By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Republican lawmakers in Illinois want someone, including federal prosecutors, to find out how $50 million in state grants were spent in 2010 and 2011.
WE WANT ANSWERS:
GOP lawmakers say maybe the feds can get answers about NRI.
The money was part of Gov. Pat Quinn’s hastily arranged Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, and was used ostensibly to stop violence in Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods.
But a new audit says no one really know how the money was spent.
“I (am) calling on the appropriate authorities, starting with the executive inspector general and then hopefully from there the U.S. Attorney’s office, to investigate this,” state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine said. “This is disgraceful.”
Murphy and a cadre of GOP lawmakers pounced on the report from Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland that found volumes of problems with the NRI program.
Among the “pervasive deficiencies” Holland’s team found:
- $1.4 million in questionable expenses. Auditors say the state was “unable to determine who was being paid with state grant funds.”
- Many agencies filed mandatory spending reports only occasionally. One community partner filed its first year budget 342 days late. Another was 469 days late in submitting expense reports.
- No one can say how neighborhoods were picked to receive violence prevention money. The audit says Chicago alderman were influential in steering money to local groups.
- Seven of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods saw no violence prevention money, according to Chicago police.
Quinn launched the NRI program in 2010, about a month before Election Day.
Murphy said spending millions in taxpayer dollars on what was essentially an election “slush fund” is borrowing a page from jailed former governor Rod Blagojevich’s playbook.
“This is a damning and very thoroughly researched report,” Murphy said. “If this rises to the level of criminal conduct as defined by the U.S. attorney, I don’t know how you don’t say it’s impeachable.”
State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, a former sheriff, took it a step further.
“This is the kind of information that indictments are made out of,” Bivins said. “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but there is such a thing as probable cause. And there’s more than enough probable cause here.”
Quinn’s office, in a statement, said the NRI probe is old news.
“These issues were resolved more than a year ago,” the statement read.
The NRI program was shifted to a new home and now has a much smaller budget.
With another gubernatorial election just months away, Republican lawmakers want to press the issue.
“When you use tax dollars to have people march in a parade for you, campaigning, I think not only is that not appropriate but that may very well be illegal,” Bivins added.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.
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