdier reusable plastic bags that comply with the law for no purchase in addition to the reusable cloth bags for a cost.

According to a Jewel spokesperson, the grocery store will have several choices for bags. This includes the free sturdy plastic bag and "several styles" of reusable bags that cost as little as 10 cents.

Walmart and Target will also offer the free reusable plastic bags, with Target retaining the 5-cent discount incentive for shoppers who bring the plastic bags back to reuse, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Judge Gives Mel Reynolds 1 Day to Find New Housing]]> Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:51:37 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mel-reynolds.jpg

Mel Reynolds has a problem.

The federal government does not like where he lives. So much so, that at one point Thursday, the former congressman was effectively homeless.

Reynolds, the one-time rising star who once hobnobbed with the Clintons at the White House, only to resign in disgrace, faces misdemeanor charges of failing to file his income taxes.

"All I'm looking for in this matter is a fair trial," he declared at a press conference earlier this week. "This case is really about power, and bias, and covering up for a very powerful political fundraiser!"

Reynolds made an initial appearance Thursday before Federal Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez, but at that hearing, prosecutors pointed out that the address Reynolds gave as his current residence, was within 1,000 feet of a school. And because of a previous sex conviction, that was in violation of where he was allowed to live.

The judge took a recess, to check an alternative address Reynolds gave as a place where he might move, to determine if it fit the criteria. But when the parties returned, a representative of pretrial services informed the court that the second location also did not fit with the residency requirements of Reynolds’ previous conviction.

Reynolds’ attorney Richard Kling proposed a third location, a Red Roof Inn in Northwest Indiana. But before the parties could even respond, the judge shot that location down, leaving Reynolds and his attorney scrambling to find new housing which passes government muster.

The judge told everyone to come back on Friday with information on where Reynolds would be living. But prosecutors quickly pointed out that there was the problem of tonight.

“Where does he intend to spend this evening and tomorrow?” asked assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas. “And if the location is not appropriate your honor?”

“Then there’s trouble!” said the judge. She told both sides she needed to know today, whether Reynolds had found someone to take him in which stayed outside the proscribed boundaries set out in the law.

"Have you found a place for him to live?" Kling was asked after court. "We're working on it." he said.

Reynolds was observed speaking on his cell phone across the lobby, and left without comment.

And that was the way things stood until the court's self-declared 11th hour. The former congressman and his attorney returned to the Dirksen courthouse at 3:30, informing the court that they had found a place for the congressman to sleep which met all of the rules. But only for tonight.

"This is a one night deal," he said, suggesting that his client is arranging something more permanent, which is not yet in place.

Reynolds is to describe that to the judge, on Friday.

<![CDATA[Poll: Scott Walker Leads GOP Field in Illinois]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:37:24 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP120605022298.jpg

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leads the pack of GOP presidential hopefuls in Illinois, according to early polls released Wednesday.

Public Policy Polling reports that Walker has 23 percent of the vote for Illinois Republicans, followed by Donald Trump (18 percent), Jeb Bush (11 percent) and Chris Christie (8 percent).

Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, Rick Perry, Jim Gilmore and George Pataki all took less than 8 percent of the vote, according to the poll.

The poll results were released two days after Gov. Walker visited Illinois for the first time since announcing his candidacy earlier this month.

On Monday, Walker visited the Union League Club and the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago (where he enjoyed a cheeseburger and a beer). He also hit Bloomington for a "meet and greet" event with GOP congressional candidate Darin LaHood.

While in Chicago, the Wisconsin governor had some nice words for fellow Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, tweeting, "From what I can see @BruceRauner is trying to shake up a system and bring real change." 

Trump and Walker, the two front runners in Illinois, have sparred over their differences as they both climb the polls. On Monday, Trump tweeted, "When people find out how bad a job Scott Walker has done in WI, they won't be voting for him. Massive deficit, bad jobs forecast, a mess." 

Walker abstained from tweeting back at Trump, but he addressed the harsh tweet on Monday at the Billy Goat Tavern.

"He's using the talking points of the Democrats last year," Walker told the Chicago Tribune. "The public in my state re-elected me for the third time in four years because they realized those talking points were not the fact. ... I don't know where he's getting his facts from, other than the talking points of state Democrats." 

Following his brief visit to Illinois, Walker is spending a few days in Pennsylvania, and he will head back to Iowa on Friday.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Patti Blagojevich Weighs In on Poaching of Lion]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:03:55 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/patti+and+cecil.jpg

Former Illinois First Lady Patti Blagojevich has weighed in on the controversy surrounding a Minnesota doctor who is accused of poaching a beloved lion at a game preserve in Zimbabwe.

“Extradite Minnesotan Walter James Palmer to face justice in Zimbabwe,” Blagojevich tweeted Wednesday, adding a link to a White House petition that has been signed by over 80,000 people.

“Cecil the Lion, a resident of Zimbabwe’s national park, and a national icon, was poached and killed this week,” the petition states. “Media reports in the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere have identified American Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minneapolis, MN, as the poacher. He is alleged to have lured Cecil from the safety of the national park to kill him.

“We urge the Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, to fully cooperate with the Zimbabwe authorities and to extradite Walter Palmer promptly at the Zimbabwe government’s request.”

Patti Blagojevich does not make frequent posts to Twitter. The site shows she has only posted 61 times since her first tweet in November of 2009. Yesterday she complained about being soaked at a gas pump, and a week ago she posted a single tweet, lamenting the decision of an appellate court that largely left her husband’s conviction intact.

Photo Credit: Wildlife Conservation Research Unit/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sen. Kirk 'Not Surprised' Top Donor Flip Flops on Support]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 18:23:11 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mark+kirk+ECPA.jpg

A top GOP fundraiser who initially called for Sen. Mark Kirk to step down has reversed his stance and pledged his support for the senator's re-election in a move that Kirk's campaign says is not surprising.

Republican businessman Rod Gidwitz told Crain's Chicago Business Tuesday that Kirk's "misstatements" have hurt the Republican Party and that Kirk "could cause collateral damage." Later that day, however, Gidwitz reversed his statement and told the Chicago Tribune that he believes Kirk "is the strongest candidate to win the seat." Gidwitz then added that he "fully supports" Kirk's re-election.

A spokesperson for Kirk's campaign told NBC Chicago Wednesday that Gidwitz's conflicting comments were not surprising.

"Mark and Ron have had a strained relationship for years," Kevin Artl, the spokesperson, said. "Ron's initial comments and subsequent retraction don't surprise us at all."

The "misstatements" Gidwitz referred to have clouded Kirk's campaign in the last several weeks, including his characterization of Sen. Lindsey Graham as a "bro with no ho" and his comment that President Barack Obama wanted to give Iran nuclear weapons.

Kirk has since apologized for both comments.

Gidwitz's comments comes as results from a new survey were released showing that Kirk's approval ratings are down. In their survey, Public Policy Polling found that Kirk's approval rating has sunk to just 25 percent, down from his February approval rating of 28 percent. Furthermore, the poll found the number of those who disapproved of Kirk's job jumped to 42 percent from 32 percent in February.

A tough year is ahead for Kirk in the race to hold onto his Senate seat against Democratic opponent Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Public Policy Polling also found that Duckworth leads Kirk 42/36 in a hypothetical match-up.

Duckworth faces Andrea Zopp, former president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, in the Democratic primary.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Aldermen Propose Ban on Drones Near Airports, Schools]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 14:52:36 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-480744986_master.jpg

Two Chicago aldermen introduced an ordinance Wednesday to City Council to ban drones from flying near airports and schools, among other designated places.

The legislation was introduced by Ald. Ed Burke and Ald. Scott Waguespack. It would ban drones from flying within five miles of an airport. The ordinance would also prohibit them from flying at an altitude of more than 400 feet.

The proposal also calls to ban drones flying within a quarter of a mile of schools, hospitals and places of worship and would make their flying illegal from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. The new proposal would also give the Chicago Park district authority to designate certain areas, such as parks, where recreational use of drones would be allowed.

In addition, residents with drones would be required to register them for a cost of $50 each year and to take out an insurance policy to cover personal injury and property damage. 

The proposal was introduced in response to a series of incidents in which drones caused security breaches or dangerous situations, such as when a drone crashed into a tree on a White House lawn in January. On July 21, a "toy drone" also crashed at Midway International Airport while the U.S. National Guard was conducting a Blackhawk helicopter training mission.

"With the widespread use of drones quickly proliferating across America, Chicago must act to protect airline passengers and ensure that drone use does not interfere with critical airspace," Ald. Burke said.

Violators of the ordinance would face fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 per incident and could face up to 180 days in jail.

Photo Credit: WireImage]]>
<![CDATA[Alderman Proposes Tax on Sugary Drinks]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 18:18:20 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/soda5.jpg

Ald. George Cardenas submitted a proposal to City Council Wednesday to help tackle the city budget and simultaneously decrease obesity rates in the city.

The alderman proposed a tax of one penny per ounce of each sugary drink, meaning a 64-ounce soda, for example, would cost an additional 64 cents. The tax would apply to syrup and powders as well as canned and bottled drinks.

Ald. Cardenas argues the benefit would not only be to the health of Chicago residents, particularly children, but the tax could also generate $134 million a year.

"I'd rather have this than the red light cameras that everybody hates to be honest with you," Ald. Cardenas said. "That's the type of policy that to me makes sense."

A similar resolution was proposed to City Council three years ago by Ald. Cardenas to curb consumption of sugary drinks and promote health, but it did not pass.

The new proposal would create a fund with 75 percent of the sugary drink tax money used to help improve "early childhood health and wellness" at Chicago Public Schools.

Opponents of the proposed tax say that a new law is not the answer to curbing childhood obesity and improving the health of Chicago residents. Jim Soreng, executive director of the Illinois Beverage Association, said the rule could have a negative impact on the industry that plays an "essential" role in Chicago's economy.

"Chicago has uniquely had a tax on soft drinks since 1992," Soreng said in a statement. "It has clearly not impacted obesity. Let's work together to find real solutions that address the nation's health problems while ensuring important industries in the city are not stunted by punitive, ineffective taxes."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not indicated a strong stance either way, but he has certainly indicated that he is listening to Cardenas' proposal.

"I'm proud that he brought an idea forward and that people will analyze their opinions and ask questions of it," Emanuel said.

The city of Berkeley, Calif., was the first to impose a tax on sugary drinks, which began in January.

Ald. Cardenas' proposal will first need to pass through a committee before the City Council can vote on it.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[City Council Votes to End Trash Pickup at Some Buildings]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:12:40 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago+garbage+truck.jpg

In a bid to bolster the city's budget, Chicago's City Council voted Wednesday to end free garbage collection at large apartment buildings.

The measure repeals an ordinance that allows free garbage collection from the city at apartment buildings with five or more units. About 1,800 buildings are affected by the new ordinance.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged his support for the new ordinance, which was introduced by Ald. Matt O'Shea and Ald. Carrie Austin. According to the mayor, the new law saves the city $3.3 million each year and "(provides) for more efficient garbage pickup."

Owners of affected buildings will receive a 90-day grace period to allow them to find private garbage collection services to replace the city service.

The new ordinance seeks to close a loophole in an older ordinance adopted in 2000 that exempted larger apartment buildings from paying for garbage collection until they were sold, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Rauner Stops Payment of Video Gambling Profits]]> Tue, 28 Jul 2015 18:35:15 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/video+gambling+getty.jpg

Gov. Bruce Rauner has frozen all the money cities and towns in Illinois make from video gambling and riverboat casinos until a state budget passes.

Gamblers can still spend their own money, but the city or town cannot collect or use it. The move is the latest maneuver in the governor's push to get a state budget passed, but for those who rely on those funds, it spells trouble.

Since Illinois approved video gaming a few years ago, it has become very popular. Without a state budget, however, Rauner announced Tuesday that he will not send the state share to the towns with the machines.

"The state does not have appropriation authority to distribute local municipalities their shares from video gambling because Speaker Madigan and the legislators he controls failed to pass a balanced budget," Catherine Kelly, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement.

Video gambling is fairly new, but towns like Oak Lawn have come to rely on it in their budget. Oak Lawn receives 5 percent of the net profits from the gambling.

"It's painful across the board," Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said. "I think when everyone just can't stand it anymore it'll get resolved."

Oak Lawn has 30 restaurants and bars with video gambling, and the village anticipates more than $400,000 in revenue this year. The money from video gambling helps fill a much-needed hole for public safety salaries.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[City Council Passes Ban on Gun-Shaped Phone Cases]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 11:31:15 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/gun+cellphone+case.jpg

Chicago's City Council voted Wednesday to outlaw the sale and possession of gun-shaped cellphone cases in Chicago.

Under the new law, violators could face fines of $750 per offense.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th), Ariel Reboyras (30th) and Willie Cochran (20th) submitted the proposal earlier this month. The aldermen argue that the new "gun grip" cellphone cases can be mistaken by police as actual weapons and pose a threat to public safety.

The cases have the appearance of a real gun with a trigger, and the cellphone sits where the barrel of the gun would be. When placed in a back pocket, the cellphone is concealed and the handle of the "gun" is displayed.

"Whether this case is sticking out of your pocket, or being held in your hand, it could be confused by law enforcement officers as a firearm," Burke said. "Allowing these cases to proliferate in Chicago would be a threat to public safety and almost certainly lead to a tragic event. We must act now to ban this outrageous product and make it illegal in the City."

Cochran warned that police could react "in split seconds" when they see one of these cases, prompting a dangerous situation that could end in an unnecessary shooting. He added that cellphone users with the case are "asking for nothing but trouble."

The measure was endorsed by Dean Angelo, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

"If I were out on the street and approached an individual with one of these in their waistband or pocket, my weapon would be out," Angelo said. "I would not take the chance that this is not a real gun."

The new law also bans other products shaped like guns, such as lighters or cameras.

The measure marks the second time in the last 10 years that Chicago officials have enacted curbs on fake weapons. In 2005, a measure passed in City Council that imposes fines on anyone who sold, purchased or possessed fake "military-style weapons."

<![CDATA[Walker to Hit Chicago, Bloomington on Campaign Trail]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:37:57 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_905614900265.jpg

GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker is scheduled to make a few campaign stops in Illinois Monday for the first time since he announced his candidacy earlier this month.

The Wisconsin governor will attend a fundraiser at the Union League Club in Chicago followed by a stop at the Billy Goat Tavern on lower Michigan Avenue beginning at 4:45 p.m. A spokesperson for the governor said he will shake hands and talk to people at the event.

The organizer of the fundraiser is Mike Morgan, who took the role of campaign chairman for Sen. Mark Kirk in 2010, according to Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Before Walker hits Chicago, he will make a stop in Bloomington for a "meet and greet" event with GOP congressional candidate Darin LaHood, who is set to replace former Rep. Aaron Schock.

The Bloomington event kicks off at 1:15 p.m. at Chuck's Harley-Davidson, Inc., located at 2027 Ireland Grove Road. Guests must RSVP to the event and bring their registration ticket and and an ID to be admitted.

Walker tweeted Monday morning that he is "glad to be in the Land of Lincoln" and that winning the March 15 primary will be important for his campaign.

The governor has spent the weeks since he announced his candidacy traveling the country to meet voters and speak at campaign events, including stops in Iowa and Missouri.

Walker was scheduled to attend events in North Carolina over the weekend, but a campaign spokesperson told The Associated Press he canceled the events to attend the funeral for Wisconsin Marine Sgt. Carson Holmquist, who was killed in the recent attack on a Navy-Reserve center in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sen. Durbin Calls for Federal Probe Into Bland's Death]]> Sat, 25 Jul 2015 18:13:17 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dick+durbin+2014.jpg

Sen. Dick Durbin has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the death of suburban Chicago woman Sandra Bland, who was found hanged to death in a Texas jail cell earlier this month.

Durbin wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging the investigation into "the arrest, incarceration, and death of Sandra Bland, a constituent of mine from Naperville, Illinois."

"Ms. Bland's family, her community, and all of those troubled by the disturbing series of events in this case deserve answers," Durbin continued in the letter. "In light of the many concerns regarding Ms. Bland's arrest and incarceration, and the uncertainty surrounding Ms. Bland's tragic death, I urge the Department of Justice to fully and thoroughly investigate this case."

An autopsy released Friday showed that Bland hanged herself with a clear plastic bag tied into a slipknot. Bland's family has disputed the account that she committed suicide, and they reaffirmed their belief during the funeral services Saturday.

"That baby did not take herself out," Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland's mother, said during the services.

Dashcam video showing her arrest was released Tuesday. After questions arose about whether the video was tampered with, the Department of Public Safety addressed the issue of irregularities in the footage, blaming a "technical issue during posting."

Several politicians, including Texas State Sen. Royce West, said that Bland should not have been arrested in the first place.

Bland was laid to rest at the DuPage American Methodist Episcopal Church in suburban Lisle, and Durbin was among those who spoke at the funeral.

Others have also called for a Department of Justice investigation into Bland's death, including the pastor at DuPage AME and Andrea Zopp, a Democratic contender in the 2016 Senate race.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dennis Rodman Tweets Support for Donald Trump]]> Sat, 25 Jul 2015 14:50:40 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/tlmd_1dennisrodmansentencia.jpg

Donald Trump has won the backing of flamboyant former Bulls player Dennis Rodman, who tweeted his support for his "great friend" on Friday.

"@realDonaldTrump has been a great friend for many years," Rodman wrote in his message. "We don't need another politician, we need a businessman like Mr. Trump! Trump 2016."

The GOP presidential candidate responded to Rodman, an NBA hall-of-famer with some of his own experience in international diplomacy. Trump thanked Rodman and then wished him well in the tweet.

"Thank you @DennisRodman. It's time to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain! I hope you are doing well!" Trump wrote.

Rodman appeared on Trump's show "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2013. Later that year, he traveled to North Korea to take part in an exhibition game on the birthday of Kim Jong Un.

Trump famously supported Rodman's diplomacy effort, according to CNN, and called the trip "smart."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Robert Blagojevich: The Court’s Account is "Flat Out Not True"]]> Wed, 22 Jul 2015 18:37:08 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-85975220.jpg

Rebuffed in his efforts to gain a new trial, or at least, a new sentence for the many crimes a jury says he committed, Rod Blagojevich remains in a federal prison in Englewood, Colorado, as his lawyers scramble to work on a legal Plan B.

But did the appellate court get all of its facts straight?

Among the most scathing passages in the 23-page opinion, Judge Frank Easterbrook noted that Blagojevich was rebuffed in his initial efforts, to exchange a senate seat appointment for a cabinet position, or possibly even a cushy job at a non-profit blessed by the new president.

“Blagojevich then turned to supporters of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.,” Easterbrook wrote, “offering the appointment in exchange for a $1.5 million campaign contribution.”

The problem is, that’s not what happened. And Blagojevich’s brother was furious when he read the account in the court’s ruling.

“That is just flat out not true,” says Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s brother. “That is an altered reality to what I know and what I experienced.”

At the time, Blagojevich was working as a fundraiser on his brother’s re-election campaign. He notes it was he, not the governor, who was approached by emissaries of then-congressman Jackson, offering fundraising in exchange for appointing Jackson to the vacant Senate seat. Indeed, in one wiretap, the former governor is heard discounting the possibility.

“Unbelievable, isn’t it?” Blagojevich says. “Then I–[or] we–were approached, pay to play. That you know, he’d raise me $500,000, an emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him a senator!”

At one point during the former governor’s second trial, the origins of the offer were described in a meeting at a Loop restaurant in October of 2008.

Indian businessman Rajinder Bedi, the former chief of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said that he was present at the meeting at the 312 Chicago Restaurant on LaSalle Street, with Jackson and fellow businessman Raghu Nayak.

He said Nayak asked him to send word to Blagojevich that he would raise a million dollars for the governor, if he would give the senate job to Jackson.

But Bedi stated that when he passed the offer to Robert Blagojevich, it was rejected out of hand.

Jackson and Rod Blagojevich were bitter political enemies, Blagojevich feeling that the congressman had betrayed him over an earlier endorsement. But federal wiretaps indicated that later, with other avenues stalling, Blagojevich began seriously entertaining the appointment of Jackson to the vacant senate seat.

In a phone call December 4, 2008, he told his brother that he was “elevating” Jackson on his list of candidates.

“If in fact this is possible, then some of the stuff’s gotta start happening now,” Blagojevich told his brother. “If there’s tangible political support like you’ve said, start showing us now.”

Blagojevich told his brother to reach out to the Jackson camp, but to assume “the whole world’s listening.”

As it turned out, the FBI was listening. And when he learned that, Blagojevich instructed his brother to cease all contacts with Jackson and his supporters.

At the time the scheme was described in the Blagojevich indictment, Jackson insisted it was not true.

“I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer, plead my case, or propose a deal about a U.S. Senate seat,” Jackson said, shortly after Blagojevich’s December 2008 arrest.

Some versions of the story put the fundraising figure as high as $6 million. Whatever the number, Robert Blagojevich has long maintained that Jackson got a pass on the alleged overture, so much so that he told his story to the House Ethics Committee before the congressman resigned in disgrace amidst his own scandals.

But back to the appeal. Easterbrook said it was right for trial judge James Zagel to include the alleged $1.5 million offer, when he was calculating the potential loss to the taxpayers from the former governor’s alleged misdeeds.

“The $1.5 million figure did not come out of a hat,” Easterbrook wrote. “It was a number discussed in the recordings. That nothing came out of these overtures, does not affect the calculation of loss…because it is an amount Blagojevich intended to receive from criminal conduct, even though not a sum anyone else turned out to be willing (or able) to pay.”

But the fact remains, that on the very day Blagojevich spoke to his brother about Jackson, he was speaking to other advisors about other candidates, among them Lisa Madigan and former school chief Gery Chico.

Robert Blagojevich says the convoluted telling of the facts in the appellate decision, are just one example that the court reached a flawed conclusion. And he said he is not optimistic that the former governor will now receive a reduced sentence when his case is returned to the trial court.

“I’m very cynical with regard to the whole system,” he said. “I’m also jaundiced when it comes to the key players in this drama, especially Judge Zagel. So I’m not hopeful for Rod to get any measure of fairness from him!”

<![CDATA[Spirit Airlines Revives Blagojevich-Themed Deal]]> Wed, 22 Jul 2015 18:35:40 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Blogo-trial-P2.jpg

With former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's return to the headlines, Spirit Airlines revived a Blagojevich-themed deal on airline tickets.

"Hey, we get it! Seats are a commodity these days — especially in Illinois. And you all know we're in the business of selling them," the airline's ad reads. "But our seats are pretty cheap, we don't hide that fact, and it's a small price to pay to sit where you want! No backdoor dealings or threats of jail time here."

The Florida-based airline announced fares as low as $23.10 for one-way tickets Wednesday, claiming the prices are "still cheaper than a Senate seat."

The deal comes one day after a federal appeals court announced its decision to overturn five of 18 counts against Blagojevich, who will now be resentenced.

Spirit Airlines offered a similar deal four years ago when Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison, in part for allegedly attempting to sell President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

The airline called their first deal the "Slammer Sale" and poked fun at Blagojevich's colorful language after his conviction.

"You don't have to live in the 'Big House' to take advantage of these fares starting from just $14* each way, based on round-trip purchase," the ad read. "But hurry ... you don't want to get convicted for missing this seat-selling sale!"

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Zopp Calls for 'Thorough' Investigation Into Bland Case]]> Wed, 22 Jul 2015 17:46:42 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Andrea-Zopp.jpg

Senate contender Andrea Zopp released a statement Wednesday calling for a full investigation into the case of suburban woman Sandra Bland, saying she is "deeply disturbed by (Bland's) arrest, detention and suspicious death."

Bland was found hanged to death in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell three days after she was arrested following a routine traffic stop earlier this month. Bland's family and friends have refuted claims that she committed suicide and have raise questions about the behavior of the officer who arrested Bland.

Zopp, the former president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League and a Democratic candidate in the race represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate, called the chain of events that resulted from the traffic stop "unconscionable." 

Zopp will face off against Rep. Tammy Duckworth in the Democratic primary.

Read Zopp's full statement below: 

"As a former federal prosecutor, the wife of a retired DEA agent and the mother of three, I am deeply disturbed by the arrest, detention and suspicious death of Illinois resident Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas. My heart goes out to her family as they prepare to lay her to rest this weekend. As details continue to unfold, including dash cam footage of her arrest, one thing is clear: it is unconscionable that an alleged routine traffic stop resulted in Ms. Bland being threatened with a Taser, forced from her car, handcuffed, thrown to the ground, arrested and jailed for three days. Ms. Bland’s arrest, detention and questionable death must receive a full and thorough investigation and I urge the local and federal authorities who are investigating her arrest and death to leave no stone unturned. Sandra Bland was on the road to a bright future at her alma mater. Instead, she ended up dying in a jail cell. Sandra Bland’s life mattered and her death deserves nothing less than a comprehensive investigation."

<![CDATA[WATCH: Lindsey Graham Destroy His Phone After Trump's Comments]]> Wed, 22 Jul 2015 15:37:09 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/graham+screen+shot.JPG

Lindsey Graham won't be receiving any unwanted phone calls for the time being.

A day after Donald Trump implored a campaign crowd to call a phone number belonging to the GOP presidential candidate and South Carolina senator, Graham responded with a tongue-in-cheek video showing him destroying his flip phone.

Graham teamed up with conservative news website Independent Journal Review for the aptly named video "How to Destroy Your Cell Phone With Sen. Lindsey Graham."

The video shows Graham wrecking his phone in a multitude of ways, including with a blender, a sledge hammer, and a toaster oven.

After throwing his phone off a building, Graham faces the camera and says, "Or if all else fails, you can always give your number to The Donald."

"This is for all the veterans," Graham says before a final toss of the phone.  

Trump had given out Graham's phone number during a televised campaign stop in South Carolina Tuesday where the real estate mogul brushed off criticism over comments he made about Sen. John McCain.

"He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured," Trump had said about the former Naval pilot held prisoner for nearly six years during the Vietnam War. 

Graham had called Trump a "jackass" over the McCain remarks. 

McCain, meanwhile, promoted Graham's new video with a tweet that read, "This is why Lindsey Graham hasn't been answering my calls!"

Trump has yet to respond to the video. 

Photo Credit: IJ Review
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<![CDATA[Appellate Lawyer Urges Blagojevich to "Fight On"]]> Tue, 21 Jul 2015 23:58:21 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/len+goodman.jpg

The lawyer for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich called a federal appeals court decision Tuesday to overturn five of 18 convictions against Blagojevich "improper" and urged Blagojevich to "fight on."

"It is not justice in my view," Len Goodman, Blagojevich's lawyer, said in a press conference following the decision.

Goodman insisted that Blagojevich followed the rules and that the courts made "serious errors." He compared Blagojevich to Jesse Jackson Jr., saying the former governor never misused campaign funds and always paid for his personal belongings himself unlike Jackson.

"This case is different. This case is about politics," Goodman said. "Mr. Blagojevich tried to follow the rules as he understood it, and the jury should have been allowed to hear that defense."

Goodman filed an appeal on Blagojevich's behalf in 2013 as Blagojevich served his 14-year sentence in a Colorado prison. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court overturned five convictions relating to negotiations for a cabinet job in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Patti Blagojevich, the wife of the former governor, and her daughters joined Goodman in the press conference and maintained their conviction in Blagojevich's innocence. While the court's decision is not a victory for the family, they showed some of what Patti Blagojevich calls her husband's "eternal optimism."

"I have not spoken to the governor, but he has options," Goodman said. "We can ask the full court to look at the case, we can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the case. We can do both. My advice to him is that we should fight on."

<![CDATA[Patti Blagojevich: "We Are Very Disappointed"]]> Tue, 21 Jul 2015 22:39:37 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/patti+blagojevich+and+daughter.jpg

The wife of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich says she and her family are disappointed with a federal appeals court's decision Tuesday to overturn five of 18 counts against her husband.

"This has been a long road for our family," Patti Blagojevich said at a press conference following the decision, with her daughters, ages 12 and 19, at her side.

The court threw out five convictions relating to Blagojevich's negotiations for a cabinet job in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat. But despite a possible new sentence, the ruling is far from a victory for the family, as the remaining 13 counts still stand.

As the U.S. Attorney decides if they want to retry Blagojevich on those five counts, the former governor will remain in a Colorado prison, where he is serving a 14-year sentence.

Patti Blagojevich maintained her husband's innocence throughout the trial and continued to do so following the federal court's decision Tuesday.

"My daughters can hold their heads up high knowing that my husband is an innocent man and that he never intended to break the law, and I think for all of us, we would rather see him there with his head held high than be home in disgrace," she said.

Despite her conviction that the family is holding their heads high, Blagojevich also hinted at the toll her husband's prison time has taken on the family. When she mentioned that her husband has missed out on many family events over the years — graduations, proms, birthdays — 19-year-old Amy, who was 12 years old when the legal troubles began, broke down in tears.

"If there's any silver lining for us it's that possibly this is a step in the right direction to get him home with us and with his girls, where he belongs," Blagojevich said.

Photo Credit: NBC Chicago]]>
<![CDATA[What the Court's Decision Means for Blagojevich ]]> Tue, 21 Jul 2015 19:58:49 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/blagoooo.JPG

A federal appeals court's decision to overturn five convictions against Rod Blagojevich Tuesday may be good news for the former governor, but it is far from a victory. 

The decision is only a glacial piece of progress for Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence at a federal prison in Colorado. Although he may receive a new sentence, he will remain in custody for now.

The counts reversed include only those that deal with Blagojevich's negotiations for a cabinet job in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. In other areas, the court was scathing in its assessment of the former governor's behavior.

"Blagojevich viewed the opportunity to appoint a new Senator as a bonanza," the court wrote. Furthermore, "Blagojevich asks us to hold that the evidence is insufficient to convict him on any count. The argument is frivolous. The evidence, much of it from Blagojevich's own mouth, is overwhelming."

The former governor has long argued that his real plan was an honorable one to help the people of Illinois. The court rejected that argument out of hand, suggesting Blagojevich was trying one legal gambit at the same time he was doing something improper.

The court ruled that Blagojevich should be resentenced but also remain in prison while that happens.

"It is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich's crimes, but the district judge should consider on remand whether it is the most appropriate sentence," they wrote.

It is now up to the U.S. Attorneys to decide if they want to retry Blagojevich on those five counts, which seems unlikely. For now, they will only say they are reviewing the decision.

Photo Credit: ghetty images]]>
<![CDATA[5 Counts Against Blagojevich the Court Threw Out]]> Tue, 21 Jul 2015 16:36:52 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-840938631.jpg

A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out five of the convictions against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as well as his 14-year prison sentence.

The other 12 counts remain intact and Blagojevich must stay in prison, but the court's decision could change his sentence. The five in question relate to wire fraud, extortion and bribery.

The appeals court said in its decision, "It is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich's crimes, but the district judge should consider on remand whether it is the most appropriate sentence."

Here is a rundown of the five counts that were thrown out, according to the indictment: 

Count 5: Alleges wire fraud and “scheme or artifice to defraud” as the result of a Nov. 7, 2008, call between Blagojevich and John Harris “in which Rod Blagojevich, Harris, and Advisor A discussed financial benefits which Rod Blagojevich could request in exchange for the appointment of Senate Candidate B to the United States Senate.”

Count 6: Alleges wire fraud and “scheme or artifice to defraud” as the result of a Nov. 10, 2008, conference call between Blagojevich, Harris and others in Chicago, as well as various advisors in Washington and New York City, “in which they discussed financial benefits which Rod Blagojevich could request in exchange for the appointment of Senate Candidate B to the United States Senate.”

Count 21: Alleges that Blagojevich, along with Robert Blagojevich, conspired with Harris and others “to commit extortion in relation to the appointment of a United States Senator” and that Blagojevich, with Rob B’s assistance, “sought to obtain financial benefits for himself and his wife, in return for the exercise of his duty …. to appoint a U.S. Senator to fill the vacancy,” and talked about the “advantages and disadvantages” of selecting various candidates for the vacancy, and what might be gained, including a possible cabinet appointment or ambassadorship; a highly-paid leadership position with a foundation or organization; employment for his wife; and campaign fundraising assistance. The count also alleges that Blagojevich told his brother Rob “to cancel his meeting with the associate of Senate Candidate A,” after news broke on Dec. 5, 2008, of a wiretap, and that Rob agreed to do so.

Count 22: Alleges extortion by both Rod and Rob Blagojevich related to the appointment of a U.S. Senator.

Count 23: Alleges that both Rod and Rob Blagojevich, along with Harris, conspired to “demand things of value” in return for Blagojevich’s power to appoint a U.S. Senator.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>