Week in Review: Crime, economy, free fishing & more


Victim, former police officer, criticizes Pritzker for commuting sentences of attacker. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, alongside Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara and former Chicago Police Department Officer Robert Mizera, criticized Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a Tuesday news conference for his handling of the Prisoner Review Board.  

Mizera, a former CPD officer, was shot and injured by Kensley Hawkins in 1980. Hawkins later would be convicted of the murder of a 65-year-old man and was sentenced to almost 100 years in prison.

He is now out of prison after being commuted by Pritzker and his appointed Illinois Prisoner Review Board. […]

Mizera said he learned of his attacker's release via an email and has had no further discussion with Pritzker or his administration about the decision.

"On April 22nd, 2021, I was informed by email that Mr. Hawkins had been released from prison with no reason given," Mizera said at Tuesday's news conference. "The governor did not call me, he did not ask me what I thought and he probably did not care, so that's my dealing with Governor Pritzker and his release of people who obviously should still be in prison."

Catanzara asked the residents of Illinois to think about what would happen to them in this situation.

“If an officer cannot get justice, and their families cannot get justice, what does the average person think is going to happen to the monsters that murder their loved ones?” Catanzara said.

Durkin, R-Western Springs, called the clemency a sign of disrespect to law enforcement.

"Today I am here to talk about Governor Pritzker's continuing lack of respect and continuing attack on our police officers, those currently on the force and those who have already served, and the victims of crime in this state," Durkin said.

Caterpillar, longtime Illinois-based firm, announces plans to move headquarters to Texas. The global manufacturer of construction machinery, diesel engines, and many related products has been located in Illinois since the 1920s. Caterpillar announced this week that it plans to consolidate its CEO office and headquarters functions in Irving, Texas. The move follows Caterpillar’s decision in 2017 to move its HQ from its traditional manufacturing hub location, Peoria, to the Chicago suburb of Deerfield. After remaining in Deerfield for only five years, Caterpillar will once again move, this time to a suburb of metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth. The machinery firm posted $51 billion in 2021 sales.

Critics of current Illinois policy saw Caterpillar’s move announcement as a vote of “no confidence” by the highest ranks of U.S. corporate executives in the current standing of our state. Illinois has come under severe nationwide criticism based on rising crime, tax policy, perceived political corruption, and for many other reasons. When measured by firm size, firm capital, annual sales, or other measuring sticks, two of the top five Illinois-based firms in spring 2022 were Deerfield-based Caterpillar and Chicago-based Boeing. Both firms have now announced their intent to leave the Chicago area and move their headquarters out-of-state. Both firms will move to states with policy outlooks very different from Illinois.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin offered the following response to Caterpillar Inc.’s announcement Tuesday that the long-time Illinois company would move its headquarters to Texas.

“Caterpillar’s decision to leave Illinois after calling it home for many decades is a devastating loss to Illinois’ business community. The reasons for this decision could not have been more clear – Illinois’ business climate no longer works for this company. Governor J.B. Pritzker has failed to bolster our state’s economy for job-creators, and companies like CAT leaving is the consequence.”

MISO grid posts first electricity advisory for summer 2022. The advisory was issued by the Midcontinent Independent System Operators (MISO), overseer of a power grid that covers most of Illinois except for the Northern Illinois ComEd service area. It was the first of what could be several such signals sent out in summer 2022 as unprecedented heat hits Southern and Central Illinois in the wake of several key coal-fired power plants shutting down. The electrical grid of the MISO regions of Illinois no longer has enough capacity to fulfill the demand of Illinois residences and workplaces for air conditioning during peak summer daytime hours. The MISO advisory was timed to encompass the hours of 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15. Based on approaching weather patterns, these were expected to be hours of very high temperatures, humidity, and a posted “heat index” warning signaling intense weather conditions and peaking demand for air conditioning.

MISO is affiliated with the St. Louis-based utility holding company Ameren, which operates much of the electrical delivery wires that serve Illinois customers from Peoria southward. Ameren has sold much of its generating capacity to operating firms, and the purchasers have shut down many of the coal-fired generating capacity that was purchased from Ameren. Nationwide tax policies and other long-term considerations no longer favor the reinvestment of capital into coal-fired generator burners, which like all forms of expensive machinery require continued reinvestment and upkeep to safely operate.

With respect to June 15, the MISO advisory was a ‘heads up’ notice from the electrical grid operator to major electricity consumers, including spot purchasers, that there might not be enough power to buy on the open market that day. The advisory was a step below the next higher level of announcement, a grid power availability “warning.” If a grid that serves Illinois were to be forced, due to insufficient supply or excess demand or both, to engage in load shedding for one or more of its customers, this grid-shedding event would lead to a brownout or a blackout for some Illinoisans.

Illinois paid out nearly $2 billion in federal funds for fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims, audit finds. Fraudsters stole more than half the money paid out by the state from a special pandemic unemployment fund, pilfering nearly $2 billion in federal money that was supposed to help out-of-work Illinoisans, according to a state audit released Thursday.

The audit offers the first estimate for Illinois’ share of the mammoth fraud that swept the country during the pandemic as states were hit with a deluge of unemployment claims. The audit covers much of the period the program was in use, from July 2020 through June 2021.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security acknowledged in November 2020 that more than 212,000 fraudulent unemployment claims had been filed, but has never released a dollar estimate on the theft despite requests from reporters and lawmakers.

The figures in the state auditor general’s report fueled Republicans’ complaints that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who’s up for reelection, mismanaged the pandemic-strained unemployment system. […]

But a Tribune investigation published a year ago found the problems in Illinois were exacerbated by IDES’ failure to follow federal recommendations to adopt free fraud-fighting tools made available before the pandemic, while also being slow in developing other processes to ferret out fraud.

The audit didn’t review those failures, let alone determine how much they may have boosted the fraud tab. But the audit found that, of the $3.6 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance paid out from July 2020 through June 2021, nearly $1.9 billion was tied to fraud, the vast majority in the form of identity theft. […]

Auditors called the level of fraud “unprecedented,” with “fraudsters using highly sophisticated techniques to take advantage” of the pandemic’s unique conditions.

Luft calls for hearings on multi-billion dollar mismanagement at IDES. As a new audit shows that nearly $2 billion in federal funds were paid out for fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), State Representative Mark Luft is calling for immediate hearings into the operations at the troubled agency.

“When an agency, any agency, loses nearly $2 billion to fraud, the General Assembly has to step in and get to the root of what happened,” said Luft. “I’m calling for immediate hearings into the gross mismanagement of these funds at IDES.”

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program was created to help people not usually covered by unemployment insurance, like gig workers and those who are self-employed, but according to a new audit, more than half of the money IDES paid out from a special pandemic unemployment fund went to the pockets of fraudsters instead of unemployed Illinoisans desperately in need of relief. The audit found that out of a total of $3.6 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds paid out between July 2020 and June 2021, nearly $1.9 billion was tied to fraud.

IDES has previously been criticized for failing to make use of free resources to fight fraud that were made available before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for being slow to develop processes to prevent fraud.

According to the Chicago Tribune, this audit may not show the full scope of pandemic-related fraud in Illinois. Under another federally funded program that boosted claim checks the state paid out an additional $3.8 billion. The audit also doesn’t address the thousands of Illinoisans whose names and accounts were improperly used to hijack legitimate claims.

“It’s clear that this audit is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to putting a dollar amount on the mismanagement at IDES,” said Luft. “We need hearings to see the full scope of the problem, which could easily total billions more.”

May unemployment rate unchanged at 4.6 percent. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced Thursday that the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.6 percent, while nonfarm payrolls increased by +12,800 in May, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The April monthly change in payrolls was revised from the preliminary report, from +9,300 to +6,400 jobs. The April unemployment rate was unchanged from the preliminary report, remaining at 4.6 percent. The May payroll jobs estimate and unemployment rate reflect activity for the week including the 12th.

In May, the industry sectors with the largest over-the-month gains in employment were: Leisure and Hospitality (+6,000), Educational and Health Services (+3,300) and Construction (+2,600). The industry sectors that reported monthly payroll declines were: Trade, Transportation and Utilities (-800), Other Services (-800) and Mining (-100).

The state’s unemployment rate was +1.0 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for May, which was 3.6 percent, unchanged from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was down -1.9 percentage points from a year ago when it was at 6.5 percent.

Construction begins on Amazon fulfillment center in North Pekin. The Peoria-area Amazon warehouse and distribution facility will occupy a 100,000-square-foot space of workers and equipment, who will operate the precision sorting process used by the online retail giant. Customers served by the facility will include people in many locations within Central and Western Illinois. No date has been set by Amazon for job hiring or facility opening, but a chief Greater Peoria development coordinator has told the press the goal is to get the facility going by the Christmas 2022 shipping season.

The new fulfillment center announcement was made in August 2021, and site development work has continued ever since. The location’s space on a State highway, Illinois Route 98, was a key element in the selection of the site for Amazon redevelopment. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is working on road improvements for the truck traffic needed to build out and operate the site. The site is expected to employ between 250 and 500 people.

Ferrero expansion will bring 200 jobs to Bloomington area. On Monday, Ferrero North America announced an expansion of its chocolate plant in Bloomington, an expansion which will create as many as 200 jobs over the next four years. Construction on the expansion will begin this fall and the new facility will open in 2024. The Ferrero Bloomington facility will make Kinder Bueno, a chocolate bar popular in Europe which recently became available in the United States.

Remembering former Attorney General Jim Ryan. Ryan was elected to statewide office as a Republican in 1994 and reelected in 1998, winning a landslide 61% majority in his re-election bid. While serving as Illinois’ chief law enforcement officer, Ryan concentrated on gang crime, taking advantage of the then-new Statewide Grand Jury Act to prosecute multi-county cases involving drugs and guns. As the former DuPage County State’s Attorney, Atty. Gen. Ryan had ongoing relationships with county state’s attorneys, and convinced almost all of them that the Statewide Grand Jury division within the Office of the Attorney General would be their ally and not their rival in fighting multi-county criminal activities.

Following his service as Attorney General, Jim Ryan ran twice for the office of Governor of Illinois. Widely respected by members of both parties, Ryan was mourned by elected officials across the state after passing away at his home in Elmhurst at the age of 76.

Free Fishing Days for Father’s Day Weekend. Anglers across Illinois can hit their local lakes, streams, rivers, and other waterways for the weekend’s Free Fishing Days celebration.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources‘ four-day celebration of fishing coincides with Father’s Day weekend (June 17-20).

During the four-day weekend, people can fish without purchasing a fishing license, salmon stamp, or inland trout stamp.