<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - NBC 5 Investigates]]>Copyright 2018https://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago https://www.nbcchicago.comen-usSun, 21 Jan 2018 01:12:31 -0600Sun, 21 Jan 2018 01:12:31 -0600NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Train Crossing Stirs Up Frustration, School Tardies]]> Wed, 17 Jan 2018 22:51:43 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TRAIN+CROSSING+TSE+-+00003123_30501316.jpg

A single train crossing in Will County has the potential to make thousands of kids late for school, according to parents, a school official and bus drivers who spoke to NBC 5 Investigates.

The Oakland Avenue train crossing in suburban Crest Hill is adjacent to the bus depot used by First Student, a company responsible for transporting children to seven school districts across Will County. A First Student spokesperson said in recent months many school buses exiting the depot during morning and afternoon runs have been blocked at the crossing by slow or stopped trains.

First Student district manager Steven Merner said the random delays happen two or three times a week and can last up to forty-five minutes.

“We notify the districts. Unfortunately, it’s become such a frequent occurrence that they dread our phone calls when we do have the call them that the buses are late because of trains,” said First Student district manager Steven Merner.

The bus company said it is increasingly concerned about children waiting longer in the cold weather.

Melissa Miranda is a Joliet mother of eight who said her kids have been delayed recently.

“They wait inside the house now because it’s too cold to stand outside,” Miranda said. “It takes terribly long for the buses to get here sometimes in the morning.”

A district administrator for Will County School District 92 said delays are causing safety concerns and interrupting class time.

“We have some classmates that are here. Other classmates that are not here. The teacher then has to turn around and go back from the beginning on a lesson plan,” said assistant superintendent Teresa Bishop.

According to state records, the Oakland Avenue train crossing arm was activated for ten minutes or longer on 26 occasions in January 2017. The activations were recorded at various times of the day, however.

Still, things don’t seem any better a year later.

“We don’t want our kids standing out on corners for ten or fifteen minutes longer than they need to,” Bishop said.

Canadian National owns the tracks near the bus depot. A railroad spokesperson said stops are not planned. But they could be the result of trains slowing down, speeding up or crew changes.

The railroad also moved a safety device in recent years from Plainfield to an area closer to Crest Hill. The device, called a hotbox detector, monitors for overheating wheels and can stop a train. The decision to relocate the hotbox detector was made after residents of Plainfield complained about delays at several crossings.

“By removing the problems we were having with the north bound trains that caused tremendous headaches in Plainfield, it improves the overall traffic,” said CN spokesperson Patrick Wharton. “CN can continue to operate and serve Chicago and the American economy, but be sensitive to the needs of motorists in these communities.”

Wharton said school buses exiting the First Student depot can drive the opposite direction on Oakland Avenue and still make their runs on time. Additionally, the mayor of Crest Hill said the city has a good relationship with First Student and buses would be allowed to go through neighborhoods in the case of long train delays.

The bus company said it would prefer not to create so much noise in the neighborhoods.

“When you’re talking about five-thirty, six in the morning, you have a large number of diesel buses going through the community, it’s rather disturbing to all of our neighbors,” Merner said.

The Chicago area continues to be the busiest rail hub in the country and there are dozens of projects in the works to speed up traffic.

You can contact the Illinois Commerce Commission if you have an issue with a train crossing.

<![CDATA[Lawyers For Man Shot By CPD Say Evidence Withheld By City]]> Tue, 16 Jan 2018 23:17:21 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/6PM+PKG+POLICE+SHOOTING+EVIDENCE+-+00000304_30483511.jpg

Lawyers for a man shot two years ago by Chicago police, say they have been surprised twice in the last week by eleventh-hour evidence which was never turned over by city attorneys.

The case in question involves a man named Jaquise Evans, who was 16 years old when he was shot by police in August of 2015. The officer who shot Evans, Richard Salvador, said the boy pointed a gun at him. But when the case went to trial, Evans was aquitted of the gun charge, and he sued Salvador for his substantial injuries.

The matter is set for trial at the end of this month, but Evans’ attorneys Michael Oppenheimer, Sam Adam Jr., and Ronak Maisuria, say they were told only last week of a video depicting Salvador cursing and seemingly giving rough treatment to another man eight weeks before the Evans shooting.

“Officer Richard Salvador (engaged) in what can only be described as brutal, violent, unlawful, and arguably racist conduct towards a young African American citizen,” they wrote. “The speed with which Defendant’s counsel was able to send the link suggests that the video was readily available and simply had not been produced.”

The video, posted on facebook by another person who was present during the incident, appears to show Salvador screaming at a handcuffed arrestee, daring him to lash out.

“I am not f***ing with you, you understand?” he asks “Make a move like that towards me again. I will f***ing show you, exactly, what I can do!”

In a hearing in Federal Court, Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer made no effort to hide her disgust at the video, which she called “disturbing”.

“To call what happened on that video nothing more than use of profanity is just—nobody in this room believes that,” Pallmeyer said. “It was threatening physical violence on an arrestee. It was suggesting to the arrestee it was his personal affront to the officer that rendered him liable.”

Pallmeyer warned the city lawyers they had an obligation to follow their own code of professional conduct.

“The lawyers who represent the city are responsible to take that seriously, and to say, you know, we have to think seriously about the credibility of our own witness,” she said. “Because this witness engaged in this kind of conduct in a situation like this and hasn’t been disciplined for it, and so far as we know, hasn’t really owned up to it.”

Pallmeyer told the attorneys they might want to remember, “This is the guy we are representing---we might have a little bit of a problem.”

Salvador reported alleged that the man in the video had attempted to head-butt him. Ironically, that man, who NBC 5 is not naming, was released without charges.

Pallmeyer asked the city attorneys when they became aware of the video, and they admitted it had been called to their attention last April.

“Did that trouble you at all?” she asked. “I am not asking you as a judge. I am asking you as somebody who cares deeply about the city of Chicago.”

Pallmeyer called the credibility of another witness in the case, a Lieutenant who had reportedly signed off on the incident as merely foul language, “very, very, poor.”

“That makes anything he says about what—about his views about Officer Salvador’s conduct in this case very suspect,” she said.

City lawyers insisted they had advised Evans’ attorneys about a reported social media video last year.

“I absolutely disclosed the existence of this video in April of 2017,” said city attorney Scott Cohen. “I never heard anything…they were on notice…”

Evans’ lawyers countered that it was the city’s responsibility to tender any potentially damaging evidence.

What I would like clarified is, did he watch the video then?” asked attorney Ronak Maisuria. “Because they should have known then that they should have produced this to us long ago.”

The very next day, the same Evans lawyers filed still another motion, saying they had just been advised of three more complaints from the officer’s history, which had never been revealed before.

“It is essential that we know exactly what defense counsel was aware of with regard to the additional complaint registers at the court hearing just one day prior,” Maisuria wrote. “It is difficult to wholeheartedly trust that defense counsel just became aware of this information this afternoon!”

Late Tuesday, the Chicago Law Department said in a statement that they had done their best to keep defense counsel apprised of everything in the officer’s record.

“The Department of Law provided a complete list of complaints to the plaintiff’s attorneys in May 2016,” the statement said. “Since that time, additional complaints have been made against the defendant officer, and Law is making a good faith effort to obtain them and produce them. We will continue to argue that sanctions are unwarranted as we continue to defend against this lawsuit.”

A hearing on the matter was set for Tuesday morning. In the meantime, 21st ward alderman Howard Brookins, expressed concern about the allegations that city attorneys might have hidden evidence, or at the very least, bungled their legally mandated obligation to tender any and all evidence to their opposing counsel.

“There’s no excuse for that,” Brookins told NBC 5. “It is a systemic problem, and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it because it’s costing us too much money, and it’s costing our reputation.”

<![CDATA[Follow A Mysterious Chicago Police Chase From the Beginning]]> Fri, 12 Jan 2018 00:19:41 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/The+crash+investigates.jpg

Early in the morning of June 27, 2016, two Chicago police officers chased a Jeep, often at high speeds, for 12 blocks, until the Jeep crashed into another car, killing both drivers. It turned out that the driver of the Jeep was also a Chicago police officer. More than six months later, the city still has not provided any answers about what happened in this mysterious chase.

NBC 5 Investigates compiled video from city red-light and speed cameras, plus surveillance video, to map the chase from beginning to end. The video of the actual crash is graphic. NBC 5 is showing it with the permission of the victim’s mother, who is desperate for answers about how she lost her daughter in this one horrible moment.

<![CDATA[Months After Police Chase Tragedy, Questions Remain]]> Thu, 11 Jan 2018 23:53:10 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/policechaseinvestigatesbug.png

In the early morning hours last June 27, Chicago police officer Jamie Jawor and her partner said they believed they had spotted a black Jeep Cherokee involved in a carjacking a few days before. They gave chase to that car, down Roosevelt Road.

The car was not the one involved in the previous crime, but rather a Jeep driven by a fellow Chicago police officer, Taylor Clark. In a case shrouded in mystery, Clark was pursued for 12 blocks, before colliding with a car driven by 27 year old Chequita Adams. Both Clark and Adams were killed instantly.

More than six months later, virtually nothing else is known about the violent crash, or the chase, which was captured by multiple cameras along Roosevelt Road.

“At least as far as the public’s concerned, there are no more answers today than there were six months ago,” says attorney James Montgomery Jr, who represents Ms. Adams’ mother. “We saw what was clearly an unusual set of circumstances leading to the death of my client’s daughter. And we’ve received nothing.”

Indeed, a visit to the public files of the Chicago Office of Police Accountability (COPA) shows multiple video clips from the night of the tragedy, but only a single report, which is largely blank.

Montgomery, who filed a suit against officer Jawor and the City on behalf of the Adams family, notes the city has not even identified the second officer who was in the car with Jawor that night.

“We don’t even know his name,” he said. “I find that extremely unusual if this were an incident that occurred in the ordinary course of police work.”

The newly-created COPA has the lead on the case, but reportedly the Chicago Police Bureau of Internal Affairs is or will be investigating as well. Officially, both the police department and COPA refused comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

“As we stand here today, we don’t even know if an accident reconstruction report was done,” Montgomery said.

The public version, immediately after the tragedy, stated that the officers had been made aware of the Cherokee involved in the carjacking. Shortly before the chase is made known, the officers make a radio call, “I just had a black Cherokee take off.”

Video from surveillance cameras shows that during much of the chase, the officers proceeded without turning on their emergency lights. Shortly after the lights are first seen, the first references to the violent crash are called in.

“This car is completely totaled,” the officers report. “Somebody’s going to need to be extracted, and it’s on fire.”

Moments later, the officers modify that initial report.

“Looks like there was two cars involved in this accident,” says an officer, believed to be Jawor. “It’s so mangled we can’t make out what kind of car the other car is.”

About seven minutes after the crash, a dispatcher calls, asking the officers if they rolled up on the crash, or actually saw it happen.

“We witnessed the crash,” the officer believed to be Jawor reports.

“The real question comes down to, did the officers in the SUV who were chasing Taylor Clark, know him,” Montgomery said. “That’s the real question.”

<![CDATA[Exonerated Individuals Ask Court to Declare Their Innocence]]> Tue, 09 Jan 2018 18:48:24 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/LMX___6P+PKG+WATTS+SENTENCING_WMAQ_000000004369448+%28Read-Only%29+Version1+-+00000125_30392113.png

Fifteen Chicago men whose convictions were thrown out in November are now asking for formal certificates of innocence.

All of the men said they were framed by disgraced former Chicago Police Sergeant Ronald Watts and the tactical team he once commanded on Chicago’s South Side.

“If they show up for jobs, for housing, any other sort of opportunities, those arrests, those wrongful convictions still show up on their records,” said attorney Joshua Tepfer, who represents the group. “A certification of innocence allows that to be wiped clean.”

Certificates for the former suspects would also be the first step in recovering damages from the state.

Tepfer noted that even the state agreed the charges against the men, 18 convictions in all, should be dismissed, and that prosecutors said they will not intervene in this effort.

“In these cases, we concluded, unfortunately, that police were not being truthful,” Mark Rotert, the head of the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit said when the cases were overturned two months ago. “We couldn’t have confidence in the integrity of their reports and their testimony.”

Watts and his tactical team worked the South Side for more than a decade. Even some fellow officers made allegations of illegal behavior, including frameups and shakedowns.

Watts and one of his officers, Kallett Mohammed, eventually went to jail themselves. But others from the crew remained on the force.

At least 20 individuals, with 26 convictions among them, have been exonerated by the courts. Shortly after the latest convictions were overturned, seven remaining members of Watts’ tactical team were placed on desk duty.

Tepfer suggested many more convictions could be in the pipeline.

“Every single one of their arrests, every single one of their investigations that led to convictions needs to be vetted,” he said. “What that number is, I’ve said many times, is at least 500.”

<![CDATA[Chicago Police Sergeant Challenges Testing System as Rigged]]> Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:00:00 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago+police+generic1.png

A longtime Chicago police sergeant is suing the city of Chicago and others, including Supt. Eddie Johnson, challenging the lieutenant’s promotion system as rigged on behalf of favored candidates.

A formal investigation by the city’s Inspector General found no evidence of wrongdoing, but Sgt. Hosea Word alleged in the suit that actions took place which enabled competing sergeants to be promoted “who had not fairly and honestly earned that right.”

“It became common knowledge in the ranks that the chiefs decided to scrap the 2006 test results, in order to administer a new test so they could secretly give their wives and girlfriends the test answers, which helped them to get high scores, promotions, pay raises, and pension increases that they didn’t deserve,” Word said in a statement. “I and others feel cheated and betrayed.”

In his lawsuit filed Monday, Word alleged Johnson, former first deputy Al Wysinger, and former Chief Eugene Williams, intentionally leaked answers to the test to benefit their wives or girlfriends.

“Williams was a ‘senior subject matter expert’ for the lieutenant’s examination and had access to the test before it was administered,” Word alleged, saying the women in question formed a “study group” for the lieutenant’s examination where he contends they were given access to exam materials.

“With access to the test materials in advance, the wives and girlfirneds were able to dramatically improve their performance on the lieutenant’s exam,” the suit states.

“Defendant Wysinger’s wife was ranked first on the 2015 examination, improving from a rank of 280 on the 2006 examination,” Word argued. “Such dramatic improvement on the exam was statistically improbable without advance access to the testing materials.”

In early 2016, city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson initiated an investigation into the allegations of cheating on the lieutenant’s exam. But last June, Ferguson said he concluded there was no evidence that the women in question had received an unfair advantage in the testing procedures, and Williams was cleared of helping to rig the exam.

“In the course of its investigation, OIG interviewed 20 individuals,” Ferguson wrote in his report. “No first hand witnesses or accounts of cheating emerged prior to or during the course of OIG’s investigation.”

Ferguson said his office reviewed some 300,000 emails and searched another 600,000 computer files as part of the inquiry.

“Overall, the analyses did not reveal any trends supporting the allegations of fraudulent behavior,” he wrote.

But in the statement accompanying his suit, Sgt. Word said he felt “cheated and betrayed” by the testing procedures.

“I can remain quiet and fearful of retaliation,” he said. “Or I can speak up about the injustice and break the code of silence.”

Word’s attorney Victor Henderson, noted the city’s long history of nepotism and patronage.

“This history is especially harmful when it spills over into the police department,” he said. “If the police are not honest and trustworthy with each other, then the rest of us don’t stand a chance of consistently being treated fairly when we run into them on the street.”

<![CDATA[City Data Reveals Surge in Chicago Carjackings]]> Fri, 29 Dec 2017 21:38:26 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/CARJACKINGS+RISE+-+00000000_30264893.jpg

A construction worker resting in his personal vehicle near a job site early Tuesday morning at Walton and State experienced what he calls the “scariest” moment of his life when he said a hooded man pointed a gun at him and stole his Honda Civic.

“You don’t expect things like that to happen when you’re in your own vehicle,” said Steve, who asked for his identity to be concealed.

Steve was preparing for his shift as an iron worker at a Near North Side building project when he became one of the latest victims of a crime that is soaring in Chicago: carjacking.

NBC 5 Investigates examined all reports of carjackings in the city and found 898 incidents have occurred in 2017. That’s up from 663 in 2016 and 339 in 2015. The incident impacting Steve happened in police district 18, which experienced a near three-fold increase in carjackings between 2016 and 2017.

“A lot of it is gang-related, so we know that they use these vehicles to commit smash and grabs, we know they use them to commit drive-by shootings and we also know that they do it sometimes just for the thrill of doing it,” said Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

Johnson said juveniles are often being directed by adults to steal the cars. Still, Johnson said arrests are increasing as the number of carjackings increase.

“I think that one of the ways we’ll attack it is to hold the older people accountable for when they have these younger guys go out and steal these cars for them,” Johnson said.

Johnson is urging the public to be aware of their surroundings and to not exit their vehicles with the keys still in the ignition.

Steve said his Honda Civic was found the next day, thanks in part to smartphone and iPad location features left “on” while the suspects apparently took his car for a joy ride.

A spokesperson for Chicago police said the case is still under investigation and no offenders are in custody.

<![CDATA[Renowned Illinois Coach Banned From USA Gymnastics]]> Tue, 12 Dec 2017 17:21:23 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/COACH+BANNED+-+00002926_30026647.jpg

The gymnastics community let out a collective “shock” and “disbelief” on Monday upon learning the news that former elite gymnast Todd Gardiner of the Illinois Gymnastics Institute and one of the most decorated Illinois coaches in the sport was found by USA Gymnastics to have violated their code of ethical conduct.

According to the USA Gymnastics governing board, Gardiner was cited with violating provisions concerning sexual misconduct and a sexual relationship with an athlete. On Dec. 7, Gardiner was placed on the list of coaches permanently ineligible to coach in USA Gymnastics.

USA Gymnastics sets the rules and policies governing the sport in the United States which selects and trains over 148,000 athletes, including Olympians and those competing in World Championships.

In response to NBC 5 Investigates inquiries, USA Gymnastics said: “An individual is placed on the list based on a complaint and following an investigation and hearing process. Each accused member has the right and opportunity to participate in the investigation and hearing process. An individual who is on the Permanently Ineligible for Membership List may not be employed or associate in any way with a USA Gymnastics member club, nor may he/she participate in any USA Gymnastics-sanctioned event.”

Former Team USA national gymnast Kristina Comforte, who was coached by Gardiner from beginning at the age of 12, expressed disbelief.

“It doesn’t add up,” the former UCLA gymnast told NBC 5, saying she had never experienced or witnessed any wrongdoing by Gardiner, her coach of seven years.

A gymnast from Hinsdale, Gardiner was a five-time national elite champion competing at the Olympic level before coaching elite gymnasts the past 38 years out of Illinois Gymnastics Institute in Westmont.

He started the “Chicago Style Meet” held at Navy Pier and considered one of the largest gymnastic meets in the world. Gardiner is not the subject of any criminal complaint or investigation and did not return our request comment.

<![CDATA[Kratom: It's Legal, But Could it Be Deadly?]]> Wed, 06 Dec 2017 22:43:30 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/KRATOM+DANGERS+-+00012600_29963835.jpg

Chances are you’ve never heard of a substance called Kratom. It is variously described as a dietary supplement, or an herb, or an outright drug. To many, it’s a miracle cure.

And there’s an effort to ban it in Illinois.

“It’s actually a leaf from a southeast Asian tree that looks somewhat similar to an evergreen,” says Dennis Wichern, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago. “It’s ground up and some people believe it has some form of medicinal value.”

Kratom is legal in Illinois. But now it’s front and center in the growing debate over opioid abuse. That’s because the drug works on the same receptors in the brain. And while proponents believe it can help those fighting to wean themselves from opiates, many regulators say it may do just the opposite.

“We have to let science dictate as to whether it’s a good drug or not,” says Wichern. “And so far, science hasn’t.”

Kratom users argue they’ve seen its positive effects first hand.

“I was on pain pills for a long time, I mean years,” says Rhoni Silva of Moline. “As long as I get the right dose, I don’t feel the sickness that I do get from pain pills.”

Silva claims Kratom’s pain relief is faster and smoother than any other drug she has tried.

“Instantaneous,” she says. “Five minutes!”

Long found in smoke shops, even service stations and online sites, Kratom is now mainstream enough that there are three retail stores in the Chicagoland area.

“It helps people get through withdrawal,” says Matthew Warren, manager of CBD Kratom in Bucktown. “We do get a lot of people who use it for that.”

Warren’s store features dozens of strains of the southeast Asian plant, labeled red for euphoria, white for pain relief, and green for stimulation.

“I have first-hand experience of giving kratom to friends of my own going through opioid withdrawal, and I physically saw a difference within about five minutes,” Warren said. “It really helps a lot of people, and I think there’s a lot to learn from it.”

The FDA disagrees. Last year, the drug agency retreated from an effort to brand kratom a schedule one menace, akin to cocaine, after over 50 congressmen protested that its purported medicinal values deserved greater study.

But just lasts month, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a new public health advisory, citing “mounting concerns” about kratom’s risks.

“Kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction, and in some cases, death,” Gottlieb wrote. “At a time when we have hit a critical point in the opioid epidemic, the increasing use of kratom as an alternative or adjunct to opioid use is extremely concerning.”

The FDA advisory cited a tenfold increase in kratom-related calls to poison control centers, and reports of 36 deaths associated with the drug.

“We must ask ourselves whether the use of Kratom, for recreation, pain, or other reasons, could expand the opioid epidemic,” he said.

Back at the kratom shop, Warren said he believes his product is as safe as coffee.

“I’ve been selling this for about two years,” he said. “I haven’t had anyone ever have any kind of dangerous reaction to kratom.”

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office told NBC5 Investigates they’ve seen five kratom-related deaths in the last two years. But advocates of the substance argue virtually everyone nationwide reported in a kratom-related death had other drugs in their systems.

The author of a study commissioned by the American Kratom Association suggested that regulation of kratom should not go beyond what is currently done with “coffee, tea, and related extracts.”

Dr. Jack Henningfield of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine wrote that banning kratom “is not warranted from a public health perspective, and is more likely to cause public health problems that do not exist.”

Indeed, an article last year in Forbes magazine argued that reports of overdoses and deaths were overblown. Yes, there had been 660 calls to poison centers related to kratom exposure, contributor Jacob Sullum wrote. But that amounts to .004 percent of the 3 million calls the centers receive each year, he noted, compared with some 300,000 calls involving analgesics.

A recent study by doctors from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood also found that “serious toxicity is rare, and usually involves relatively high doses or co-ingestants.”

But that same study warned of kratom’s potential for addiction, a point conceded by Silva, the kratom user from western Illinois.

“I will agree that there is a potential to be addictive,” she said. “It works on the same receptors.”

Silva, while enthusiastic about the drug’s pain relieving qualities and its potential for opioid relief, conceded she had experienced some withdrawal symptoms when she had tried to stop using it.

“I did have to back down a little because I could feel where I’d be out somewhere and I’d really want to take my kratom.”

Some have compared those urges to feelings of caffeine withdrawal. But the DEA’s Wichern argues there is simply too much which isn’t known.

“This isn’t a drug that you want to take by yourself without medical supervision,” he said. “Nobody’s submitted any research to show the value of this drug.”

Kratom is currently banned in five states, including Wisconsin and Indiana. A bill is pending in Springfield which would make it illegal in Illinois as well. Repeated calls and emails to the legislation’s sponor, Rep. Katie Stuart of Collinsville, went unanswered.

“I think they should concentrate on the real opiate problem,” Silva said. “And leave kratom alone.”

<![CDATA[Computer Glitches Impact Illinois Families Waiting For Aid]]> Wed, 06 Dec 2017 17:34:27 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dhs+illinois+investigates.jpg

Concerned social workers and their clients tell NBC 5 Investigates a new computer system that is supposed to assist Illinois families could spoil the holidays for tens of thousands of residents who are applying for food and medical benefits.

NBC 5 Investigates has also learned the state went ahead with the $193 million system, despite early warnings.

The first phase of the Integrated Eligibility System (IES) used by the Department of Human Services rolled-out in 2013. It worked in conjunction with a forty-year-old system used by case workers to determine client eligibility until October, when the older software was completely replaced by the second phase of IES.

However, a state audit revealed the first phase of IES in 2013 went live with known problems. According to the audit, the lack of due diligence and an effective and controlled project management process over IES led to additional project expenditures for revisions and a system that did not completely meet the needs of the state.

Since October, case workers have said IES has experienced glitches and shutdowns that are creating delays and crowded waiting rooms. Case workers said client meetings that used to take minutes can now take one hour.

“We took these jobs because we want to help people and right now it seems like we have one hand tied before our back and especially ahead of the holidays, it’s not a good feeling as workers,” said DHS case worker Brian Poncin, who represented his union during an interview with NBC 5 Investigates.

The delays are impacting DHS offices from Englewood to Skokie. Some describe it as chaos just ahead of the holidays.

“It affected my last month and I’m trying to see if it’s going to affect this month as well,” said a DHS recipient outside of the Englewood office.

Maria Perez is a DHS supervisor who also represented her union in an interview with NBC 5 Investigates. She said clients are getting angry.

“What we keep telling them is the workers are trying to help you. Unfortunately, the system either keeps kicking them out, it’s working too slow, we’re getting stuck on glitches,” Perez said.

The DHS acknowledges a shaky start, but said the process will improve.

“It’s supposed to be more efficient and in time it will be,” said DHS local office administrator Ramon Ortiz. “Just like with any new technology when you first roll it out, there are issues. There’s a learning curve.”

A spokesperson for IES designer, Deloitte, said there have been some temporary delays in service as caseworkers and staff adjust to the new technology and new business processes. Deloitte said it is also making improvements and enhancements to the system.

“We worked with the State to prepare for these scenarios and we have teams in place to resolve outstanding issues, minimize any inconvenience to customers, and get people the benefits for which they are eligible as quickly as possible,” said a Deloitte spokesperson.

Clients can use the new system to manage their benefits online. A DHS spokesperson said 2.5 million people have used IES to apply for benefits since 2013.

A social services computer system from Deloitte that is used in Rhode Island has caused backlogs for case workers since it went online in 2016. A spokesperson for Deloitte said the Illinois IES is a completely different system than Rhode Island’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project, which combined a state-based health insurance exchange with an Integrated Eligibility System.

Deloitte also said Illinois IES is based on a transfer solution that was successfully implemented in Michigan and then customized to meet the specific needs of Illinois residents and to comply with Illinois state policies, rules and regulations.

A DHS spokesperson said the state selected Deloitte in 2013 through a competitive procurement process.

“We cannot speak to what information was known by the previous administration when this decision was made but we understand the systems implemented by Deloitte in other states are different types of systems with different needs than Illinois’,” said a DHS spokesperson.

The DHS said it is also processing an “unusually high” volume of applications for health care because the federal government reduced the Affordable Care Act’s 2017 Open Enrollment period from three months to just six weeks – Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, 2017.

<![CDATA[Can Busy Shoppers Cut Wait Times With Click And Pickup?]]> Wed, 22 Nov 2017 23:18:54 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/coffeyshopping_29794454.jpg

If you would rather skip long store lines and delivery times, grab your smartphone or computer for what retailers are calling a speedier way to shop online.

A growing number of retailers now offer “buy online, pickup in store” shopping experiences for their customers, in which everything you order is ready for same-day collection. That means no more browsing store aisles, searching for sizes, or waiting several days for an online purchase to be delivered.

Retailers say they’ll have orders complete within a few hours. But is the process as easy as they make it out to be?

NBC 5 Investigates, along with CNBC and our NBC sister stations in San Diego and Dallas, ordered dozens of items for same-day pickup. We purchased merchandise from six retailers and waited for alerts to say the items were ready.

The idea was to see how easy the process is overall for consumers and how much time it took from online check-out to when the order was ready for pickup.

Thirty-seven minutes after NBC 5 Investigates ordered two sweaters, a glass candle holder, a card game and lotion from Target’s website, we received a pickup alert from the store in suburban Hodgkins. Once inside the store, we were asked to show identification at the customer service counter. All of our items were included in the bag.

“We’re proud that Order Pickup consistently receives high satisfaction marks from guests, and that more than 95 percent of Order Pickup orders are ready in less than an hour for guests at their local Target store,” said a Target spokesperson.

We received a notification from Kohl’s in Hodgkins less than one hour after confirming a purchase for bedding and baby items. Our identification and a barcode from a confirmation email were required for the pickup.

Pick-up alerts from Home Depot in Broadview and Macy’s in Oak Brook came within two hours. Both stores required order confirmations and everything we ordered was at the stores’ customer service desks.

It took nearly three hours for us to hear that our order was ready at Wal-Mart in Hodgkins. We walked to the back of the store to the online pickup counter and entered our email address in a computer kiosk. All of our items were handed-over to us within a few minutes.

Still, consumers should be prepared to adjust their orders when shopping online for same-day pickup because some items may not be available at your store of choice.

A spokesperson for Home Depot said the retailer has approximately 35,000 SKUs in the store but more than one million online.

NBC 5 Investigates ordered a shower caddy, Christmas tree stand, tree skirt, and surge protector for same-day pickup at the Lowe’s location on North Narragansett Avenue in Chicago. About two hours and fifty minutes after clicking the online purchase button, we received a call from a store employee telling us that the tree stand and skirt would not be available.

“We’re always working to improve the customer experience,” said a Lowe’s spokesperson. “In 2018, we will introduce new capabilities to our buy online pick up in store program, including dedicated parking spots, specific pick-up desks and at high volume stores, employees dedicated to filling orders.”

Overall, our combined shopping experiences from across the country resulted in the following “ready for pick-up” rankings for the six retailers:

1. Target-order ready averaged 33 minutes

2. Kohl’s-order ready averaged 46 minutes

3. Home Depot-order ready averaged 1 hour 15 minutes

4. Macy’s-order ready averaged 2 hours 11 minutes

5. Lowe’s-order ready averaged 2 hours 45 minutes

6. Wal-Mart-order ready averaged 6 hours 32 minutes

Our Dallas affiliate placed its order with Wal-Mart just before 5 p.m with same-day pickup as a stated option, but the email and text notifying the team it was ready for pickup didn’t come until after 9 a.m. the next day.

A Wal-Mart spokesperson said “while we don’t share our average order time externally, we can say it’s quite a bit less than what the CNBC/NBC affiliates experienced.”

A recent study by JDA Consumer Survey found a 44% increase in “buy online, pick-up in store” shopping since 2015.

“I can go out and pick it up after I get off work, before I pick up the kids from school,” said Dr. Jim Mourey of DePaul University. “That’s the sort of convenience that they’re reaching out to. Just sort of steal those customers back from companies like Amazon.”

Mourey, who studies consumer psychology, said this marketing method is not entirely new. However, he said retailers are giving more options to customers who prefer convenience and those who enjoy browsing.

“If companies like Target continue to change in this very innovative way, I think everyone can benefit,” Mourey said. “My guess is for retail stores that are going to be around the next five or ten years, they’re gonna have to do the same thing.”

While a 2015 survey showed 40% of consumers who picked up online orders say they experienced some sort of service issue, such as a long wait, the retailers we recently visited said they are working hard to provide a fast and easy experience for shoppers and they are making more items available for same-day pickup.

“It’s so popular that we’ve tripled the number of items available,” said a Wal-Mart spokesperson.

The Target spokesperson said about one-third of the shoppers who come in for Order Pickup orders also make additional purchases.

<![CDATA[Mother, Daughter Targeted in 'Elaborate' Scam]]> Wed, 22 Nov 2017 17:57:20 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/226*120/elginscam_29793981.jpg

South Elgin police told a suburban mother and daughter that it is one of the most detailed and elaborate scams they've seen.

On Monday morning, Tina Pelinski was at work when she got a phone call from her daughter's number.

The call was pure terror.

"Two males voices on the other end, explaining to me they had my daughter and that I needed to get ransom money or they were going to rape or kill her," said Pelinski.

Pelinski was given strict orders: stay on the line, don't call police, purchase pre-paid money cards from local businesses. She complied with all three, even as merchants raised questions about what the cards were for.

"In the moment when you think your daughter is going to be killed, you're not going to let them know what you're going through," said Pelinski. "I just said it's for a Christmas party at work...and I'm getting reassurance from the alleged kidnappers (on the phone), saying 'that's a good job. That's a good story you're telling them.'"

Pelinski said she didn't for once think the call was a scam because of the personal stories the scammers detailed: a memory of hearing 2-year-old Hannah play with the Velcro strap on her new shoes; a specific tattoo Hannah has on her right wrist.

How did the scammers know those details? Turns out, daughter Hannah Kosek, 18, was simultaneously swindled by the same scammers.

In her case, she got a call about 7:45 am from someone purporting to be with the Kane County Sheriff's Office that she would face severe consequences for missing jury duty.

"I hadn't been summoned," Kozek said. "I'm freaking out. I'm newly 18. I didn't know. I've never gone to jury duty."

Out of fear, Kozek also obeyed the scammers' commands: purchase pre-paid cards and read the card numbers as "bail money," stay on the phone, pass along an emergency contact number.

"That makes sense if I'm about to go to jail, I supposed they would need (my mom's emergency contact)," Kozek said. "That was when they were asking me very personal things about me and my mom, asking me things that only she would know, so it seemed real to me for some reason."

Hannah said she stayed on the phone for nearly 4.5 hours. No one in her family could reach her during that time.

The plan unraveled when Pelinski's co-worker called police. Pelinski said officers found her still on the phone at a local business, and they had to convince her that it was a scam.

The mother and daughter paid $5500 to scammers. The family has set up a GoFundMe account to recoup their loss. 

"I'm just so angry that they're laughing right now," Pelinski said. "They preyed on our fear. Her fear of going to jail, my fear of losing her."

The South Elgin Police Department issued a community alert Wednesday, warning the public that incidents like this are on the rise in the Chicagoland area.

The release said two phone scams occurred on Nov. 20 in which "the victims were led to believe that there were warrants for their arrest by the Kane County Sheriff's Office and the Internal Revenue Service" and directed to purchase money cards.

Police said government agencies do not accept money cards as forms of payment for fines or bonds.

<![CDATA[Calls For Freedom in Another Watts Case]]> Wed, 22 Nov 2017 20:20:44 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Ronald_Watts_10-9.jpg

Cook County prosecutors say they are at least considering the petition of still another defendant who says he fell victim to disgraced Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and the tactical team he ran on Chicago’s South Side.

Last week, prosecutors vacated the convictions of 15 men who had long contended they were framed by Watts and his crew. “In good conscience,” said assistant State’s Attorney Mark Rotert, “we could not let these convictions stand.”

But there are plenty more defendants waiting in the wings. Among them, a man named Anthony McDaniels, who was arrested on gun charges in November of 2008.

McDaniels has long contended the gun was planted by members of Watts’ team.

“There’s three officers who testified,” defense attorney Joshua Tepfer said Wednesday. “Those three officers have all been tied to many of the 26 convictions overturned, based on allegations that those officers were involved in the day to day corruption of Sgt. Watts.”

Initially, prosecutors balked at McDaniels’ petition. But in court Wednesday, they suggested that position might be changing.

“In light of the events of last week, we are reviewing this case again,” assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala told judge Arthur Hill. “We are still looking into this case.”

After court, Tepfer praised prosecutors for their willingness to keep an open mind.

“We’re really pleased with the way everything is progressing,” he said. “We’re certainly disappointed Anthony is not going to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with his lovely sisters and his mother, but we do hope he’s home by Christmas.”

It is likely Watts and his crew were responsible for many hundreds of arrests during the years they operated in the former Ida B. Wells housing project. Many critics have argued that none of those arrests should be allowed to stand.

Tepfer conceded the McDaniels case involves a gun charge, as opposed to the drug cases tossed out last week. But the facts, he notes, bear one important similarity.

“They key factor is that it revolves around the credibility of these officers,” Tepfer said. “And that credibility is nil.”

<![CDATA[Spelling Error Has Major Implications When Shopping Online]]> Tue, 21 Nov 2017 22:51:21 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TYPO+PRIVACY+-+00000511_29777134.jpg

An online shopper thought he was doing business with a national store. He later learned that – because of a typo – he had given his credit card information to a stranger. Marion Brooks reports.

<![CDATA[CPD Had Ample Warning of Allegations Against Officers]]> Fri, 17 Nov 2017 19:05:06 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/McDanial+Court+Rogers+int+2+-+00013119_29279907.jpg

In the wake of Thursday’s mass exonerations of 15 individuals who said they were framed by rogue police officers, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson suggested the department had limited knowledge of those officers’ alleged activities.

“It did happen years ago,” he said. “But unfortunately, CPD was not in charge of that investigation, so a lot of that information we just don’t have.”

Six officers and one sergeant were removed from street duty Thursday night, pending a review of the roles they played in the arrests of the 15 men. And suspicions about the officers in question have swirled publicly for years.

A former officer from the Internal Affairs Division tells NBC5 the officers, headed up by Sgt. Ronald Watts, were on IAD radar as far back as 2009. Former police officer Shannon Spalding says she and her partner discovered corruption by Watts and his team shortly after being assigned to the narcotics division. And, she says, when her complaints fell on deaf ears, she and her partner called in the FBI.

“Officers and supervisors were involved in running the narcotics trade within Ida B. Wells (housing project) and surrounding areas,” she told NBC5 in January of 2016. “There was a sergeant, and his crew, that were shaking down the drug dealers and they were paying them ‘taxes’ so that they could operate their narcotics trade with impunity.”

Spalding said she and her partner only went to the FBI after “it became very clear there was not going to be an unbiased investigation of these officers.”

That larger investigation was compromised at the federal level. Only Sgt. Watts and one other officer Kalatt Mohammed were charged. But Spalding said everyone involved in that investigation knew it went much further.

“I believe Watts, Mohammed, and the majority of his tactical team at the time that he was found guilty, or he admitted to being guilty, should have and would have been arrested as well,” she said.

Indeed, at the time of Watts arrest in February of 2012, NBC5 Investigates reported that many other officers were also under investigation and suspected of being involved in the wrongdoing. Then-Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy insisted there was no larger scandal.

“No,” he said. “There’s nobody involved except the two officers who were arrested.”

But the allegations wouldn’t go away. Spalding and her partner said they were blackballed within the department, eventually filing a very public whistleblower lawsuit which was settled by the city in the summer of 2016 on the eve of trial for $2 million.

Thruout, Spalding publicly insisted more officers had been guilty of wrongdoing. And there were numerous lawsuits, all naming the names of many of the very officers who were removed from duty Thursday night.

“They still have their badges, some of them them promoted,” Spalding marveled in the January 2016 interview. “It’s just mind-boggling to me that the Chicago Police Department was involved in this investigation, they were all aware that these other targets existed, yet they’re still on the street!”

Finally this week, after 15 more defendants walked free, the seven officers were removed from street duty and are now the targets of a formal investigation.

<![CDATA[Gang Conflict in Rogers Park Killed Popular Teacher: Ald.]]> Sat, 18 Nov 2017 10:35:33 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/teacher+funeral.JPG

It would be easy to say Friday night Oct. 13 was unlucky for Cynthia Trevillion.

The reality is the tragic event that occurred that night impacted so many more people and highlights an often-overlooked aspect of Chicago’s gang violence: it is not just the south and west sides that feel the painful sting of violence.

Cynthia Trevillion was the innocent victim of gang violence in the far north neighborhood that night, according 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore, struck down as she walked to the Morse train station with her husband.

Early in the evening of that Friday night, in a hail of gunfire, the 64-year-old math teacher was fatally shot, shell casings littering the street in the aftermath of the drive-by shooting.

A long-running gang conflict, says Moore, is to blame. “It was the result of conflicts between a bunch of different rival gangs.”

“I just saw flashes of light,” John Trevillion remembered weeks later, sitting in his second-floor apartment. He was walking with his wife to the Morse Street El that night to catch a train and join friends at dinner.

Trevlilion said he hit the ground as Cynthia was struck. The recognition of what had just happened was immediate. The look on her face, he said, told him the injury was likely fatal.

The two were married in 1988, educators, who moved to Chicago 14 years ago to teach at the Waldorf School in Rogers Park.

Cynthia loved to cook. “Everybody knows her as butter is better queen,” he said. And she loved the Cubs, he noted, holding a picture of the two of them in front of Wrigley Field not long after the team won the World Series.

On occasion, he said, they heard gunshots from their apartment. “But we just took them as well, normal,” he said quietly.

The drive-by shooting that killed Trevillion was the by-product of a long-simmering gang conflict in Rogers Park. The irony is, according to former 24th District police commander Bruce Rottner is, “they are all part of the same gang.”

Rottner was born in Rogers Park and served as commander from 2005 to 2008. He, and others believe, the gang feud is fueled by a 2012 shooting that took the life of Anton “Pooh Bear” Sanders.

“There is what is known as the Pooh Bear gang,” he said and its main rival is LOC City, which stands for Loyalty Over Cash. Police believe both are part of the Gangster Disciples.

The violence in Rogers Park, Rottner said is not surprising. “It’s, I would say, all over the city in varying degrees,” he acknowledged.

On the evening Cynthia Trevillion was shot and killed, gang violence also ended the life of a 15-year old Sullivan High School student.

A recent immigrant to this country, he was shot in the back because the gang members were trying to recruit him into their gang, according to alderman Moore.

“It’s a relatedly new recent phenomenon,” he said. “I think the gangs are very, very small in our neighborhood…maybe a dozen to 18 hardcore members and they are looking for new recruits.

“And they are looking at the vulnerable immigrant population. We’ve got a lot of recent refugees and immigrants who have come to our neighborhood,” he said, “the ones that they appear to be targeting are coming from Africa.”

Ironically, even as the two murders occurred, homicides and shootings, according to police statistics are down significantly in the 24th police district from the same period last year.

“And then this flairs up,” said Moore.

At the intersection of Morse and Glenwood, where Cynthia Trevillion was shot, flowers and notes mark a make-shift memorial.

Your death has affected us all, please stop hate, one reads.

And in letters sent to John Trevillion, 8th grade students honor their teacher, his wife.

In the four short years that I knew Mrs. T, one student wrote, I really learned how much a teacher could care for you.

Cynthia Trevillion now joins a long list of innocents killed as a result of gang violence in Chicago: Blair Holt, Hadiya Pendleton and on and on.

“I’ve already sensed in myself the tendency towards resignation,” John Trevillion said. Still he wills himself forward, he says, to try and turn an unspeakable act into what his wife would call, a positive deed.

“And I cannot shrink from that,” he said.

The untimely death of his wife he notes is both a gift and a burden. But more power rests, he hopes, in the gift born of tragedy on a Friday the 13th.

<![CDATA[ 7 Cops Removed From Duty Following Historic Exonerations]]> Thu, 16 Nov 2017 23:20:57 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WRONGFUL+CONVICTION+PRESSER+CAM+-+09570715_29715057.jpg

Seven members of a former Chicago Police tactical team have been placed on administrative duty, after a Cook County judge threw out the convictions of 15 individuals, which even the State’s Attorney’s office said were tainted cases.

Six officers and one sergeant were taken off the street late Thursday, pending a police department review of the roles they played in the cases of 15 men, vacated earlier in the day by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

“In these cases, we concluded, unfortunately, that the police were not being truthful,” Mark Rotert, the director of the conviction integrity unit said after court. “We couldn’t have confidence in the integrity of their reports and testimony.”

Moments earlier, Cook County judge Leroy Martin threw out the felony drug convictions of the 15 men, who all say they were locked up for no other reason except that they refused to pay Sgt. Ronald Watts.

“I’m not a historian,” defense attorney Joshua Tepfer said, “but as far as I know, this is the first mass exoneration in the history of the county, perhaps the state.”

Watts and one of his officers, Kallatt Mohammed eventually went to prison themselves. But the remainder of the tactical team went uncharged, and many of the officers remain on the force. Those were the officers removed from duty Thursday evening.

"Everyone knew if you're not going to pay Watts, you were going to jail. That's just the way it was going,'' said Leonard Gipson, 36, who had two convictions tossed out.

The practice, they recalled, was all the more chilling because the officer was so open about it.

"Watts always told me, `If you're not going to pay me, I'm going to get you.' And every time I ran into him, he put drugs on me,'' he said. ``I went to prison and did 24 months for Watts, and I came back home and he put another case on me.''

He and others said there was nothing anyone could do about it. They watched Watts and his crew continue to extort drug dealers and residents, a practice that lasted for years, despite complaints to the police department and statements made during court hearings.

Finally, in 2013, Watts and another officer pleaded guilty to stealing money from an FBI informant, but Watts' sentence of 22 months was shorter than those being handed out to the men he framed.

“Myself and the Chicago Police Department, we just have no tolerance for that type of behavior,” Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson insisted to reporters following a luncheon appearance. “You will all be hearing something from me again soon, but I just want you to know we are taking a hard look at the events that unfolded.”

While a formal investigation was welcomed by those who have long been critical of Watts and his crew, complaints had raged for years about the tactical team. Two undercover officers publicly alleged that the great majority of the team was corrupt.

Those two officers, Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria, sued the city alleging retaliation for the work they had done uncovering corruption in the case. Last summer on the eve of trial, the City of Chicago settled with the two officers for $2 million.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys suggested that Thursday's order may be just the beginning.

The University of Chicago's Exoneration Project is examining another 12 to 24 cases, but the problem is much larger because Watts was involved in about 1,000 cases and perhaps 500 convictions over eight years.

Chicago has paid more than a half billion dollars to settlepolice misconduct cases in a little more than a decade.

Tepfer would not discuss what the men might do next, but it is almost a certainty that at least some of them will sue the city and the police department. He offered a hint about what those lawsuits might contend.

These convictions stick with you,'' he said. ``You can't get back the time you served. It affects your ability to get jobs, housing. You get thrown off of public aid with a felony conviction.''

<![CDATA[The Biggest Killer of Firefighters is Not Fire]]> Wed, 15 Nov 2017 23:16:42 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/firefighterscancer_29703262.jpg

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Matt Montague knew that what his dad did for a living was dangerous.

After all, his father was a San Francisco firefighter.

Montague’s father developed cancer shortly after his retirement. Proudly following in his dad’s footsteps, Montague also became a firefighter, now serving in suburban Naperville.

And like his dad, Matt got cancer too.

“Almost five years ago now, I was diagnosed with acute leukemia,” he says. “I was working here.”

Montague is firmly convinced that his family’s chosen profession led to both cancers. And the evidence is overwhelming that he’s right.

“The petroleum based products, a lot of plastics, when they burn, they emit a toxic soup,” says Naperville’s deputy chief Andrew Dina. “And it’s a toxic soup full of carcinogens.”

Dina, the Illinois representative of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, speaks from personal knowledge. He got cancer too, when he was just 46 years old.

“We fight fire in teams, we go on ambulance calls in teams,” he says. “We’re going to fight cancer in teams---we’re not going to let any firefighter fight cancer alone.”

The studies are overwhelming. Alarming rates for a variety of cancers, from brain and bladder cancer, to testicular and thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and breast cancer.

The International Association of Firefighters says that a shocking 60% of members memorialized on its fallen firefighters memorial wall, died of cancer.

“Two to three times more likely for our firefighters to get cancer than the general population at large,” says Tim Walsh, the chief of safety for the Chicago Fire Department. “And six times more likely for female firefighters to get breast cancer.”

That “toxic soup” in which firefighters do their work, has become the centerpiece of intensive research. Multiple studies by Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have focused on what’s in the smoke from burning building materials, and the soot which firefighters often wear back to the firehouse on their skin and clothing.

“Smoke is made of a whole lot of different things,” says Dr. Gavin Horn, of the Fire Service Institute at the University of Illinois, where much of that research is being done. “And the smoke depends a whole lot on what’s burning.”

Go back 100 years, and far too many firefighters were killed by fire or building collapse. But back then, the smoke mostly consisted of burning wood, or cotton and wool fabrics from upholstery. Today, firefighters have better safety equipment and better training to hopefully avoid the greatest dangers of the fire itself. But what’s burning in the buildings is heavily made up of plastics and petroleum based products which often give off extremely toxic byproducts.

“Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens,” Horn says. “Firefighters, even when they wear all the gear, everything that is provided for them, there is a potential for exposure and for some of these chemicals to get into the body.”

And it isn’t just buildings.

“Some of the most toxic burning materials are in an automobile fire,” says Chicago’s Deputy Fire Commissioner Don Hroma. “With all of the plastics, and air shocks, and steering columns that are filled with different types of magnesium and just a bunch of chemicals, all in a small box.”

Flame retardants for upholstery and carpeting have long been an area of concern---and ironic concern at that. Designed to make fabrics more fire-resistant, researchers have learned some of those chemicals give off extremely toxic gases when burned. And all of that can end up in the soot which covers firefighters when they leave a burning building.

“We find a significant concentration on the gear,” Horn says. “And that gear can go back into the apparatus or the station if it’s not properly cleaned.”

That leads to two of the biggest concerns: breathing toxic smoke, and soot which can be absorbed through the skin. And that means not only new practices, but a new culture in firefighting. After all, that soot has traditionally been proof that a firefighter did his job.

“Guys liked that, their dirty coats, their dirty helmets,” says Hroma. “They used to show pictures with dirty firefighters, that’s all changed. That culture’s gone away. Now we’re preaching clean.”

Hroma says the fire community has an eye to manufacturers of their personal protective equipment, or PPE’s. They are aware, he says, of the increased focus.

“They’re actually buying into it,” he says. “They understand it, and hopefully there will be some changes in our equipment, which will protect us even more.”

Now, the two biggest changes are for firefighters to keep their air masks on well thru teardown at the fire scene, and to wipe soot off their hands, faces, and necks, as soon as possible.

“Being dirty on the fire ground was a badge of honor,” Hroma says. “Guys are still going to get dirty in the fire---we just have to get them cleaned up as soon as possible.”

Naperville is among area departments that have taken major precautions. Every firefighter at the community’s ten firehouses is now given two sets of gear---so that one can be washed if they catch a fire early in their shift. Gear washers are now at every firehouse, and signs are posted cautioning firefighters about areas where soiled fireclothes are not permitted.

“We want to keep the carcinogens out of the living quarters,” says Dina, the Naperville deputy chief. “The number one thing you can do is to prevent.”

While the cultural change is significant, experts say the evidence of cancer danger in the fire ranks is so overwhelming, that precautions have not been a difficult sell.

“We have to change the way we do our work,” says Chicago’s Walsh. “We have to change what we do, so that you can survive, and go home to your family.”

<![CDATA[Sexual Harassment in Cook County Jail Runs Rampant: PDs]]> Wed, 15 Nov 2017 19:53:36 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/6P+PKG+PUBLIC+DEFENDERS+SUE+JAIL+CLEAN+3+-+00010110_29701573.jpg

The Cook County jail is a toxic environment where inmates expose themselves, act out sexually, harassing, attacking and threatening female public defenders and female correctional officers. The allegations are detailed in court papers.

Four assistant Public Defenders, along with their two civil rights attorneys, appeared in federal court to allege they are sexually harassed by inmates at the Cook County jail, who expose and sexually gratify themselves as the lawyers simply try and do their jobs.

“It’s about domination, harassment, degradation of women and our position is it has to stop,” said attorney Robin Potter.

“It’s been going on, it’s getting worse and nobody knows what to do about it,” echoed attorney Nieves Bolanos.

Sixteen female public defenders have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the abuse.

In the complaint the Public Defenders state they “have been battered by detainees in the lockups and jails.”

Been “grabbed…by the legs or buttocks;”

and “on at least one occasion…bodily fluids” were thrown onto one of the women.

Among the defendants in the case: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Public Defender Amy Campanelli, who has ordered her staff to stay out of the lockups.

That, says the assistant Public Defenders, denies inmates due process and does nothing to correct the abuse.

“The employer (Campanelli) and the sheriff must create a safe workplace where they can do their jobs. That’s it,” said Potter.

But it’s not just Public Defenders. Attorneys for female Cook County correctional officers say their clients believe jail policies restrict their ability to control indecent behavior.

“You can tell them to stop but if they don’t stop you are not allowed to restrain them to stop it,” said attorney Marni Willenson.

“Nobody should go to work and have to fear that somebody else is going to masturbate at or on them,” replied co-counsel Joshua Karsh.

Cara Smith, Director of Cook County Jail, cited the importance of staff safety but also noted inmates languish in jail too long. And some additional penalties like putting them on the Sex Offender Registry—would be a deterrent but require legislation.

Inside the Cook County jail, according to a court document, inmates have formed a gang called Savage Life.

Attorney Robin Potter said the group remains somewhat mysterious. “We are not totally sure but we understand it is a group of inmates who compete to exercise their sexual prowess and to harass the women by masturbating and they get rewarded,” she said.

The assistant Public Defenders are asking for an independent federal monitor to take control of the situation. All sides will be back in court at the end of November.

<![CDATA[Gag Clause May Hit Your Pocketbook at Pharmacy]]> Wed, 08 Nov 2017 18:30:56 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/pillz_29598287.jpg

If there was a way to get your medication cheaper, wouldn’t you want to know?

Chicagoan Shalunda Williams would.

“I have one [prescription], out-of-pocket, is $300 with insurance,” Williams said.

“There are times when a prescription can be cheaper to the consumer without the insurance,” said one Chicago-area pharmacist who has been in the business for more than 30 years. He only agreed to talk to NBC 5 Investigates if his identity could be protected. But, he said, “It can be less, a lot less, yes.”

That’s a surprise to consumers like Janie Trigo from Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I had no idea,” Trigo said. “I just assumed I was getting the best price” by using insurance.

You may be paying more because of a practice called “clawbacks,” where money is clawed back by middlemen known as Pharmacy Benefit Managers, who negotiate the price your insurance company pays for a drug.

“Some plans claw back on all brands and generic. Some claw back only generics. Some — brands only. It totally depends on plan the patient has,” the pharmacist said.

These contracts can include a gag clause, prohibiting your pharmacist from letting you know if you could pay less by not using your insurance.

“It’s a bad practice,” said Kurt Florian, the CEO and President of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. ”It’s unconscionable that it exists.”

A dozen states have outlawed clawbacks outright, or, at the very least, the gag clause. Illinois is not one of them.

“We are going to be reaching out to legislators in Illinois to see who is willing to sponsor legislation to get rid of this bad practice,” Florian said.

One way consumers can protect themselves is to speak up. There is one question you need to ask when picking up your medication: “Can I get this cheaper without my insurance?” That unlocks the gag clause, and the pharmacist can answer.

“They can come in and ask what is the cash price, and then go from there,” the pharmacist said.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association represents America’s Pharmacy Benefit Managers. When NBC 5 Investigates asked about the gag clause, the association responded with the following statement:

“Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) typically reduce prescription drug costs by 30 percent for more than 266 million Americans enrolled in private and public plans, most notably Medicare Part D. PBMs use their substantial scale and expertise to negotiate aggressive rebates, discounts, and other price concessions from drug manufacturers and drugstores on prescription drugs. We support the patient paying the lowest price available at the pharmacy counter for the prescribed drug.”

While the practice of clawbacks continues, the Illinois pharmacist watches in disgust.

“I’m here because I want to help the patient. I’m here because I see an injustice to the consumer and to the pharmacy profession,” he said.

Bottom line: Don’t assume that going through your insurance will get you the best price on your prescription medication. If you simply ask for the lowest price a pharmacy can offer, that could reduce what you pay.

<![CDATA[Police Investigate Alleged Missing Scrap Recycling Proceeds]]> Tue, 07 Nov 2017 21:19:09 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/scrapgetty.jpg

A suburban township’s road district is facing serious questions about its record keeping upon allegations that proceeds from its scrap metal recycling went missing.

The Illinois State Police confirms it is investigating allegations of missing money at the Oswego Township road district. It is not clear if any charges will be filed.

Concerned resident Leah Philpot said she received a tip about the township’s scrap metal recycling methods. She later filed open records requests asking for information about the road district’s cash deposits. Philpot said her research compared the value of street signs being purchased to the value of scrap metal being recycled the township.

According to Philpot, there are missing deposit records for nearly $2,000 in scrap metal recycling proceeds.

“Everyone understands losing receipts, but losing all of them is a problem,” Philpot said.

Philpot brought up the issue at a July meeting of the Oswego Township. According to the meeting’s minutes, the township attorney explained that the township could not comment due to the ongoing investigation.

NBC 5 Investigates contacted the township supervisor for comment. While he declined to provide a statement due to the open investigation, he said he is guessing that there will be answers within several weeks.

The $65 billion scrap recycling industry is taking a stand against potential theft, especially as the price of copper remains at around $3 per pound.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries said it works with law enforcement to limit potential theft.

“That is the problem we have is identifying what is legally generated as scrap and what could have been stolen,” said ISRI member Frank Cozzi of Cozzi Recycling.

Cozzi, who owns a scrap recycling plant, said his workers are trained to spot potential stolen theft such as sewer grates and other public works metals.

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Health Apps Raise Medical, Privacy Concerns: Experts]]> Sat, 04 Nov 2017 12:35:11 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bodytrackerz_29547745.jpg

More than 165,000 health-related apps are available to download on smart phones, but a majority of them are unregulated, raising concerns for both doctors and those in the legal community.

Health apps run the gamut from fitness to fertility, mental health to diabetes. Consumers often input their most intimate information without knowing the full story of where their data is going, according to Lori Andrews, a professor at IIT-Chicago Kent College of Law.

“These are miniature surveillance devices,” said Andrews. “(Our phones) are on us at all times.”

Andrews studied a random sample of the top 400 health apps and says she found alarming holes in data privacy. For one, Andrews said an overwhelming majority of the apps did not have privacy policies.

“We found over 70 percent shared that intimate health information with data aggregators, some of them who provided that information to life insurers and health insurers,” Andrews said.

What’s problematic, Andrews said, is app developers aren’t breaking the rules by doing so. While doctors and medical institutions are bounded by federal HIPAA laws to safeguard data privacy and health-related information, those same regulations do not apply to a majority of app developers.

“The consumer might get the impression that she’s just monitoring her own health. She may not realize there are real downsides to that information being shared with third parties like life insurers who might then deny her insurance because she’s not keeping her diabetes in check or she’s had too many miscarriages or things that might indicate a larger health problem,” Andrews said.

According to a July 2016 Consumer Reports study, findings found the popular Glow Pregnancy App had security flaws that “would be easy for stalkers, online bullies or identity thieves to use the information they gathered on Glow’s users.” The report said Glow worked quickly to correct the vulnerabilities and updated the app.

According to Andrews and doctors, a chief concern of health apps is that many are not backed by sound science. A minority of medical apps consult a physician or healthcare provider in development, according to Dr. Sherif Badawy, a hematologist and oncologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

In Badawy’s published report on health-related smartphone apps, he highlighted some risks, including one example where inconsistencies were found in apps that purported to help with opioid conversion calculations.

“That can be dangerous and lethal,” said Badawy. “No one is supervising it so a patient can download an app, open it, but maybe that information is inaccurate.”

The Food and Drug Administration only regulates mobile apps that function as a medical device, for example, an app that hooks up to an EKG heart monitor.

“The FDA focuses its regulatory oversight on only a small subset of mobile applications that may impact the performance or functionality of currently regulated medical devices and may pose a risk to patients if they don’t work as intended,” said an FDA spokeswoman in an email.

In recent years, the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on apps for false advertising.

In 2015, the FTC settled with one app developer whose “Mole Detective” family of apps instructed users to take a photograph of their moles, then purported to determine the users’ risk of melanoma. The company settled the complaint with the FTC and agreed to stop making claims concerning the app’s ability to detect melanoma without having sufficient evidence to back up those claims. 

“You just need to know what you’re getting yourself into and understand the risk and benefits which many of these companies don’t explain,” said Badawy.

<![CDATA[Drivers Play Waiting Game at Chicago-Area Rail Crossings]]> Tue, 31 Oct 2017 21:59:55 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/10P+VO+HOUR+TRAIN+TSE+-+00000701_29509884.png

Chicago-area drivers may be accustomed to waiting five or ten minutes for trains to pass at rail crossings. But imagine those delays stretching upwards of forty-five minutes to one hour.

Motorists on the far southeast side of Chicago said it’s not uncommon to see trains sitting on the tracks for long periods of time at the rail crossing south of the intersection of Brainard Avenue and Burnham Avenue in the Hegewisch neighborhood.

“There’s so many people on their way to work, on their way to school,” said driver Jeannie Conlin. “I just don’t understand why this allowed.”

NBC 5 Investigates watched as one freight train sat motionless on the tracks and blocked the crossing for nearly an hour on a recent Thursday afternoon. Drivers who grew tired of waiting turned around and headed for other roads that could take them across the tracks.

“A lot of the old timers, they just stop over there and sit there and wait for them to go by. Not me,” said Chester Skinbinski of Hegewisch.

While there are five tracks owned by three different railroads at the Brainard and Burnham crossing, Norfolk Southern said it owns the tracks in question.

“In order to serve customers and coordinate the movement of passenger and freight rail operations over these tracks, some crossings can be blocked at times,” a company spokesperson said.

According to a motorist delay analysis by the Illinois Commerce Commission, Chicago area drivers get delayed at least 7,800 hours every weekday at rail crossings. The study shows some of the longest waits occur at crossings in LaGrange, Des Plaines, Blue Island and Downers Grove.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) created an interactive map showing grade crossings with reputations for long wait times. Check here to see if the crossing near you makes the list. 

But if you think local governments can prevent trains from blocking rail crossings, think again.

A decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2008 essentially removed all power from local and state governments in Illinois to issue citations to trains that delay traffic. The decision was based on the argument that railroads are part of interstate commerce and therefore can only be regulated by the federal government.

There is currently no federal rule that prohibits trains from blocking public grade crossings.

The Illinois Commerce Commission said drivers can still reach out to state and federal agencies with their rail crossing concerns.

“We can help with the coordination efforts with the Federal Railroad Administration and then it’s getting together with the parties to see if it was an isolated incident or if it’s something that’s a continuing problem and maybe there are solutions to it,” said ICC senior rail safety specialist Brian Vercruysse.

One solution could potentially be for a railroad to adjust either the speed or the length of its trains in order to prevent rail crossing blockages. Those are also subject matters covered by federal law.

A public-private partnership called CREATE is currently working to improve rail crossings and decrease driver wait times. So far, CREATE has spent $1 billion on 28 projects. There are a total of 70 planned projects, although many still need funding.

You can see if a rail crossing near you will be improved by clicking here.

Norfolk Southern said drivers who prefer not to wait at the crossing near Brainard and Burnham can use the underpass at Torrence Avenue and 130th Street. The new underpass, which was funded by CREATE and completed in 2015, is located a mile and a half away.

“Based on the number of vehicles crossing the tracks, railroad volume, traffic delays and potential growth in the area, CREATE selected the Torrence Ave. and 130th Street crossing as the location that would have the biggest impact,” said the Norfolk Southern spokesperson.

Still, drivers who may be unfamiliar with the area may not see any signs pointing them to the new underpass.

So many keep waiting.

<![CDATA[CFD at O’Hare Practices a Different Kind of Firefighting]]> Fri, 27 Oct 2017 16:07:28 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/217*120/ohare+fire.png

At O’Hare airport, Lt. Leonard Edling of the Chicago Fire Department notes one big difference about what he does for a living.

“Our fires arrive at 150 miles an hour,” he observes. “Our number one priority is the passengers and crew on that aircraft.”

The skills of firefighters like Edling and dozens of others at O’Hare were called upon a year ago, when the number two engine of an American Airlines 767 exploded on takeoff, engulfing the right side of the aircraft in burning jet fuel.

“Fuel was just gushing out,” recalls Ass’t. Deputy Commissioner Tim Sampey. “You have a burning aircraft that is loaded with fuel. So the potential for explosion is enormous!”

Firefighting at O’Hare and Midway is a unique calling, with extremely unique equipment. On a recent morning, Edling took NBC5 for a ride in an Oshkosh Striker fire vehicle---a mammoth rig specifically designed to fight fires on burning airplanes.

“We can actually pump and roll with this apparatus up to about 50 miles an hour,” he said, “while we are actually rolling up to the aircraft.”

The truck is enormous --- so big you can stand up in the cab behind the steering wheel with plenty of headroom. An operator inside uses a joystick to fire either a front mounted cannon-type nozzle, or a giant boom, which can deliver hundreds of gallons a minute.

“Fighting an aircraft fire, you’re working in a small confined space with a lot of people in there,” he observes. “It’s like working a fire in a hallway.”

Trucks like the Striker carry 4500 gallons of water, another 620 gallons of fire retardant foam, as well as a chemical known as halatron and 500 lbs of a dry agent called “purple k”.

Jet fuel floats on water. The foam smothers the burning fuel, and cools it at the same time. If need be, the trucks can roll back through their firehouses, re-fill their tanks in minutes, then return to the fire.

“We start by starting at the fuselage of the aircraft and working our way out,” Edling said. “We’re trying to separate the fuel and the fire to create a rescue path.”

In the sprawling Rescue-1 firehouse at midfield, the central feature of a windowed control room is a single red phone---a hotline from the O’Hare control tower. If controllers ring that phone and declare a “crash alert”, all aircraft traffic is stopped on the field to allow the fire crews to get where they need to be.

The goal---the center point of any runway within 3 minutes.

“If all goes well they’re going to most likely have most of the passengers off the aircraft as we’re arriving,” Edling said. That was the case with the American Airlines fire. The flight attendants were so efficient with that evacuation, every passenger was off the plane in less than 2 and a half minutes.

“People were screaming, running away from the fire,” firefighter Bob Gembala recalled. “As they came down from the slides, I just had them come towards me, out of harm’s way.”

The crews train constantly. In O’Hare’s “burn pit”, a giant steel aircraft can be set ablaze with propane, so crews can practice the most effective ways of putting it out. When American 383 erupted in flames, it was a scenario all of the firefighters knew by heart.

“The entire staff out here at O’Hare had just finished this training to the exact letter, with the same incident that just happened with the aircraft engine fire,” observes Kevin Murphy, a live fire training specialist with the Chicago Fire Department. “When our members got out to the scene, we fought it just like we trained the week prior.”

Of course, if all goes well, their expertise is never needed. In fact, one firefighter working flight 383 that day was marking his last official day on the job.

In over three decades with the Chicago Fire Department, it was his very first aircraft fire.

Photo Credit: Hector Cardenas]]>
<![CDATA[One Year After Jetliner Fire, Memories Linger, Mysteries Remain]]> Thu, 26 Oct 2017 22:01:01 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/217*120/ohare+fire.png

One year after she nearly died on a flaming jetliner at O’Hare, Kathy McLoyd says she still fears something will happen. 

“I didn’t die in an airplane,” she says. “I kind of cheated death, but I can’t get over this fear that it’s going to happen some other kind of way.” 

Kathy and her husband Peter were sitting in row 29 of American Airlines flight 383 last October 28, bound for Miami, when the right engine exploded on takeoff. With the right side of the aircraft engulfed in flames, the captain managed to stop on O’Hare’s runway 28 right, just as the giant jetliner reached takeoff speed. 

Had the explosion happened just a few seconds later, after the plane lifted off the runway, the results almost certainly would have been catastrophic. 

“There was an explosion, and then fire immediately,” Peter recalled. “You could tell it was pretty intense, and you could see it moving toward the rear of the plane.”

Inside the giant Rescue 1 firehouse in the center of the field, firefighters actually saw and heard the engine explode.

“You heard a big bang,” firefighter Bob Gembala told NBC5. “I just ran out the door, and jumped in my truck.” 

At that very minute, the firehouse’s red hotline from the control tower began to ring. Controllers declared a “crash alert” and stopped every airplane on the field, giving the O’Hare firefighters the run of the airport. 

“As soon as those doors opened, and I saw that big ball of smoke and flame, it was a first for me,” said fire captain Jonathan Ross. “When we arrived on scene, it was really burning!” 

Investigators would later learn that a fan disk inside the engine had flown apart, a catastrophe known as an uncontained engine failure. One piece had flown thru the wing, and ended up crashing though the roof of a cargo facility thousands of feet away. 

When that happened, it severed a fuel line. And with the wing loaded with 3,000 gallons of jet fuel, fire was gushing everywhere as the first crews arrived. 

“It was a flowing liquid fire, so the fire was burning as it was flowing out of the plane,” deputy commissioner Tim Sampey recalled. “You have a burning aircraft that is loaded with fuel, so the potential for explosion is enormous.” 

Inside the aircraft, Peter and Kathy McLoyd were scrambling for the exits with 159 other passengers, as fire roared outside. 

“I hear Peter like, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” Kathy said. “We gotta move!”

“I was thinking that we might not make it, that we probably were not going to make it,” her husband remembered. “Because I could see how fast the fire was moving to the back.”

Just ahead of them, an off-duty pilot managed to open the left over-wing exit. The National Transportation Safety Board says that door was the first to open, just ten seconds after the aircraft came to a stop.

“I really had doubts that we would get off the plane,” McLoyd says. “And you could hear the people around you screaming.” 

The McLoyds did escape the aircraft, along with all other passengers and nine crew members.

“I wasn’t scared when I was in the plane,” she says. “I was scared going down the slide!” 

Kathy McLoyd landed in a heap at the bottom and said she couldn’t get up. Her husband slid down just behind her, got her to her feet, and hurried her to edge of the runway as the fire roared behind them. 

At that point, he collapsed in the grass, doubling over in pain. Somehow, he had managed to lead his wife to safety, running on a broken foot. 

“I can still hear the sound,” he says. “What I imagine must have been fuel leaking and hitting the fire, pop—pop—pop!” 

Official reports say the last person off the plane escaped just 2 minutes and 21 seconds after it stopped rolling. 

For the O’Hare firefighters on scene, who train for such an event every day, it was their first real aircraft fire. 

“The entire staff out here at O’Hare had just finished this training to the exact letter, with the same incident that just happened with the aircraft engine fire,” says fire instructor Kevin Murphy. “So when our members got to the scene, we fought it just like we trained.” 

The incident is still under investigation. The engine in question, a General Electric CF6 80C2, is a workhorse for the world’s jet aircraft. Preliminary reports point to cracks radiating from anomalies in the metal of the stage 2 fan disk which failed. That disk is about 2 feet in diameter, but when it flew apart, the shrapnel flew out at enormous speed. 

Other disks in similar GE engines have suffered failures in the past, but this was the very first explosion involving that stage 2 disk. Investigators grew so concerned, they actually tracked down an aircraft containing the only other disk from the same metal casting as the part which failed in Chicago. 

But that disk passed inspection. 

GE spokesman Rick Kennedy says a similar call went out to examine all stage 2 disks in all CF6-80 C2 engines in service during routine maintenance. All appeared normal. 

A final report on the crash is expected from the NTSB early next year. 

In the meantime, the McLoyds have moved on. Peter still has trouble with his foot, and receives treatment for PTSD. Both have flown again, but say they find it difficult. 

“It gets a little easier,” he says. “I don’t think takeoffs and landings will ever be the same.”

Photo Credit: Hector Cardenas]]>
<![CDATA[Chicago's Rat Tree Comes Tumbling Down]]> Wed, 25 Oct 2017 22:01:49 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/RATSINVESTIGATES_29371717.jpg

The rat tree is gone. Reduced to a mere hollowed out stump sitting in the 1900 block of North Mozart. Early on Monday morning, a crew from the city Bureau of Forestry pulled up in front of Jennifer River’s house and began chopping away.

Four hours later, the tree that residents said was a high-rise rat condo was no longer.

“So, it turns out the rat tree was really a rat tree?” The question was put to Wanda Goin, who also lives on the block. “Yes, we didn’t make it up. We really didn’t,” she said.

No, they didn’t.

But let’s back up, to last Thursday and what Rivera and Goin said at the time.

“I think this past year is probably the worst I’ve seen for rats,” Goin said.

“I see them a lot during the day time,” exclaimed Rivera.

Crawling in and out of that nasty old tree, some the size of small kittens, according to Goin.

“The rats have hollowed into and are nesting there,” she said as she poked a stick into one of the many holes in the tree.

That was Thursday. Then came Friday---hours after our report--- and the city was baiting the tree with rat poison, said Goin.

On Monday morning a city crew was back in a big blue Streets and Sanitation truck with a lift to hoist a worker with a saw and big reddish-orange pinchers to pick up the detritus.

But wait! The city just a few weeks ago balked at cutting the tree down, Goin originally told us.

“They came out and said the tree is healthy, we won’t cut it down,” she said.

It’s not that the residents on the block don’t like trees, they do, she stresses, just not ones with rats in them.

The stump that now remains contains the residue of those dirty rotten rats and holes, that Goin says, still lead into resident’s yards. “They’ve dug a tunnel under here and then from that house under to the next yard,” she said, adding residents “can’t see the tunnel but they can hear the rats.”

Still the tree is gone and people on the block are pleased. “I think its kudos to everyone who was involved in this, NBC 5, our alderman who backed us and got it down and definitely to the forest service who finally took it down,” she said. “Well thank you guys, all of you very, very much.”

So, take that you dirty rotten rats!

<![CDATA[Judge Baffled After Being Told She Was on ‘Terrorist List']]> Wed, 25 Oct 2017 17:48:11 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/JUDGE+NO+FLY+-+00000502_29440875.jpg

Yolande Bourgeois does not fit the standard description of a terrorist.

After all, she’s a Cook County judge.

“If you’re looking at me, then who’s looking at the real terrorists out there?” she asks. “What could I possibly have done, to be put on a list?”

The story begins Oct. 13, as Bourgeois was flying back from Cancun with two friends. Because of weather, her flight was diverted to Indianapolis where she had to spend the night. But when it came time to re-board the next day for the short flight to Chicago, things changed. That’s when she received a boarding pass with the designation “SSSS” in the upper left and lower right corners. And that set off alarms with the first TSA agent she met.

“He looked down at it and he looked up at me, and he looked down again and he looked back up at me.” she said “And then he goes, ‘I need a supervisor over here!’”

Bourgeois, who was in Cancun celebrating her 65th birthday, says the supervisor arrived quickly.

“He hands her my documents, she looks at it and she goes, ‘Her?’,” she recalled. “She said, they’ve got you on a known terrorist list, and I said---what??”

What ensued was a full body pat-down, a search through her suitcase, and a demand that she switch on all electronics.

“You know, it’s kind of hard to concentrate on what’s going on over there when you’ve got somebody feeling all over your body,” she said. “And by this time they’ve got six or seven TSA agents, all for me!”

The judge says she had barely noticed the “SSSS” designation on her boarding pass.

“I’m like, who did this to me, who put me on a known terror list? And they all said, it’s the airline.”

“SSSS” stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. A spokesman for American Airlines referred NBC 5 Investigates to the Transportation Security Administration, where spokesman Michael McCarthy said the Indianapolis agent “misspoke”, that it was not the airline which branded the judge with the disheartening security designation, but rather the TSA’s own Secure Flight protocols.

McCarthy said he could not discuss why someone receives the SSSS mark, noting that TSA intentionally keeps its security methods random and unpredictable. While some receive that brand because of certain security triggers, he said, others are selected purely at random.

“I want my name off that list,” the judge said. “That’s what I want---I want it off!”

That might be easier said than done. If her selection was purely random, she might not ever be chosen again. But if there was something about her flight, or her background, which caused her to actually be put on a list, her only choice is to apply for “redress” from the TSA, where travelers can receive a Redress Control Number which can help reduce their chances of making the SSSS list in the future.

Until then, McCarthy said, a traveler’s best bet may be to see if they are chosen again on their next flight.

While Bourgeois, who’s been a judge for ten years, can laugh about her episode, she grows serious when she speaks of the potential ramifications.

“Is anyone safer because I’m on a terror list?” she asks. “I don’t think so!”

<![CDATA[Gas Station Knew of Leak Before Suburban Explosions: IEPA]]> Tue, 24 Oct 2017 18:52:59 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Strg_+APARTMENT+BUILDING+EXPLOSION++-+00011120_29383155.jpg

A west suburban gas station knew about a gas leak issue several days before explosions and fires rattled a neighborhood and injured two people, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

It is not the first time the Speedway located at 6241 South Cass Avenue in Westmont has reported a leaking underground tank, state records show.

Last Friday, gas explosions rocked an apartment complex on Knoll Wood Road in Willowbrook. The incident displaced residents and sent an 81-year-old woman to the hospital.

Authorities traced the source of the explosions a mile away to the Speedway in Westmont.

State environmental officials said the Speedway reported it had become aware of an issue with loss of product on October 16th and began pumping its product tanks on October 19th. However, the Illinois EPA said it only received notice of the incident on October 20th.

The gas station has since been isolated from the sanitary sewer and was shut down.

The Illinois EPA has referred an enforcement action to the Illinois Attorney General against Speedway LLC for releasing gasoline into the sanitary sewer system in DuPage County. The agency is seeking an order that would require the company to immediately control any additional gas station at the site, investigate the cause of the release and remediate contamination and continue air monitoring on the sewer line.

A spokesperson for Speedway said an investigation into the incident is ongoing and the company is working closely with all appropriate local and state agencies to address and resolve the incident. Speedway has also assembled an emergency response team of more than 100 employees who are currently in impacted neighborhoods visiting with residents and businesses.

A state database shows leaks from the Speedway’s underground tanks were also reported in 2009 and 2016.

NBC 5 Investigates has learned the state has issued 5,699 citations for leaking underground tanks in Greater Chicago since 2013.

The Chicago Department of Public Health said as of September 2017, a total of 3,959 leaking underground storage tanks within the city have been cleaned up while 797 remain.

Cleanup is the responsibility of the property owner or operator and managed by the Illinois EPA.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal does not regulate “residential” underground storage tanks.

Photo Credit: Captured News]]>
<![CDATA[City Trims 5 Hazardous Trees After NBC 5 Investigates Report]]> Fri, 20 Oct 2017 19:06:50 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/BUCKTOWNTREE_29340658.jpg

There are five fewer potentially hazardous trees standing in the city of Chicago two days after NBC 5 Investigates reported a backlog of open service requests for tree trims in the city.

On Friday, Bureau of Forestry workers and a ComEd crew removed the five trees from city parkway near the 4500 block of W. Agatite, including a tree that had been leaning on power lines and resting on a building owned by the family of Karl Slowiak.

Slowiak said he had repeatedly voiced his concerns to the city in order to protect pedestrians from possible danger and to keep his building from being damaged.

“Hats off to the Channel 5 news team. The tree removal crew removed all five trees from the property today. Your prompt action has indeed made my day and Chicago a safer place to live,” Slowiak said.

A spokesperson for 39th Ward Ald. Margaret Laurino said the alderman helped expedite the tree removal process after NBC 5 investigates contacted the office for comment.

City data shows 10,492 open service requests for “tree trims” since May. It’s important to note that some requests may have been made for the same trees.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation said it works diligently to remove or trim trees that are dead or hazardous. A spokesperson said when the tree removal or trimming involves electrical lines, the department must collaborate and coordinate with ComEd to avoid any hazard to tree-trimmers and other passersby.

<![CDATA[Oh Rats! Neighbors Want City to Remove 'Rat Tree']]> Thu, 19 Oct 2017 22:00:43 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/RATSINVESTIGATES_29371717.jpg

In the 1900 block of North Mozart, with a mixture of new and older housing---and foliage readying for fall---Wanda Goin readies for the battle of the day.

“I think this past year is probably the worst I’ve seen for rats,” she says.

On this block, it’s not just rats in the alleys that have residents up in arms. It’s rats---are you ready for it?---living in a tree. It is a regular run-of-the-mill tree but with some ugly exceptions.

There are holes in the bottom.

Holes in the trunk.

And what appear to be holes way up.

Call it a high-rise rat warren, with some rats, says Goin, the size of a kitten. “About like that,” she says, her hands together as if holding a kitty.

“The rats have hollowed into and are nesting there,” she says as we tentatively approach the tree with a four foot stick she intends to poke into one of the holes.

“I am just terrified that something’s going to run out,” she says, but this time nothing does.

The tree is emblematic of Chicago’s rat problem, which once again, saw a hefty increase in rat complaints over the summer months.

One year ago we chronicled rat complaints and this year asked the city for similar numbers for the summer months of June, July and August.

In 2014 there were 10,563.

In 2015: 10,741.

In 2016: 13,520.

And this year: 14,840.

That’s a whopping 40% increase in rat complaints in those months from 2014 to 2017.

Last year we asked Charles Williams, who heads Streets and Sanitation about the numbers:

“The only way to manage their population is by killing the rodents. Nothing else is going to work,” Williams said at the time.

Last year the city said it added 10 new crews and baiting increased by 40%.

This year?

The city would not speak on camera but replied to our inquires with a statement reading in part, “the increase in reports may be attributed to the increased outreach for residents to report rodent sightings.”

And the Emanuel administration announced just last week five additional crews will be added in the battle of the rodents.

The rats, as many people will tell you, have broken curfew. They are no longer just nocturnal nuisances.

“I see them a lot during the day time,” says Jennifer Rivera. The rat tree sits in front of her house and she has captured video of a baby rat running around the tree with her cell phone camera.

“They come out during the day, they come out at night,” the mother of small children says, and she is not at all happy with what transpires on her block.

Residents say they went to their alderman---Proco Joe Moreno---who called the city’s Forestry Department.

They (the Forestry Department) came out and said the tree is healthy, we won’t cut it down,” Goin recalls. “I went back again and said ‘it’s got rats in it.’ ”

Citywide officials have tried dry ice to kill rats and a poison to make them infertile. But one group says the city is really barking up the wrong tree.

“Those remedies will work to some degree but I think when they problem is as widespread as it is right now, we need alternative solutions as well,” says Darlene Duggan.

She is with Tree House Humane Society, a group that promotes the use of feral cats to control rat populations. But she says her group hasn’t had much interaction with the city.

“Conversations haven’t happened yet,” says Duggan.

Back to the rat tree, residents say they aren’t asking for much…just a city crew…and a saw---so they can say so-long to the dirty, rotten rats terrorizing their neighborhood.

“They are bolder, they’re bigger and we know at least one home that they are living in,” says Goin.

A home---in a tree--- right in front of Jennifer Rivera’s, which is decorated for Halloween.

“Which is scarier, the rats or Halloween stuff,” she is asked?

“Definitely the rats.”

<![CDATA['Ladies of Steel': Chicago-Area Women Learn Gun Etiquette]]> Wed, 18 Oct 2017 22:37:07 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ladiesofsteel_29356432.jpg

Deboree never thought she would own a gun, until, “I had an incident where I didn’t feel safe,” she said.

Firearms have always scared Toni. And now? “It makes me feel a little bit more secure when I’m by myself,” said the new owner of a 9mm pistol.

On a recent night both women, whose last names we are not using, found themselves at an Oak Lawn gun range, surrounded by other “Ladies of Steel” bound by a desire to learn how to handle and fire a weapon.

It began with Javondlynn Dunagan, a former federal probation officer, who started her business, JMD Self-Defense earlier this year. “I wanted to make sure that I could protect my family if I needed to,” Dunagan said as she sat in a room overlooking the gun range. “I started realizing that a lot of women are afraid of firearms, like I used to be and figured if I had overcome my fear they could do it to.”

Once a week the women gather in a small storefront. Currently there are 44 women, ages 30-to-80, who learn how to defend themselves with and without a gun.

“It’s like girl power,” Dunagan said, “it’s like a support group. It really is.” The women come, she said, motivated by the violence in Chicago.

They have secured their Illinois Firearm Owners Identification card and most have a conceal and carry license.

According to the Illinois State Police 263,706 conceal and carry permits have been issued as of the end of September. Of that number

47,566 (18%) were issued to women. In Chicago 29,938 conceal and carry permits have been issued. Of that number 5,460 (18%) are women. Among them is Shirley, who has lived in her South Side neighborhood for 20 years.

Asked in a city awash with blood and guns does it feel like she’s joined the dark side as opposed to the good side, Bond replied, “No, it feels like I joined a side that will be able to see light coming out of the darkness.”

In class, the women learn how and where to carry their weapon. In an interview on the front stoop of her home Bond, wearing a Ladies of Steel blue denim jacket, said she would never carry her weapon in her purse.

“You got to get to it,” she said. “So, I don’t have to be wait, wait a minute before you do this to me let me get my piece, you know.”

Ask the women what they get from the gun club and almost to a person, the word they most often use is empowerment.

“Because I am in control of my situation, well I hope to be able to be in control of my situation,” Deboree said.

“We are in control of the guns. People only get hurt by the person that is behind it,” echoed Toni.

The most recent trip to the gun range came just days after the mass shooting in Las Vegas and as the issue of stricter gun control laws once again became part of a national debate.

“What we are preaching and teaching,” said Dunagan, “is responsible ownership.” Adding, “I know they can do harm if I am irresponsible with them or if I go out and try to harm somebody.”

But could these women, if they were forced to, shoot not a target but someone who threatened their own life?

“God forbid I definitely don’t want to kill anyone but I don’t want anybody killing me either,” said Shirley.

“To be truthful, I don’t know,” admitted Deboree.

“I can’t answer that,” said Toni. “I don’t know what I would do in a case like that.”

But being prepared, said Dunagan, is a part of what these women are learning.

As to the ultimate question?

“If it meant saving my life, yes. Or my family members life, absolutely,” Dunagan said, adding quietly, “I pray I never have to.”

<![CDATA[Chicago Has Backlog of Hazardous Trees Awaiting Removal]]> Wed, 18 Oct 2017 18:12:29 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/BUCKTOWNTREE_29340658.jpg

Records kept by the city of Chicago show the number of dead or hazardous trees on city property is creating a backlog of service requests and residents may have to wait months for potentially problematic trees to be addressed.

Karl Slowiak said he has repeatedly voiced his concerns to the city about a tree located near the 4500 block of West Agatite Avenue. The tree is located on city parkway and is leaning on power lines and resting on a building owned by Slowiak’s wife.

“I just don’t want to see anybody get hurt and I don’t want to see my building get damaged,” Slowiak said.

City data shows 10,492 open service requests for “tree trims” since May. It’s important to note that some requests may have been made for the same tree.

Emily Vyncke and her mother were crossing the street at Oakley and McLean in Bucktown Saturday night when they were trapped by a falling tree. Luckily, they were not seriously injured.

While Vyncke said she didn’t know it at the time, the dead tree was scheduled to be removed after neighbors had called in concerns about it since June.

“Enough people in the area knew this was so dangerous,” Vyncke told NBC 5’s Chris Hush. “They were telling people to cross the street or walk far away from it.”

The Department of Streets and Sanitation said it works diligently to remove or trim trees that are dead or hazardous. A spokesperson said when the tree removal or trimming involves electrical lines, the department must collaborate and coordinate with ComEd to avoid any hazard to tree-trimmers and other passersby.

The city said it is working with ComEd to address the tree leaning on the building owned by Slowiak’s wife. Additionally, a spokesperson for 39th ward alderman Margaret Laurino said the city is doing its best to expedite the tree removal.

“I hate to see this go into where somebody gets hurt and there’s a tragedy and then they take action,” Slowiak said.

<![CDATA[Kids Potentially Affected by Massive Equifax Data Breach]]> Tue, 17 Oct 2017 22:09:43 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/EQUIFAX+BROLL+KATIE+KIM+-+08240821_29336550.jpg

Cyber-security experts are urging parents to check the credit reports of their children, following the massive data breach at credit firm Equifax.

“This breach was so pervasive that everyone from children, all walks of life, every type of profession, even heads of state had their information stolen,” said Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security Inc.

Equifax announced more than 145 million Americans may have had sensitive, private information exposed in the hack. The potential breach includes names, social security numbers, addresses and dates of birth.

Since the September announcement of the cybersecurity incident, families have been checking Equifax’s online vulnerability tool to determine if their information may be compromised.

For the Bailey family of five, both parents found they may be impacted, along with their 7-year-old son Seamus.

“We couldn’t believe it,” said mom Susan Bailey. “We just randomly figured we would put everyone’s (information) in there to just see if our kids had been breached at all – never thinking that would happen.”

The site indicated Bailey’s two older sons, ages 11 and 13, were not part of the breach, according to Bailey.

“Someone could be using (Seamus’) information and doing whatever they want with it until possibly he turns 18…maybe he’ll try to get a credit card, maybe we’ll try to get a car and then we find out someone has been using his identity for years,” Bailey said.

Bailey said when her family alerted Equifax to the issue, a spokesperson told her that while the company was offering free services to adults, it did not have any relief for minors.

Equifax did not return NBC 5 Investigates’ repeated requests for comment. On its website, Equifax states it “does not typically have information associated with minors.” However, that does not explain why Seamus’ information was flagged in the potential breach.

Bailey said her husband submitted a complaint and received an email response from Equifax’s Customer Care Team that requested the family provide a letter and copies of the child’s social security number and birth certificate so the company can conduct an investigation. The Baileys said they did not disclose this information to Equifax.

According to cybersecurity experts, one reason why malicious hackers target children is because they know no one is regularly checking credit reports. Children don’t have lines of credit open in their name, but their names and social security numbers are shared for a myriad of reasons – school and sports registration, doctors’ offices, passports. Experts said those could be areas of weaknesses.

“With the Equifax breach, once (the hackers) have first name, last name, date of birth, address, social security number, they bank that and when a child hits legal age, they will now apply for lines of credit, credit cards, loans, vehicle loans, the list goes on and on,” Guccione said. “They bank children’s information and use it at a later time.”

Guccione said parents should consider putting a freeze on their children’s credit. A freeze keeps credit bureaus from releasing credit reports, which would prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts or lines of credit in the child’s name. 

Unlike in several states, parents in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana can request credit freezes for their minor children. 

Consumers must contact the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – individually to request the freeze. In Illinois and Wisconsin, there are charges to freeze and thaw a credit report. There are no charges to consumers in Indiana. 

For more information on how to request credit freezes, visit these links: 




<![CDATA[Defense Accuses SA of Delaying Police Corruption Case]]> Thu, 12 Oct 2017 18:45:46 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/McDanial+Court+Rogers+int+2+-+00013119_29279907.jpg

The defense attorney for a man jailed for nine years based on the testimony of a trio of alleged corrupt officers blasted the State’s Attorney’s office Thursday, accusing prosecutors of dragging their feet in the case.

“If you’re going to fight this case, then you have to fight this case,” an incredulous attorney Joshua Tepfer said outside of court. “You can’t just do nothing!”

Tepfer represents Anthony McDaniels, who was arrested on gun charges in 2008. McDaniels insisted he was framed by a tactical team headed by Sgt. Ronald Watts, who ended up going to prison himself on corruption charges. Three of Watts’ officers who testified against McDaniels have been tied to other cases which have since been overturned.

So far, at least eight convictions tied to the Watts team have been thrown out, on allegations of frame-ups and fabricated evidence.

“This isn’t close---these are criminals,” Tepfer said. “The police are criminals here and my clients are the victims.”

In a petition filed in Criminal Court, Tepfer noted that McDaniels first filed a motion seeking his freedom last March.

“The County now informs petitioner---who is sitting in prison---that the case has not yet even been assigned,” the petition states. “The State’s Attorney’s office cannot have it both ways---it either needs to agree with the request for relief, or it needs to litigate the matter.”

In a statement, the State’s Attorney’s office said it had conducted a thorough review of the case, and that McDaniels’ claim of innocence was not supported by the evidence. And they blamed ongoing delays on Cook County’s budget woes.

“As a result of recent budget cuts and staffing shortages, the Post-Conviction Unit has approximately three full-time attorneys who are currently tasked with handling over 300 cases each,” the statement said. “The State’s Attorney’s Office has recently reassigned another attorney to the Post-Conviction Unit to reallocate resources to this critical area of the office.”

Tepfer questioned the commitment of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who blasted her predecessor Anita Alvarez for failure to act on cases involving allegations of police corruption.

“If they want to uphold this conviction, they need to stand by those officers,” he said. “And that’s apparently what they’re doing.”

Watts and another member of his team, Kallatt Mohammed, both served prison terms four years ago, for allegedly shaking down a man they believed to have been a drug courier. During his guilty plea, Mohammed admitted he and Watts had demanded protection payoffs for years from drug dealers at the former Ida B. Wells Housing Project.

Mohammed served an 18 month term in prison, and Watts was sentenced to 22 months.

NBC5 Investigates has previously reported that two officers who worked undercover investigating the Watts team alleged that the entire unit was corrupt.

“If they want to put those officers on the stand and stand up for those officers, then let’s have the hearing,” Tepfer said. “All three of these officers are, without a doubt, tied to the corruption led by Sergeant Ronald Watts.”

<![CDATA[Illinois Man Cased Ball Field Before Congressional Shooting]]> Thu, 07 Dec 2017 12:18:09 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/scalise-shooting-aftermath.jpg

The official report on June’s assault on a GOP baseball team in suburban Washington released Friday, says shooter James Hodgkinson of Belleville likely was planning the attack as early as last April. Four people were wounded in the attack, including Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Hodgkinson travelled to DC in March, announcing to his family he was going to “protest and talk about taxes.”

The report, issued by the Commonwealth Attorney for the City of Alexandria, says Hodgkinson drove his Ford conversion van to Washington and ended up living in that van in the Alexandria area, joining a YMCA to use the showers, and renting a storage unit where he reportedly stored his firearms and ammunition.

Files on his phone show that Hodgkinson recorded the field in April, and other witnesses remembered seeing him walking around Simpson Field in May.

“From these facts,” the report says, “it may be inferred that the suspect had already selected Simpson Field as a potential target as early as April 2017.”

The report says a citizen has reported seeing Hodgkinson at the Simpson Field shooting site on June 10, four days before the attack. The citizen is quoted as saying they believed the suspect had been “casing” the field.

Plus, at least one of the team members remembered seeing Hodgkinson sitting in the stands watching the team practice the morning before the incident.

Early on the morning of the assault, investigators said Hodgkinson approached two members of the congressional baseball team who were preparing to leave early, asking them whether the practice was for a Republican or Democratic team. Told it was Republicans on the field, “he said ok thanks, and walked away.”

“The suspect then went to his nearby van, and retrieved the black SKS-style assault rifle,” the report said.

Hodgkinson had loaded the weapon with 40 rounds in a so-called “banana” magazine. He had another 40 round magazine on his person, as well as his handgun which was in a holster and loaded with 8 rounds of 9mm ammunition.

Firing from the third base line, the report says the gunman fired at least 33 rounds from that position, before taking up another spot behind home plate, where he began firing again. He fired a total of 70 rounds from both weapons before eventually being shot and killed by officers from Alexandria and the U.S. Capitol Police.

“The agents and officers should be commended for their bravery and service,” the Commonwealth Attorney stated. “As others ran from the suspect, they engaged him and ran towards the danger.”

Capitol Police officer Crystal Griner was also wounded in the attack.

“The evidence in this case establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect, fueled by rage against Republican legislators, decided to commit an act of terrorism,” the report states. “The suspect…ambushed a peaceful assembly of people practicing baseball and began to fire indiscriminately in an effort to kill and maim as many people as possible.”

The report says the semi-automatic weapon used in the attack was legally purchased by Hodgkinson here in Illinois in March 2003. He also had a handgun during the assault, which he purchased it legally at a different Illinois dealer in November of last year.

“There was nothing in his background that would have legally prevented these sales,” the report states. “And no evidence that the firearms dealers did anything illegal.”

Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Lawsuit Seeks to Refund $3M in Suburban Red Light Tickets]]> Thu, 05 Oct 2017 20:09:08 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/speed_cameras_investigates.jpg

Attorneys claim 56,000 red light camera tickets have generated $3 million dollars for the village of Crestwood--but a lawsuit is looking to get that cash refunded.

At a busy Crestwood intersection, traffic isn’t the only headache for drivers.

"I have been going out to Crestwood for over 20 years now and I had never received a red light ticket," said Rosie Jones, a driver who's received a red light ticket.

But drivers say that all changed in the last year when a red light camera went up at Cicero Avenue and Cal Sag Road.

Crestwood’s mayor, Louis Presta, says the village has done nothing wrong.

Presta says this crossroad was the site of far too many accidents so the village asked the state for a deterrent--which I-DOT granted.

But attorneys who just filed a class action lawsuit argue a red light camera can’t go up where there’s no red light.

There’s no stop sign--there’s no traffic control device at all governing the right turn," said attorney Tom Zimmerman.

Today, there are clear signs of the nearby photo enforcement. The mayor says that’s more than enough warning to stop on red.

People see it but they don’t pay attention or they don’t want to pay attention to it," Presta said in a phone interview.

56,000 tickets and $3 million dollars in fines later--attorneys and drivers call it a trap.

"So I just don’t think that it was fair," said ticketed driver Debra Dembry. "Everybody should get their money back. There’s nothing there. There’s just nothing there."

Presta reiterated all the village did was request a red light camera.

He says I-DOT approved the permit and installed the camera according to state and federal regulations.

<![CDATA[Vegas Gunman Rented Hotel Room Overlooking Lolla: Sources]]> Thu, 05 Oct 2017 18:24:43 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/lollapalooza_split.jpg

The gunman who opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas Sunday booked rooms at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel during the run of Lollapalooza two months ago.

The annual music festival, which draws an estimated 100,000 music fans each summer, takes place directly across Michigan Avenue from the Blackstone in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Sources confirmed to NBC 5 Investigates that Stephen Paddock booked two rooms at the Blackstone Aug. 1-3. He reportedly requested adjoining rooms, and asked that those rooms face Grant Park.

But he never showed for the reservation.

Federal law enforcement sources tell NBC News that in addition to Chicago, Paddock also explored Boston’s Fenway Park and the Boston Center for the Arts. It isn’t believed that he booked any hotel rooms in that city.

In the aftermath of the Mandalay Bay massacre, investigators learned that Paddock had rented a high-rise condo in a building that overlooked the Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas. That event went off without incident just a week before the assault Sunday night.

Along Michigan Avenue today, passersby expressed concerns about the potential targeting of an event in Chicago which had been attended by so many thousands of people.

“All of this craziness could have happened to me and a lot of people I know that also attended Lollapalooza,” said Columbia College student Jake Eisendrath. “It does sometimes make me think, why go to large events?”

Bianca Delagarza, a visitor staying at a nearby hotel, expressed similar fears.

“It’s just so scary to think that in big crowds, bad things can happen,” she said. “I think I’m just going to avoid it altogether!”

Chicago police confirmed they were aware of the reports, and were in contact with their federal partners.

In a statement, the Blackstone emphasized that no one by the name of Stephen Paddock actually stayed in the hotel during the Lollapalooza run.

Why Paddock made the reservation and never used it isn’t clear. But as city crews across the street prepared for this year’s running of the Chicago Marathon, Wisconsin resident Bob Weiland said he heard early today from his son who attended Lollapalooza, alarmed by the new reports about the Las Vegas assailant.

“I think about it from the perspective that if it happened now, how do you get out of where you are?” he said.

Photo Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images; Paul Nagaro
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<![CDATA[Battle at Jackson Park]]> Wed, 04 Oct 2017 21:35:27 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/parkbenchdude_29173067.jpg

“Watch out there is just no sidewalk at all,” says Margaret Schmid, as we take a walking tour of Jackson Park, the 500-plus plot of public land on Chicago’s South Side that will one day house the Obama Presidential Library.

With her is Brenda Nelms. The two women are leaders of the Jackson Park Watch, an ad hoc group that has become a thorn in the side of the Chicago Park District, raising questions about the current operation of the Park, as well as what it will become and how it will be preserved.

Along the way there are broken sidewalks, busted benches, underpasses that routinely flood and a vacant music court.

“And it would be lovely to have that again,” Schmid says, “but now it’s all broken up.”

These are just a few of the issues Schmid and Nelms say they have taken to the Chicago Park District. “We bring attention to whatever seems to be the most interesting critical question and they rarely even say hello,” Schmid says.

Take a tour with Louise McCurry of the Jackson Park Advisory Council and you will see the rocky shoreline at 67th street that she says was once one of Chicago’s best beaches and is now filled with large rocks and concrete.

Or go a little farther south to what is supposed to be a place of serenity and you will find a nature preserve that is overgrown, in need of attention, not to mention, McCurry says, heightened security.

“It's a place where the local drug seller is there early in the morning,” McCurry notes.

Both Jackson Park Watch and the Jackson Park Advisory Council have certain things in common: they support the construction of the Presidential Library and they love this land. (Jackson Park Watch however raises questions about proposed traffic patterns.)

But the current state of parts of the park is what divides them and raises a critical question about how well it has been maintained.

“I think the Park District right now is our best resource in the city,” McCurry says and cites Jackson Park Watch with being a divisive force.

“Maybe when you come and yell at people and accuse people they are not as responsive as when you say how can we get this problem solved.”

“We are raising questions. Some people see that as trouble,” says Brenda Nelms.

Questions, for instance, about the Darrow bridge.

“The bridge has been closed for three years now,” Nelms says. “It’s been 15 years that people have been asking for it to be repaired.”

“We started bringing all those things out two years ago,” McCurry responds. “It’s important to say that the Park District is very responsive.”

“There’s just not been the kind of attention that us, and many others, would like to see,” according to Schmid.

Officials at the Chicago Park District, despite repeated requests, declined to be interviewed for this report.

But in a written statement the Park District noted it has invested---on average---just over $2-million a year over the past 10 years in Jackson Park. And reconstruction of the Darrow Bridge should begin next year with completion in 2019.

A proposed PGA golf course that would combine the 18-hole Jackson Park Golf Course and the 9-hole South Shore Golf Course also divides the two groups and Nelms and Schmid question how well the park will be maintained after the Obama Library is built.

“We are very skeptical that new installations, new plans will be maintained after the first five years…after the glitz wears off,” Nelms says.

“I’m a problem solver, not a criticizer, because criticizing doesn’t give you anything,” McCurry replies.

Asked if they are troublemakers, Schmid says, “I don’t think so.”

“We are asking questions trying to get answers that everyone should know,” says Nelms, as the Battle for Jackson Park continues.

<![CDATA[Dangerous Kane County Intersection to Get Safety Improvement]]> Tue, 03 Oct 2017 22:58:32 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/DANGEROUSINTERSECTION_29155962.jpg

Concerned neighbors in Kane County said their once quiet commute is putting themselves and other drivers in danger almost every day. They point to an intersection in Sugar Grove that’s been the site of nearly two dozen accidents since 2000, in which many drivers and their passengers have been sent to nearby hospitals.

“We hear tires screeching and horns blowing just about on a daily basis,” said Mark Vogtmann, who lives near the intersection of Scott Road and Harter Road.

Yonathan M. Contreras Chapa, 36, of Bartlett was killed after a wreck on September 9th. A spokesperson for the Kane County Sheriff said Contreras was traveling west in a 2003 Acura on Scott Road and failed to stop for the stop sign at the intersection of Harter Road. He collided with a 2000 Chevy Venture that was traveling north on Harter Road, which does not have a stop sign.

The accident remains under investigation.

Contreras is survived by a sister, Sara Contreras, who said her brother earned a master’s degree and received an award for the best grades at his university, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de México. She also said her brother went to church every Sunday and did not drink or smoke.

“He was working hard for his future,” Paola said. “He was about to start a business.”

NBC 5 Investigates has learned via a Freedom of Information Act request that 23 accidents have occurred at the intersection since 2000. More than half of the wrecks resulted in injuries.

Nichole Nortmann said her three-year-old son, Liam, suffered lacerations from his car seat as a result of an accident at Harter and Scott earlier this year.

“Thank heavens everybody survived, but it was very scary and it feels like I play the lottery every time we drive up and down the road,” Nortman said.

Neighbors said in the past they have been told there was not enough traffic at the intersection to install four-way stop signs. But during a recent Kane County Transportation Board meeting in which neighbors voiced their concerns, board members appeared willing to take action.

In fact, board member Bill Lenert said the county now plans to add a four way stop and a flashing light above the intersection.

“I think it’s very important that we not worry about the cost, but take care of what needs to be done and handle things properly,” Lenert said.

After a collision at the intersection on September 21st, the county responded by installing rumble strips in the road surface to help slow traffic.

Danielle Hines lives adjacent to the intersection. She said she won’t let her kids play in the back corner of her yard. However, she said she’s pleased the county is taking steps to prevent future accidents.

“Words cannot express how thankful I am to the county for approving a four way stop sign,” Hines said. “I think it will make a huge difference and save many lives.”

Lenert said the safety improvements could be completed within 30-60 days.

<![CDATA[Nuclear Plant on Lake Michigan to Stay Open]]> Thu, 28 Sep 2017 19:13:30 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/nuclearinvestigates.jpg

A controversial nuclear power plant on Lake Michigan is staying open another four years after the plant’s owner and a utility agreed to continue with an existing power purchase agreement.

The Palisades Power Plant in Covert, Michigan, sits on the shore of the Chicago area’s main source of drinking water. Plant owner, Entergy, previously announced that it would sell off its power contract to Consumers Energy and start the plant’s decommissioning process in 2018. The agreement was subject to regulatory approvals.

But Michigan regulators approved less buyout money than expected for Consumers Energy to buy out its contract with Entergy.

“After careful review, Consumers Energy and Entergy have mutually agreed that moving ahead under the terms of our current Palisades’ Power Purchase Agreement through 2022 is the best path forward,” said Katie Carey of Consumers Energy.

Entergy said it remains committed to its strategy of exiting the merchant nuclear power business.

“Entergy will continue to make all necessary investments and maintain appropriate staffing, in accordance with strict licensing standards,” said Charlie Arnone, Entergy’s top official at Palisades.

Still, activists who were pushing for the plant’s closure said the decision to keep the plant operating until 2022 puts the region at risk of potential public health and environmental threats.

Palisades has a recent history of reported leaks and shutdowns.

“This is not a win for a region to carry the risk for a company that is allowed to continue operating an old and particularly unsafe reactor for energy that is over-priced and not needed,” said Gail Snyder, board president for Nuclear Energy Information Service.

According to plant officials, the facility is safe and poses no danger to the public.

<![CDATA[Chicago Says No More Big Bellies--Company Says Not So Fast]]> Thu, 28 Sep 2017 21:48:40 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bigbelly0524.png

The City of Chicago says it is done with its near decade-long adventure with Big Bellies, the solar-powered compacting garbage cans which dot the Loop and Magnificent Mile.

But Big Belly’s parent company says it’s not done with Chicago, and is making a hard push to convince City Hall to give their robotic trash cans another look.

The units cost millions when they were first installed nine years ago. Earlier this year, NBC 5 Investigates revealed that the vast majority of the city’s 350 Big Bellies were neglected and not even connected----defeating their high-tech systems which compress trash and notify the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation when they need to be emptied.

Some even had no batteries, which the sun is supposed to charge.

At the time, Chicago officials refused a request for an interview. But after an open-records request revealed a litany of Streets and San complaints, City Hall relented and allowed commissioner Charles Williams to speak.

So, why are the majority of Big Bellies disconnected?

“It takes a large amount of our laborers time to service them and maintain them and they’re very expensive,” Williams said. “What we’re doing right now is keeping those working that we can, but we’re slowly phasing them out, and we’ll be replacing them with a new receptacle.”

A review of hundreds of Streets and San e-mails reveals complaints about freezing locks, balky software and undependable compactors. There were comments about rats chewing the wiring and poor performance during Chicago’s severe winters.

Plus, city officials said they became frustrated that while trash was compacted, a companion receptacle for recycling did not have the same technology.

“The handles get dirty, no one wants to touch the handle, consequently everything goes on the recycling side,” Williams said. “If we went by the one side that you received information from, the recycling container could be overflowing on the sidewalk.”

As a result, Williams said, crews very quickly began emptying both sides at the same time, defeating the need for compacting the trash.

“The repairs that we have to do to keep them going was very time consuming, very labor intensive,” he said. “We worked with them, and we learned from them.”

Plus, he complained that the batteries wear out every three to five years, and are costly to replace.

Williams acknowledged Big Belly had improved and updated the first-generation models Chicago bought. But he said it would cost at least $3 million to update the city’s armada of rusting refuse robots.

“To upgrade ours would have been very expensive,” he said. “We chose not to.”

But Big Belly is not taking the news lying down.

“Big Belly has deployed our system at scale throughout the world,” Vice-President Leila Dillon told NBC 5 Investigates. “Our very happy and satisfied customers include some of the world’s largest cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm, Boston and, as reported by NBC News, numerous customers in Chicago.”

Indeed, Dillon said the University of Illinois at Chicago, which already had ten Big Bellies, just ordered 50 more. She notes that the newest versions of the machines have foot pedals, alleviating the need for anyone to open the hoppers with their hands. They compact both trash and recyclables. And some even generate signals creating wi-fi hotspots.

“It should be noted that Big Belly has delivered a proposal to subsidize the cost of a new system while taking on the ownership of maintenance,” she said of the company’s deal with Chicago. “We have given the city proposals and options that can put a new Smart Waste system on the ground at cost neutral, or potentially even be revenue producing.”

Dillon said Big Belly has never had a client turn back from smart units cans to “dumb” trash cans which merely collect refuse. And she said they remain anxious to re-engage with the city to update the Big Belly fleet.

But Williams indicated he’s not interested in pursuing a Big Belly future.

“You try something new---if it works for you great, then you look for that next better product,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re looking for that next better product.”

<![CDATA[Homeowners Say Deck Product is Damaging Backyard Investments]]> Wed, 20 Sep 2017 21:46:15 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/DECKOFDOOM_28979497.jpg

Homeowners who were hoping to extend the lives of their decks with a brand-name resurfacing product say they may need new decks altogether after applying the product to their backyard investments.

At least two class action lawsuits have been filed against Behr and Home Depot, alleging Behr’s DeckOver deteriorates quickly and causes damage. DeckOver, a more expensive alternative to traditional paints and stains, is marketed as a long-lasting product that brings new life to old wood and concrete.

Several Chicago-area homeowners have already contacted law firms which have filed the lawsuits.

“I loved it for the first couple of years we had it until this year when it started to rot through,” said Terry Zitt of suburban Plainfield.

Zitt said he applied DeckOver to his older, upper deck in 2013 and said it worked great. The next year he applied DeckOver to his newer, lower deck. But several months ago, Zitt said he noticed his decks were chipping and trapping moisture.

“I’ve been out there on Sunday’s tearing the boards off and replacing boards because it’s rotting away,” Zitt said.

Mike Ammirata of Connecticut said he applied eight gallons of DeckOver in 2015, but has spent much of this summer scraping it off.

“I think we’ve been in the pool twice this year. You know why? We scraped and got sweated up and then jumped in the pool,” Ammirata said.

Behr offered Ammirrata eight more gallons of DeckOver or a refund for his purchase, which is in line with the product’s limited warranty. But he said that’s not good enough because he wants Behr to pay for someone to remove the paint.

Attorney Eric Gibbs of the Gibbs Law Group, which filed one of the lawsuits, said his firm has received inquiries from hundreds of disappointed consumers.

“Our lawsuit intends to cover all affected consumers nationwide, which means generally people are covered whether or not they contact us,” Gibbs said.

A spokesperson for Home Depot said the company was unable to comment due to pending litigation. Behr, too, said it was unable to provide further comment due to pending litigation.

But in court documents, attorneys for Home Depot and Behr deny that DeckOver does not live up to promises. And lawyers for Behr argue any issues with the product may be a result of improper preparation or maintenance.

However, Gibbs said the numbers don’t lie.

“We allege that the problem isn’t the people applying it, but rather that the product isn’t living up to the promises that justify the premium price people pay when they purchase it,” Gibbs said.

Zitt said he followed the application instructions. But he said he has yet to contact Behr and Home Depot with his concerns because he said he would not accept a refund for the product.

“I want them to get (the product) off because I don’t want to keep going out there every year and finding holes somewhere,” Zitt said.

Gibbs said concerned consumers who have used DeckOver should make sure water doesn’t get trapped in or around places where they’ve signs of peeling, cracking, bubbling, chipping or degrading. He also said consumers should document everything related to their DeckOver purchase, including receipts and “before and after” photos of their decks.

<![CDATA[Chicago Loses Suit Over 2014 New Year’s Eve Shooting]]> Tue, 19 Sep 2017 22:39:51 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Williamson-siblings.jpg

A Cook County jury has awarded a South Side family $4.75 million, in connection with a 2014 New Year’s Eve shooting where an officer was accused of blindly firing into the rear of a 105th Street home.

Kierra Williamson and two brothers, Michael and Princeton, were shot by a Chicago police officer responding to a report of shots fired by New Year’s revelers. Michael Williamson was in the Navy and home on leave at the time.

The family was represented by attorney Jeffrey Neslund, who also represented the family of LaQuan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014.

Testimony in the case stated that officer Wilfredo Ortiz fired 11 shots. Kierra Williamson was inside the house and was hit in the chest. Michael Williamson was on the porch and suffered wounds to the shoulder, back, and stomach. His brother Princeton was also on the porch and was hit at least three times.

Another brother, Thaddeus, suffered a graze wound to the cheek.

The Independent Police Review Authority ruled the shooting justified at the time.

Ortiz had insisted he saw a man on the porch pointing a gun at him who refused to drop the weapon.

"We are disappointed with the jury's verdict and are evaluating our legal options," Bill McCaffrey, of the Chicago Law Department, said.

Photo Credit: Williamson Family]]>
<![CDATA[Blagojevich Has Two Options For Freedom And One is Trump]]> Wed, 13 Sep 2017 21:51:18 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/blago+part+2.png

Rod Blagojevich vividly recalls the night Barack Obama won his historic first election as president of the United States.

The former Illinois governor says he went home to wife Patti and ruefully asked, “Do you think he’s going to the White House, and I’m going to the sh*t house?”

“I felt they were so determined to get me, they were hunting me and stalking me,” Blagojevich told NBC 5. “I felt they would stop at nothing to do something.”

Blagojevich is now serving a 14 year sentence at a Federal Penitentiary in suburban Denver. During two hours of wide-ranging interviews with NBC 5, his first since entering prison five and a half years ago, he spoke of his case, his past, and his future.

That past, just before his arrest, included the whirlwind of the Obama election. And on undercover tapes, he was heard sounding less than complimentary of the new President.

The former Illinois governor now says that in true context, he was actually only frustrated about his own plight.

“It’s a historic election, and good for America, great for America, when an African American can finally be elected to the highest office in the land,” he said. “There are conversations on tape that they never played where I’m talking to my brother about his talent and skill, and how I thought he would be a good president.”

“He was on his way to being president, and I was feeling increasing heat from these people who I felt were determined to get me,” he said. “And if he was going to be sent to the top of the mountain, I was fearful I was going to come crashing to the ground.”

He was right. The FBI came calling just a month later.

Right now, Blagojevich’s calendar holds an official release date of May 2024. But the former governor is preparing to make another run at an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. And he still has one other option.

Donald Trump.

Yes that Donald Trump. The same Trump who famously fired Blagojevich when he was a contestant on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010. Even though he dismissed the former Illinois governor midway through that season, Trump declared that his famous contestant had “great courage”.

Now, the boss of the boardroom is the leader of the free world. And a Blagojevich commutation petition has been in the President’s in-box since inauguration day.

“Yeah, like who’d of thought?” Patti Blagojevich asks. “That’s like…almost one of those fate things!”

The former Illinois first lady says she believes the President has a good opinion of her husband.

“I mean he said publicly on several occasions that he think’s Rod’s sentence was unfair,” she said. “I feel like if there was ever a president that would do it, and commute his sentence, it would be this president.”

For his part, Blagojevich suggested he has fond memories of his brief time in the Trump orbit.

“About President Trump I’ll say this---he’s been nothing but personally kind to me,” he said, recalling that Trump went out of his way to be kind to his daughters.

“He knew these two little girls were going through a very difficult time based on the things being said about their father, and he took a moment to say kind things to them, to encourage them about their father.”

“I’ll never forget that kindness, and I’ll always appreciate it,” he said. “He’s our president now and I hope he succeeds.”

That said, Blagojevich says he is focusing his hopes on the Supreme Court, not the White House.

“I owe it to the people of Illinois, frankly, to tough it out and to prove to them that I didn’t cross the line,” he said. “It would be easy to accept if I crossed the line, I would have acknowledged it, and I would not have gone through all of this and faced a 14 year prison sentence.”

Though both would of course welcome a commutation and the opportunity it would mean for freedom, Patti Blagojevich agrees that a court decision would mean true vindication.

“We’d prefer that a thousand times over, rather than just the President coming and saying ‘oh your sentence is commuted’, but you’re still a convicted felon and you have all of these convictions and you have to live with this for the rest of your life,” she said. “My daughters want to hold their heads high, being able to know that their father is not a criminal.”

Any approach to the nation’s highest court is, of course, always something of a legal hail Mary. And the timing of a Supreme Court petition can be lengthy.

Trump has no set timetable for ruling on requests from federal inmates. Presidential spokesman Kelly Love would only tell NBC 5 that the White House has “no announcements at this time.”

For now, Blagojevich waits. He sees his family, on average, three times a year. And insists he is optimistic about the future.

“I would do a shout-out to my fellow underdogs, that are facing powerful forces among us,” he says. “Don’t ever quit. Even if you hit rock bottom, as I have, put faith over fear, you’ve got to go through the fire. Run with patient endurance in the race that’s set before you, and if you have to, take a stand.”

“Even if the world misunderstands you, criticizes you and says you’re crazy, take a stand. Because you know what the truth is. And when you do it, my experience tells me, trust in God. You’re not alone. You never go alone. Put your faith in Him.”

<![CDATA[Exclusive: Blagojevich Maintains Innocence From Prison]]> Tue, 12 Sep 2017 22:02:36 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/blago+part+2.png

Silent in his public comments for five-and-a-half years, Rod Blagojevich has no apologies to offer. 

After all, the former Illinois governor still insists he did nothing wrong — and that he will prove it. 

Watch Part 1 of NBC 5's exclusive interview with Rod Blagojevich

"The rule of law is not a lump of clay to be put into the hands of prosecutors, to be shaped by them any way they want, to ensure convictions,” Blagojevich told NBC 5, breaking his silence for the first time since entering prison. "The law is the law, and the law is what the Supreme Court says it is." 

The Supreme Court is where Blagojevich is about to take a last stand. 

Blagojevich was relaxed, freewheeling and at times even funny over two hours of conversations with NBC 5. The former governor spoke of his family and his desire to set the record straight, once and for all.

"What sustains me during this very difficult long hard trial is the love I have for my children and my wife Patti," he said. "My kids can see from both of their parents that when adversity enters their life, when your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, and just about everything’s been taken from you, that you don’t quit---you keep going and you draw from the hardest suffering the inspiration to carry on."

The former governor’s 14-year sentence came as the result of two criminal trials, two appeals and one abortive trip to the Supreme Court. Federal prosecutors insisted at that time that the venue was inappropriate, because Blagojevich still had to be re-sentenced in the District Court, and the high court did not take his case.

Out of all of those, he did manage to get five counts dropped from his convictions in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. But when re-sentencing finally happened, his 14-year term was not shortened. 

Now he is preparing a second trip to the nation’s highest court, insisting that everyone up to this point has gotten it wrong. 

“I believe, because of the practical considerations, because of the fact that the law is what it is, by the Supreme Court being the highest court in the land and what they say is the law, that sooner or later what happened to me has to be corrected,” he said. 

Blagojevich is hoping the Supreme Court will listen as he essentially asks them to use his case to clarify when a politician steps over the line in fundraising because he insists he always stayed on the right side of that line and those who prosecuted his case got it wrong. 

“They not only didn’t follow what the Supreme Court says was the law, they actually followed what the Supreme Court said was not the law,” he said. “Now I’m fighting obviously for my vindication for, you know, my freedom, for a future, for what I believe is right. But I’m also fighting for the rule of law.” 

Specifically, he points to the landmark court case McCormick vs. the United States. That case said political fundraising crosses the line when a public official makes an explicit promise to perform an official act in exchange for a campaign contribution.

"By lowering that standard and saying that if an elected official seeks a campaign contribution from someone who may have benefitted by his or her administration, then that’s a crime?" he asks. "Then every former president that’s still alive is coming to prison, every governor that asks for campaign contributions, every mayor, every congressman, every senator. Because every single day they raise campaign contributions from people in and around the halls of government who do things."

The government argues it's not that simple. 

Prosecutors have long argued that Blagojevich did make clear to certain donors what he wanted them to do--if they wanted to see key projects go forward. Essentially, they argue, there were explicit promises, ala McCormick, communicated in an implied way. But Blagojevich and his lawyers insist that was never the case.

"The law is very clear. The only thing you must not do, you cannot make a specific promise," he said. "I never did. The government listened to all the tapes. They know I never did. They don’t even allege that I ever did. But in order to convict me, they moved the line and essentially convicted me on jury instructions that were nearly identical to what the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, said was not the law!"

When he agreed to the interviews with NBC 5, Blagojevich imposed no restrictions but said he wanted to talk about the case. And he wanted to talk about every aspect.

Take the allegations that he had attempted to shake down racetrack owner John Johnston for campaign contributions, in exchange for his signature on a bill favorable to the racing industry. 

“I had that bill for nine days,” he said. “The legislature just passed that bill a week or two before, and they were all raising money from those same horse racing guys at the time they were actually voting on the bill.” 

Prosecutors charged that undercover recordings made clear that Blagojevich was prepared to sit on the racing bill unless Johnston delivered. He insists that was not the case. 

“They sent me to prison because I did nothing one way or the other on that bill after having it for nine days,” he says. “The idea that they would hold me accountable when I haven’t done anything one way or the other on a bill, having it for nine days and I have fifty one more days to act on it, to me shows how these are non-existent crimes.”

Then there were the allegations that Blagojevich was looking favorably at the prospect of giving the Barack Obama Senate seat to Jesse Jackson Jr., in exchange for a promise of over $1 million in campaign contributions from Jackson supporters. One key phone call involved a conversation between Blagojevich and his brother, who was working as his chief fundraiser. It was during that conversation that Blagojevich uttered a now famous admonition, to assume “the whole world is listening.” 

“I don’t tell him to promise the Senate seat, there was never any conversation like that,” he insists. “There was no agreement to make him a senator---I was never going to make him a senator.”

“They don’t play the conversation the very next day when my brother and I discuss what he’s going to say if someone comes up to him and approaches him, and he says very clearly we discussed, I’m going to tell him, that if you want to help us raise money, fine, but one’s not for the other and there’s no promises.”

Ironically, despite the allegations of the Jackson overture, he was never charged in connection with Blagojevich. Jackson would later be incarcerated himself, for looting his own campaign fund of $750,000.

He drew only 30 months in prison. 

"Yeah, he’s lucky. It’s good that he’s back with his family. I don’t wish him ill,” Blagojevich said. "You know, I think it’s important that he made his responsibility for what he did and that was clearly illegal, and a betrayal to his contributors, but he went to prison and he suffered and lost his seat and all the rest, so … it’s good to know that he’s back with his family.” 

And what of Tony Rezko, the Svengali-like character and Blagojevich fundraiser, who went to prison himself? Rezko’s name never figured prominently in the former governor’s criminal trials, but he was portrayed by prosecutors as a master-manipulator behind-the-scenes, doing Blagojevich’s bidding. 

"Well, Tony Rezko was a big supporter of mine and President Obama," Blagojevich said. "I met Barack Obama through Tony Rezko." 

"Rezko was a respected businessman in the minds of those who knew him as well as we did, and we didn’t know as much as we should have, obviously," he said.  "And those were mistakes that the governor Illinois made, and the president of the United States made. And I would mitigate my mistake by saying, yeah, I’ve got some pretty good company there!" 

He is quick to point to his former chief of staff, Lon Monk, who testified against him but received two years in prison himself. 

“I think that proves my innocence,” Blagojevich says. “Why would you have to bribe the chief of staff if you can get the governor?” 

Still in the family’s familiar Ravenswood Manor home, Patti Blagojevich expressed frustration that others either can’t or won’t see her husband’s arguments. 

"Everything he said about political deals he was trying to make being legal actually was true they were legal," she said. "I firmly believe he was always on the right side of that line, and I really firmly believe that the government moved that line just to convict him."

Indeed, the former first lady argues that once he was impeached on the state level, federal prosecutors had to come away with a finding of guilty.

"They had no choice but to convict him," she said. “Let’s say they go to trial and they lose. Then what did they just do? They unseated a governor! They just took him out of office and caused his impeachment!” 

Regarding that impeachment, Blagojevich is almost philosophical about how he was removed from office. 

“It was inevitable they were going to do that, and when I gave that speech I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t get many votes,” he said. “And I was right about that! But I felt I should go down there and make my case anyway. I felt I owed it to the voters who elected me twice!” 

“That was all about (Michael) Madigan and them trying to … thinking they could get someone in there that they could control,” Patti Blagojevich adds of the Illinois House speaker. “I mean, you know as well as I do that Rod was not about to be pushed around.” 

The result after two criminal trials was a sentence which is one of the longest ever levied against a politician in America. Blagojevich and his legal team point to other notable cases where there were much smaller penalties: former governor George Ryan did only six-and-a-half years; many other governors in other states who were convicted of taking money or accepting lucrative favors have done fewer than two years in prison. 

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, whose life collapsed in a child abuse scandal, spent only 13 months behind bars. 

Evidence in the Blagojevich trial showed he never received a penny in bribes. But he is doing 14 years in prison. 

“In terms of the people that have done this to me, I refuse to allow myself to hate them or to wish them any ill will other than I wish they would recant,” the former governor says. “Other than I wish they would recant. I wish they would acknowledge what the law says, and let me go home.”

<![CDATA[Lawsuit Against Major Computer Maker Ends in Settlement]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 22:13:26 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/lenovo0906.jpg

Lenovo, the world’s second largest maker of personal computers, this week agreed to settle a complaint brought against it by 32 states, including Illinois.

NBC 5 Investigates first brought you the allegations against Lenovo in 2015, when consumers in private lawsuits accused the company of sabotaging its own customers. The Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general then weighed on the same matter, going after Lenovo en masse. At the heart of their complaint, allegations Lenovo pre-loaded software called “Superfish” which effectively spied on a computer user’s keystrokes and formulated targeted ads to spit back at the user. This “man-in-the-middle” software allegedly created a security opening, into which hackers could walk and capture private information.

The settlement by the FTC and 32 states announced this week reveals enforcement action against Lenovo. No fines were levied, but the company does face a security compliance overhaul.

In response to the settlement, Lenovo said:

Today it was announced that Lenovo has reached settlements with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a coalition of thirty-two U.S. states to resolve their concerns related to the third-party “VisualDiscovery” software that Lenovo preinstalled on certain consumer laptop products in late 2014 and early 2015. While Lenovo disagrees with allegations contained in these complaints, we are pleased to bring this matter to a close after 2-1/2 years.

After learning of the issues, in early 2015 Lenovo stopped preloading VisualDiscovery and worked with antivirus software providers to disable and remove this software from existing PCs. (Those instructions can be found on the Lenovo website here.) To date, we are not aware of any actual instances of a third party exploiting the vulnerabilities to gain access to a user’s communications. Subsequent to this incident, Lenovo introduced both a policy to limit the amount of pre-installed software it loads on its PCs, and comprehensive security and privacy review processes, actions which are largely consistent with the actions we agreed to take in the settlements announced today.

Product security, privacy and quality are top priorities at Lenovo. We have a responsibility to deliver products and solutions that maintain the high standards we set for customer experience while also protecting the privacy, integrity, and availability of our customers’ data. For more information on Lenovo’s current and comprehensive approach to product security, please visit the Lenovo Security Vault at: http://www3.lenovo.com/us/en/product-security/landing.shtml.

Consumers who own Lenovo laptops can check their models here, along instructions on how to remove the software.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[New Cop Accountability Agency Chief Vows Independent Voice]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 21:39:51 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dashcam+screen+investigates.jpg

The chief of the city’s new police accountability agency is promising a new day is about to dawn for the investigation of allegations of excessive force in Chicago.

Sharon Fairley is the administrator of the new Citizen Office of Police Accountability (COPA). When it officially takes charge next week, the agency it replaces, the often-criticized Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) will cease to exist.

“Everything’s different,” says Fairley. “Who we are, what we do, and how we do it.”

IPRA drew fire from multiple quarters over the extent to which cases were cleared without sanctions against officers. After the firestorm of protest over the shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald, the decision was made to scrap the agency completely and start over.

“All of our policies and practices have been rebuilt and redesigned from top to bottom,” Fairley says. “We redesigned the organization from scratch, just to get it right.”

The result, she says, is a new agency which is bigger and better funded than its predecessor. And---she vows---more independent.

“We’re not the police, and there’s a point to that,” she says. “We are civilians, right? We’re not law enforcement.”

IPRA was criticized for a culture which too-often took officers at their word. In some cases, IPRA investigators were alleged to have coached officers during troubling investigations. Few complaints were ever sustained. Investigations dragged on for years.

“It was immediately apparent to me what those issues were when I started,” Fairley says. Her goal now, she says, is for every investigation to be closed within six months.

Still, not everyone is convinced.

“I believe that her heart is certainly in the right place,” says Craig Futterman of the University of Chicago, a longtime IPRA critic. “My concern is, what happens when the spotlight is off.”

Futterman argues that by its own enabling legislation, COPA still does not have the transparency which the public has demanded after IPRA’s failings.

“The mayor still has his tentacles in here,” he says. “Take the power away from the mayor, take the power away from City Hall if you want community trust in this, and if you want actual and real independence. Because we’ve lived with this already.”

Futterman notes that last year’s scathing Police Accountability Task Force report called for a new agency, overseen by an independent community oversight board.

“As long as COPA is not fundamentally accountable to the community,” he said, “you still have the same structure that caused the problems we have seen with IPRA.”

Fairley insists her agency does have that independence. She has a four year term as administrator, and can only be removed for cause. COPA’s budget, roughly twice that of its predecessor, has a minimum set by law at one percent of CPD funding. And she notes that on her new staff of 141, only 26 came from the old agency. Plus, by law, no one from CPD may be employed by COPA until they have been away from the department for at least five years.

“I believe we have hired neutral investigators,” she says. “It was a very rigorous process to get a job here.”

She speaks of the elephant in the room---officers who cover for each other during complex and controversial investigations.

“Because they are partners, they do rely on each other,” she says. “This is an uncomfortable duty, but it is a duty.”

“If we analyze a case and there’s any evidence that there’s been an attempt to cover up or conceal misconduct, we’re going to call it out.”

Fairley concedes it was important to build a new, non-police culture in her new agency. She believes that can and will happen.

“We are civilians and we are members of the community,” she says. “But we are professionals---we are professional investigators---meaning we have skills, right? And we follow the rules and protocols for how investigations are meant to be conducted.”

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Historic Data Privacy Bill Reaches Governor's Desk]]> Tue, 05 Sep 2017 21:43:07 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/geotagkatie_28763556.jpg

Illinois has become the first state where a groundbreaking internet privacy bill has reached the governor’s desk, according to data privacy experts, and advocates are urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign it into law.

House Bill 3449 – the Geolocation Privacy Protection Act – would require internet companies and entities to tell consumers what geolocation data they are collecting, why they are gathering that information and with whom they are sharing it.

Privacy experts contend that popular mobile apps used by consumers, including children, are frequently collecting geolocation data without a consumer’s knowledge and sending that data to third-party companies to turn a profit.

“Geolocation data is in some ways the holy grail of personal data,” said Peter Hanna, co-founder of the Digital Privacy Alliance and a data privacy attorney. “Where we are, where we go – it’s among the most intimately private information about our day-to-day lives.”

The bill’s advocates said the measure would not bar companies from gathering geolocation data but would empower consumers by giving them the right to know that this collection is happening.

Opponents said the language in the bill does not provide additional protections to consumers.

“Location controls are already very strong,” said Downers Grove-based internet trade association CompTIA, which is urging Rauner to veto the bill. “The Federal Trade Commission oversees all regulation in regard to geolocation technology and has put forth guidance regarding the collection of device location information that includes clear and concise notification that the app collects user location.”

The debate is unfolding at a time when some companies are facing potential consequences.

A California parent has sued The Walt Disney Company, alleging the company collected personally identifying information about children who were playing online games via smart phone apps. The lawsuit states the games have trackers that gather data, including geolocation information, and in turn selling it to third party companies for “future commercial exploitation.”

The complaint accuses The Walt Disney Company of violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act, which prohibits developers of child-focused apps from obtaining personal information of children under 13 years of age without first obtaining verifiable consent from their parents.

A Disney spokesperson said the complaint is based on a “fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles.”

“Disney has a robust COPPA compliance program, and we maintain strict data collection and use policies for Disney apps created for children and families,” a spokesperson said. “We look forward to defending this action in Court.”

The lawsuit states that Disney subsidiary Playdom paid a $3 million civil penalty in 2011 for violating COPPA when it allegedly collected and disclosed personal information from hundreds of thousands of children without getting parental consent.

The popular AccuWeather app has also come under fire for reportedly collecting geolocation information and sending it to a third party, even though a user said he disabled location services. The issue was first reported by tech security researcher Will Strafach.

AccuWeather in a statement said no GPS coordinates are collected without opt-in permission from the consumer. But the company said it will be removing third party trackers from the app until it is fully compliant with appropriate requirements.

Parents said the transparency that would come from the Geolocation Privacy Protection Act is not a big ask.

“It’s just a basic right to know issue,” said Andre Delattre. “If someone is going to collect and store information about me or my daughter or both of us, then the very least I ought to be afforded is to know that that’s the case.”

<![CDATA[Schools, Police Warn Students of Online Dangers]]> Mon, 28 Aug 2017 21:50:18 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/school+invest+katie.png

As students throughout Chicagoland head back to the classroom, some local police and school administrators are greeting them with a message about online safety.

In May, NBC 5 Investigates found users on an anonymous image board were soliciting or trading nude photographs of what appear to be former high school students. Threads listing at least 67 high schools in the Chicago-area and Illinois were identified.

Since that initial report, NBC 5 Investigates has found nude photo bartering is still ongoing, and users have created groups for a dozen more schools, including Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago and Niles North High School is Skokie. 


“Sexting is almost to an epidemic proportion,” said Chicago Police Det. Charles Hollendoner. “Parents just don’t realize how dangerous and how much it’s used.”

Hollendoner gives roughly 120 presentations at schools in Chicago and Cook County about the dangers of sharing too much on social media. 

“It’s not only the pictures. It’s the comments that follow these pictures – body shaming. It’s scary when you read some of the things people say about these kids,” Hollendoner said. 

Hollendoner said his team gets about 40 new child exploitation cases a month that need immediate attention.

His message to students is that sharing intimate photos usually never stays between two people and that that decision will haunt teens into adulthood. 

Those stories are also retold to parents, though Hollendoner admits parent engagement is often low. He said in a school of 3,000 kids, only six parents showed up to a presentation. He said his biggest piece of advice to parents is to monitor their children’s social media activity. 

“Be a parent,” said Hollendoner. “That’s your phone. That’s not your kid’s phone or your kid’s device. You’re paying for it. You have every right to access it.” 

In the Glenbard High School District, engaging families around difficult topics facing students is a top priority. 

Each year, the district hosts the Glenbard Parents Series. Experts are invited to speak to parents on a wide variety of issues from social media to preparing for college entrance exams. 

“To communicate with your teens is critical and challenging,” said Gilda Ross, a long-time school administrator who created the series. “I think that’s why we have two ears and one mouth. We have to listen more.” 

The district is offering approximately 50 free programs this school year. They are offered at different times and in Spanish to accommodate families. Attending a session is a requirement for all families of student-athletes.

“Parents are really desperate for help – how can I reach my child? How can I help my child understand that this social media is not as social as one might hope?” Ross said.

Ross said the sessions are open to families from other districts as well. For more information on the Glenbard Parents Series, click here.

<![CDATA[Authorities Seek New Info in Tammy Zywicki Kidnapping, Death]]> Tue, 22 Aug 2017 23:43:24 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ZYWICKIINVESTIGATES_28578654.jpg

In August of 1992, Tammy Zywicki was excited to make the relatively short drive from Evanston to Grinnell College in Iowa.

The 21 year old was actually travelling to school from her home in New Jersey, but had stopped in Evanston to drop off her brother at Northwestern University.

Sadly, Tammy was never seen alive again. Her car was found abandoned on the shoulder of Interstate 80 in LaSalle County. Nine days later, her body was found on the side of a road in far southern Missouri, wrapped in a blanket bound with duct tape. She had been stabbed repeatedly.

Twenty-five years later, the case has never been solved. Initially, authorities focused on an unusual white truck with an orange stripe which some witnesses said they had seen on the shoulder of the road Tammy’s car. But that lead never panned out.

Still, the evidence remains. A visit to the State Police District Headquarters near Joliet reveals a series of cabinets, still filled with the Zywicki case files. And now, investigators say they hope to turn to new and more advanced DNA testing techniques, in hopes of a match which might lead them to the girl’s killer.

“There is some cutting edge DNA testing that we would like to have done that we think is important,” said Lt. Jeffrey Padilla with the Illinois State Police. “We have identified a potential private partner that would be able to assist us in some of the most cutting edge technology that is out there.”

Hundreds of leads were explored, including promising suspects. Padilla says that effort to potentially match names to the crime, is very active today.

“We have successfully eliminated a number of people that we had previously listed as persons of interest,” he said. “And we continue to focus on one suspect in particular and are making efforts toward bringing this case to fruition.”

Padilla would not elaborate on that person, beyond saying that he is alive, and is a good potential suspect.

Investigators released a new image of a patch from Tammy’s soccer club. The patch was among her belongings, but was missing when her car was found along I-80.

“We continue to work this investigation into what happened to Tammy as an active police investigation,” he said.

Toward that end both the State Police and the FBI have issued renewed pleas to the public for information.

“It’s been 25 years---people change—relationships change,” said FBI Special Agent Garrett Croon. “Someone out there knows who killed Tammy Zywicki.”

In the meantime, much has changed. Tammy’s parents moved to Florida, and her father Hank died, never having learned who killed his daughter. But Tammy’s mother JoAnn says she continues to hold out hope.

“I hope this time we’re going to get someone who’s going to finally come through with some information that’s going to solve this case,” she told NBC5. “And we’re going to know what happened.”

Tammy Zywicki would now be 46 years old. JoAnn Zywicki says resolution of the case would hopefully mean peace for Tammy and her father.

“I like the reminders of Tammy,” her mother said. “They’re around the house and I think of her a lot. But they’re not bad reminders. They’re happy thoughts.”

There is still a $50,000 reward in the case. Anyone with information is asked to call the Illinois State Police, at 815-726-6377, or the FBI Chicago Field Division, at 312-421-6700.