$1 Million Loop Lab Blunder Goes Up in Smoke - NBC Chicago

$1 Million Loop Lab Blunder Goes Up in Smoke

Put it on Blago's bill



    $1 Million Loop Lab Blunder Goes Up in Smoke
    Who knew that a million dollars in taxpayer money would go up in smoke when the Pilgrim Baptist Church caught fire?

    One of the goofiest episodes of the Rod Blagojevich era was the one where a $1 million state grant meant for a fire-damaged church ended up in the hands of a private school -- sort of a two-fer that sent public money to a private school by mistake after first trying to send state money to a church, violating that silly church-and-state separation principle.

    It was also classic Blagojevich, who apparently made the financial pledge without forethought while giving a speech, and then botched the delivery of funds.

    The worst part, though, is that the state -- and that means taxpayers -- is unlikely to recover the money even though it was wrongly distributed, a new report from the state auditor's office says.

    "The money was meant to help Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago rebuild after a 2006 fire," the AP recalls. "Instead, it was awarded to the Loop Lab School, which rented space there. At the time, Blagojevich called the misappropriation 'a bureaucratic mistake'."

    Not so, though.

    "The report found that an unnamed member of Blagojevich’s staff directed the state money to the school instead of the church. It also found that Blagojevich staffers and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity 'circumvented the internal controls in place at DCEO to process the grant'."

    This is the kind of abuse of power and offense against competency that the Blagojevich impeachment was made of.

    The state auditor's report also noted that the former governor's office provided only "limited cooperation," while the office of new governor Pat Quinn "found and provided over 900 pages of documentation."

    And here's the worst news: The state is only likely to recover a measly $119,000 from the blunder "because of mounting expenses and numerous liens" filed against the school, the Tribune reports.

    "School leaders used the $1 million grant in 2007 to buy the second floor in a downtown office condominium near Sears Tower but has never reopened its doors."

    The good news is that Blago's second pledge to give the church $1 million when the first million went awry never materialized.