State, feds turned blind eye to problems in Harvey

The glossy campaign fliers arrived in time to help Harvey's besieged mayor.

Eric Kellogg's police department was mired in scandal, reports of violent crime were rising and challengers were calling him corrupt.

But the fliers showed a different picture: Kellogg smiling with officers and shoveling dirt at groundbreaking ceremonies, as well as skewed statistics declaring that Harvey was on the mend.

The rescue came from an odd backer, the Tribune has learned: an undercover FBI agent.

The agent had been placed in a local strip club to investigate corruption. And for reasons federal officials won't discuss, records show the agent formed a special political committee and primed it with about $140,000. The committee then flooded the crucial 2007 mayoral race with money that helped Kellogg to victory, even as federal agents were probing the mayor's police department.

The FBI's involvement — uncovered in this Tribune investigation — set the stage for a series of actions by state and federal agencies that preserved the status quo and masked problems in Harvey.

The Tribune documented earlier this week how Harvey has the stark combination of high violent crime and few arrests — with police officers facing a smorgasbord of allegations that often go unchecked.

The latest investigation has found that outside agencies ignored and enabled Harvey's leaders in ways that may have made things worse. The revelations are based on a review of numerous civil and criminal court cases as well as local, state and federal records.

After the undercover federal agent aided Kellogg's campaign, another powerful federal agency came in to document systemic problems in his police department — only to leave without forcing reforms.

And all along, state officials have neglected to take key steps to stop the city and Kellogg from repeatedly breaking disclosure laws, helping the mayor maintain power with money from secret backers while also obscuring the city's dire financial state.

Residents have been left with a town where the violent crime rate is higher than it was during Kellogg's first full year in office a decade ago. And, based on the records that the Tribune has seen, the suburb appears hard-pressed to improve crime-fighting. It is nearly insolvent, owing millions of dollars that it has no clear way to pay back after insider deals helped drain city accounts.

'New Harvey Rising'

Kellogg gained a following in Harvey as a football coach who spoke of beating the odds in the hardscrabble town, coming from a poor, large family to attend college and go into public office.

Starting at the Harvey Park District, he rose through the ranks before running for mayor, making impassioned speeches denouncing his hometown's crime, corruption and racism. By 2003 he had unseated the incumbent, riding a groundswell of calls for reform.

But by the end of his first term, opponents said he was becoming part of the problem.

Kellogg, who came to office promising "A New Harvey Rising," surrounded himself with relatives. He put his brother, a full-time plumber, in charge of a new police initiative. He named his sister as his main assistant, and for city attorney he chose his newly licensed niece. He said the hires saved the town money.

Kellogg also brought back police officers who supported his campaign after being cast out by the previous administration over allegations of wrongdoing. He said the officers had been wrongly maligned.

Some of those police hires eventually came under fire again, this time in lawsuits that accused them of having gang ties, brutalizing citizens and fumbling cases.

As his first term was coming to a close, Kellogg was hit with headlines that said his police didn't solve any homicides in 2005, and the numbers hadn't improved much in 2006. City Council members revolted, asking in vain for state police to audit the local force.

Soon state and county investigators marched into police headquarters and seized records and evidence related to dozens of unsolved crimes. By then, Harvey's violent crime rate had jumped 30 percent over Kellogg's first full year in office.