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Chicago Called Most Corrupt City In Nation

UPDATED 02/15/12 10:36 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A former Chicago alderman turned political science professor/corruption fighter has found that Chicago is the most corrupt city in the country.

He cites data from the U.S. Department of Justice to prove his case. And, he says, Illinois is third-most corrupt state in the country.

University of Illinois at Chicago professor Dick Simpson, who served as alderman of the 44th Ward in Lakeview from 1971 to 1979, estimates the cost of corruption at $500 million.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's John Cody Reports


It's essentially a corruption tax on citizens who bear the cost of bad behavior -- police brutality, bogus contracts, bribes, theft and ghost payrolling to name a few -- and the costs needed to prosecute it.

"We first of all, we have a long history," Simpson said. "The first corruption trial was in 1869 when alderman and county commissioners were convicted of rigging a contract to literally whitewash City Hall."

In the Northern District of Illinois, which includes Chicago, there have been a total of 1,531 public corruption convictions since 1976, Simpson found. A distant second is California's central district in Los Angeles with 1,275 public corruption convictions since 1976, Simpson found.

Statewide, that number hits 1,828. Only California and New York have more, but those states have much higher populations. Per capita, only the District of Columbia and Louisiana have more convictions.

Since the 1970s, four of Illinois' seven governors have been convicted (Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich). In addition, dozens of Chicago alderman and other city and county public officials have been found guilty, Simpson said.

Corruption, Simpson said, is intertwined with city politics. Simpson found that about a third of sitting alderman since 1973 have been corrupt.

"We have had machine politics since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871," he said. "Machine politics breeds corruption inevitably."

Simpson says Hong Kong and Sydney were two similarly corrupt cities that managed to change their ways. He says Chicago can too, but it will take decades.

Simpson is set to present his full report Wednesday morning, and testify before the new Chicago Ethics Task Force at City Hall Wednesday night.


In his report, Simpson recommends the following:

  • Governor Pat Quinn's proposal to allow Illinois citizens to adopt ethics reforms by referendum should be passed;
  • Amend the City's Ethics Ordinance to cover aldermen and their staff;
  • Give the Inspector General access to all city documents including those held secret by the Corporation Counsel;
  • Ban all gifts to all elected officials and public employees except those from family members;
  • Bar all lobbying of other governmental bodies by elected officials and city employees;
  • Prohibit double dipping, patronage and nepotism with real penalties including firing; and
  • Improve the city's ethics training and bring it up to at least the State of Illinois level.
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