Do corruption-fighting claims in Cook County state’s attorney’s race hold up?

Do corruption-fighting claims in Cook County state’s attorney’s race hold up?

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has faced criticism for not doing more to fight corruption. Records show her agency has for the most part gone after smaller players. | Colin Boyle / Sun-Times

Records cast doubt on the extent of corruption-busting pursued by incumbent Kim Foxx and ex-prosecutor Bill Conway, among her opponents in the Democratic primary.

Asked about her agency’s handling of corruption cases, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has said her office “has investigated elected officials and prosecuted them when appropriate.”

Such prosecutions, though, have been rare, state’s attorney records show.

In one of the cases Foxx’s office cited, state Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, was charged with a misdemeanor last year after a gun was found in his car during a traffic stop. He had an expired license to carry a concealed weapon.

Tarver has said that was the result of a “clerical” mix-up. The case had nothing to do with his legislative duties.

In another case, former Ford Heights Mayor Charles Griffin was charged in 2018 with diverting nearly $150,000 from the tiny, impoverished south suburb for his personal use while in office. He was charged after left that office and has pleaded not guilty.

Shortly before he left office in 2019, an indictment against Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno accused him of falsely reporting his car was stolen and insurance fraud.

Those three cases are pending in court.

The state’s attorney’s office provided records showing it has charged more than 60 people in “corruption-related cases” since Foxx took office in 2016.

But the agency said those records might not be complete because it doesn’t track corruption cases.

Many of the ones it cited involved low-level or mid-level government employees accused of theft and other offenses. Some of the cases involved public employees accused of off-duty misconduct. Others appear to involve people not involved in government who were arrested for offenses that include drug or gun crimes and then unsuccessfully trying to bribe cops to let them go.

More than a dozen police officers were among those listed in the state’s attorney records. They were accused of everything from stealing and beating a suspect to groping a woman. One of the officers, an Amtrak cop, was charged with murder in the shooting of a Minnesota man outside Union Station in 2017. He recently was found not guilty by a Cook County judge.

As Foxx faces three Democratic opponents in the March 17 primary, she has been accused of not doing enough to fight corruption, which has become an issue as federal prosecutors pursue wide-ranging investigations that have resulted so far in charges against Ald. Edward M. Burke — who hosted a campaign fundraiser for Foxx at his Southwest Side home in 2016 — and others including former state Sen. Martin Sandoval.

“Everyone knows that pay-to-play, ghost payrolling and campaign-finance shenanigans are part of Cook County’s DNA,” said Donna More, one of Foxx’s opponents. “These nefarious activities have thrived under Foxx, yet she is nowhere to be found in the government corruption probes initiated by the federal government.”

Donna More, running in the March 17 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney.Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times
Donna More, running in the March 17 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney.

Foxx said “violent crime is our No. 1 priority” and that federal authorities often are better suited to tackle larger-scale corruption because of tougher federal laws and greater resources.

But she said she hasn’t “ceded” such cases to federal prosecutors and that her agency is helping them with part of their ongoing political corruption investigations. Foxx wouldn’t elaborate on that. The U.S. attorney’s office wouldn’t comment.

Even when her office’s corruption prosecutions seem relatively small potatoes, Foxx said they’re still important. She also said the crimes her office focuses on aren’t much different from those of her predecessors.

That’s part of the problem, according to another challenger, former Ald. Bob Fioretti, who points to Foxx’s ties to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the head of the Cook County Democratic Party.

“When is the last time a Cook County Democratic machine state’s attorney went after a local machine politician?” Fioretti said. “Not in our lifetime.”

Bob Fioretti, running in the March 17 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney.Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times
Bob Fioretti, running in the March 17 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney.

Another opponent, Bill Conway, was an assistant state’s attorney under Foxx’s predecessor Anita Alvarez and worked in the public corruption unit. Conway has trumpeted that role in his campaign, saying he was “fighting to hold corrupt politicians like Burke accountable.”

But Conway also prosecuted relatively small players, including a Hanover Township official accused of stealing almost $200,000 from that government agency, who got six years in prison, and a police union official accused of embezzled more than $1 million from his group.

“I think it’s important that people realize that not every public corruption case is going to be Ed Burke,” Conway said.

He said it’s important to “get to corruption where it starts” and promised “a significant increase in public corruption” cases if he’s elected.

Bill Conway, running in the March 17 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney.Rich Hein / Sun-Times
Bill Conway, running in the March 17 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney.

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