by Brian Costin
Director of Government Reform
Sometimes it’s embarrassing to talk about politics in Illinois. This story exemplifies why.
On Thursday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a conviction of Dominick Owens, who was arrested in 2009 in connection with “Operation Crooked Code”.
Owens was convicted of accepting $1,200 in bribes to issue 2 separate occupancy permits for newly constructed homes, without the proper inspections being done.
In March, Owens was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. The same prison sentence that was recently given to Springfield powerbroker, William Cellini.
However, Owens never spent any time in prison. He was allowed to remain free pending the appeals process.
Owens did not contest the fact that he accepted the bribes in return of for the occupancy permits. Instead his lawyers were successful in having the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturn his conviction on the basis of the value of the bribes not exceeding the $5,000 minimum required under federal law.
While not the Court of Appeals fault, why in the heck does federal law allow public officials to go free if their bribery schemes net less than $5,000?
Do the feds let bank robbers go free if they steal less than $5,000?
Looking for any possible silver lining in this case, it appears the FBI has learned to offer bribes to Illinois politicians in undercover stings in amounts exceeding $5,000.
In March of this year, State Rep. Derrick Smith was charged with accepting a bribe of $7,000 in exchange for supporting a grant for a fictional day care center in an undercover FBI sting.
While Smith has been expelled from the legislature, he is running for re-election and still on the ballot for the November elections. A recent poll had him leading his race by a 48 percent to 9 percent margin.
Only in Illinois.
In the Dominick Owens case, it’s not clear if the case can or will be retried on the state level. In Illinois it is a Class 2 felony to solicit or accept a bribe of a public official, punishable by between 3 and 7 years in prison, and up to a $25,000 fine.
If we want to change the culture and perception of a corrupt Illinois and nationwide we must do better when it comes to dealing with corrupt public officials.