Suburban Corruption Study Calls for Inspector General Post

The city of Chicago is well known for acts of public corruption, but the metropolitan area’s suburban communities are not immune to unethical practices and would benefit from a new inspector general’s office, according to a new report by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The report, “Green Grass and Graft: Corruption in the Suburbs,” documents public corruption involving more than 130 public officials and police officers, including 17 mayors and village presidents, in more than 60 suburbs in Cook and surrounding counties since the early 1970s. Most of the convictions have come in the last two decades.

“Political corruption is commonly thought to be the exclusive purview of the big, bad city, but we have found that towns and villages in the suburban ring are copying Chicago’s corruption playbook,” says report co-author Dick Simpson, UIC professor and head of political science. “Suburbanites must recognize the problem and demand reforms by both local and state government.”

To end suburban corruption, the report suggests creation of a suburban-based independent inspector general to investigate illegal and unethical dealings and to recommend follow-up by state and federal prosecutors.

The report identifies 1,200 separate taxing bodies in the Chicago area — 540 in Cook County alone — including municipalities, townships, park districts, school districts, and special-purpose districts.

Cases involving these public entities are highlighted to illustrate patterns of corruption such as officials with ties to organized crime; nepotism and patronage; police officers aiding criminals; kickbacks and bribes to public officials; large economic developments benefiting officials or their families and friends; and theft of public funds.

The report tabulates corruption cases by town; lists the mayors and village presidents who have been convicted of crimes; and includes a full roster of others convicted. The report is online.

Contributors to the new report include co-authors David Sterrett, Melissa Mouritsen Zmuda, and Thomas J. Gradel, and a team of UIC student-researchers.

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.