Lake County's DNA doubts
What we found: In December 2008, the Tribune detailed how Lake County prosecutors were pressing ahead on three cases, including one against Jerry Hobbs, despite DNA evidence in each instance that excluded the defendant. To explain the DNA, prosecutors argued that other evidence carried greater sway than the genetic evidence and even called the DNA "a red herring" in one case.
What's happened since: Charges were dropped against Hobbs on Wednesday because DNA found on the body of his dead daughter was linked to a man being held for a crime in Virginia. Little has changed in the other two cases, however, despite the DNA evidence. Bennie Starks still awaits his retrial for rape, and Juan Rivera still is appealing his conviction in the rape and murder of a Waukegan girl.
Sex charges against doctor
What we found: Bruce Sylvester Smith, a gynecologist, was allowed to keep practicing years after a series of patients accused him of sexual misconduct. In 2000, a patient said he raped her, but the state's attorney's office declined to prosecute, records show. The office also did not press charges when two other patients came forward with sexual misconduct allegations in 2002. In the absence of criminal charges, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation allowed Smith to continue practicing. Not until 2009, after at least four additional women alleged sexual misconduct, did the department take punitive action. It suspended his license for a minimum of nine months, making him eligible to reapply this summer.
What's happened since: In May, a month after the Tribune's story, the state's attorney's office charged Smith with sexually assaulting a pregnant patient during a 2002 pelvic exam. The Tribune later revealed that although a rape exam of the alleged victim turned up semen in 2002, law enforcement officials did not secure a DNA sample from Smith until this year — after the Tribune story ran. Smith is due back in court Aug. 17. Unable to make bond, he has remained in jail since his arrest.
Hastert's taxpayer-financed office
What we found: Now a lobbyist, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has had a taxpayer-financed office in west suburban Yorkville since he resigned from Congress in November 2007. Public money paid for a staff of three, a sport utility vehicle and an array of perks, with costs climbing to $997,076 by the end of last year. The 68-year-old Republican lost the speaker's gavel after Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007. Still, a little-known federal law allows ex-speakers to maintain publicly funded offices for up to five years to "facilitate the administration, settlement and conclusion of matters" related to a former speaker's tenure in the House. His three employees, all former staffers, earned from $101,000 to $138,551 a year.
What's happened since: Spending has shot past the million-dollar mark — and the meter still is running — but there have been cuts. The tab through March 31: $1,118,697. But Hastert's office "downsized" when secretary Tom Jarman, who had earned $116,365 a year, left June 30, said Brad Hahn, a Hastert spokesman. And he said the office did not renew a $860-a-month lease for its 2008 GMC Yukon when the contract lapsed in March. Hahn said a closing date for the office has not been set.
What we found: The Tribune reported Sunday that officials with the Park District of Highland Park intentionally used large bonuses to hike the pension of a district executive by more than $50,000.
What's happened since: A day later, two Illinois lawmakers called for hearings to look into local government pension practices. State Rep. Karen May, a Highland Park Democrat who sits on the House pension committee, expressed alarm that salaries for executives at the Park District were far higher than the Chicago-area norm for similar posts — in part to boost pensions. The pension committee's chairman, state Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, said the panel will look at limiting the impact of large, late-career pay bumps on final pensions. The hearings could start this fall.
What we found: The lethal legacy of Agent Orange and other herbicides used by the U.S. military to defoliate jungles and destroy enemy crops during the Vietnam War continues on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. In the U.S., veterans must fight to receive compensation for illnesses linked to Agent Orange. The cost to compensate Vietnam veterans exposed to the herbicides has skyrocketed to nearly $2 billion a year. In Vietnam, untold numbers of civilians suffer similar ailments, and herbicides still contaminate tracts of land where the chemicals were stored. Children from both countries also suffer birth defects tied to the herbicides.
What's happened since: Since the Tribune published its series last winter, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has streamlined the process for Vietnam veterans to receive benefits for exposure to Agent Orange as well as for mental ailments caused by war. A group of prominent citizens from both countries developed a 10-year, $300 million plan to help Vietnam recover from the health and environmental consequences of Agent Orange, and during an official visit to Vietnam, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with ministers about the U.S. commitment to continue helping the country clean up "hot spots" that are still contaminated with herbicides. Congress has approved millions of dollars in additional funding to clean up the contaminated areas.
—Jason Grotto and Tim Jones
What we found: A company led by a luminary in the world of alternative treatments for autism was selling a compound originally developed as an industrial chemical meant to treat polluted wastewater in mining operations. Called OSR#1, the product was being sold as a toxicity-free antioxidant supplement. The company Web site listed pharmacies and physicians who specialize in autism, and the compound was being promoted on popular autism Web sites. It has never been proven safe and effective in clinical trials.
What's happened since: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June sent a warning letter to the maker of the product, retired University of Kentucky chemist Boyd Haley. The letter stated OSR#1 is an unapproved new drug, not a supplement, and that Haley's own limited animal studies found potential side effects. The letter detailed five violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Last week, several pharmacies told the Tribune they were halting sales of OSR#1 after receiving an e-mail from Haley informing them OSR#1 would not be available after July 29. But at least one online pharmacy still sold the product as of Wednesday. Haley has yet to respond to the FDA's letter.
— Trine Tsouderos
'Green' tire burner
What we found: Legislation before Illinois lawmakers contained a provision that would have allowed a tire incinerator with a long history of pollution problems to qualify as a provider of renewable, green energy. The policy change would have made the cash-strapped tire burner in south suburban Ford Heights a player in the state's growing market for renewable power.
What's happened since: After we wrote about the plan, lawmakers killed the idea.
— Michael Hawthorne
Eye doctor under fire
What we found: Dr. Nicholas Caro, a Chicago ophthalmologist who was sued 50 times by patients who said he botched their Lasik eye surgeries, was still operating despite a recommendation from the state's chief medical prosecutor that Caro's medical license be "suspended, revoked, or otherwise disciplined."
What's happened since: In February, about eight months after the Tribune first ran a story about Caro, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation found that Caro had engaged in unprofessional conduct and gross negligence. The agency barred him from performing procedures aimed at changing the curvature of the cornea, including Lasik surgeries, and suspended his medical license for 30 days, placed him on probation for a minimum of 3 years and fined him $10,000, the maximum allowed per violation. Caro also was ordered to stop performing intraocular procedures in his medical office, which include cataract surgery, corneal transplantation and refractive lens exchange or clear lens extraction.
—Deborah L. Shelton
What we found: The Tribune ran several stories on meals served to children in Chicago Public Schools, noting that Pop-Tarts, nachos, doughnuts, sugary cereals, and packaged cakes and cookies were staples of the menus.
What's happened since: The district announced plans to overhaul its menus, saying that for the coming school year nacho service would be reduced in high schools from every day to once a week and in elementary schools to once a month. Doughnuts and Pop-Tarts would be stricken from breakfast menus, and sugary cereal with candy themes would also be removed. Daily desserts of cakes and cookies were to be reduced to a once-a-week treat.
Mercury in skin creams
What we found: Laboratory testing by the Tribune found some skin-lightening creams contained extremely high amounts of mercury.
What's happened since: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May launched an investigation into the problem, and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced a bill in Congress that would require regular government testing of all cosmetics — from shampoo to deodorant to makeup — for hazardous ingredients. The Tribune story also sparked several retailers and distributors to stop selling the tainted skin creams.
—Ellen Gabler and Sam Roe
Struggles of special ed
What we found: A series of Tribune stories on the Chicago Public Schools special education program revealed cases in which the federally mandated educational rights of children with disabilities were denied or delayed.
What's happened since: In March, the district promised a system-wide revamp. Two months later, that revamp began with the hiring of longtime Chicago school principal Dick Smith as head of the newly named Office of Special Education and Supports. Smith promised to bring greater accountability to the department and make it a more "customer-service-oriented agency." Many in the advocacy community applauded the district's hiring of Smith but say proof of any improvements in the system won't come until the new school year is under way.
—Rex W. Huppke and Azam Ahmed
Nursing home safety
What we found: Illinois is an outlier among states in its reliance on nursing homes to house younger adults with mental illness, including thousands of felons. The Tribune uncovered a series of recent cases in which violent nursing home residents assaulted, raped and even murdered their elderly and disabled housemates. The state's criminal background checks on new residents were riddled with errors and omissions that grossly understated their criminal records and danger to others. Only 59 of the 192 sex offenders in Illinois nursing homes were listed on the state's online sex offender registry. Authorities have investigated 86 cases of sexual violence against nursing home residents since July 2007, but only one investigation resulted in an arrest.
What's happened since: On July 29, Gov. Pat Quinn signed landmark nursing home safety reform that will beef up existing criminal background checks and psychological screenings of incoming nursing home residents, and it will place the relatively small number of dangerous patients into separate, secure therapeutic wards. The new law requires the state to hire dozens of new nursing home inspectors and, overall, is designed to divert thousands of mentally disabled people from nursing homes into an array of smaller, residential programs in the community. Sparked by the Tribune investigation, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is continuing to raid some of the state's most troubled nursing homes, arresting scores of residents wanted on outstanding warrants.
—Gary Marx and David Jackson
What we found: In April 2009, the Tribune revealed how public officials in south suburban Crestwood had secretly pumped contaminated well water to residents for more than two decades. Records showed that officials kept using the well even though state environmental officials had told them two decades earlier that the water contained dangerous chemicals related to a dry-cleaning solvent.
What's happened since: Since the last round of Tribune Watchdog updates, federal and state health officials unveiled a study in March that found "significantly elevated" cancer rates in Crestwood that could be linked to the village's tainted well. The Tribune also reported that Crestwood officials had billed taxpayers for more than $1 million in legal bills to defend Mayor Robert Stranczek and his father, former Mayor Chester Stranczek, from lawsuits related to the water scandal.
Child welfare revelations
What we found: The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had increasingly diverted families with issues of neglect or abandonment to probate court, a system typically reserved for less complex guardianship cases, rather than sending them through juvenile court where they could receive support services. In some cases, DCFS issued letters declaring someone as the caretaker of a minor child without conducting background checks or home monitoring. The undated letters, granted without court approval as part of the DCFS Extended Family Support Program, allowed children to remain in the custody of caretakers for years, even when their foster parent licenses had expired or been placed on hold because of violations in the home.
What's happened since: DCFS stopped issuing the custodial letters on March 17, two weeks after the Tribune raised questions with DCFS officials about the practice. The agency named an independent consultant to review the Extended Family Support Program and make recommendations to DCFS Director Erwin McEwen. DCFS officials said they are reviewing the report and re-evaluating the program.
Mayor's claim of medal
What we found: The Tribune revealed in May that national military records do not match Calumet Park Mayor Joseph DuPar's claims that he won the Medal of Honor, the military's highest decoration, and four Bronze Star medals, which are awarded for acts of bravery and merit.
What's happened since: Last month, DuPar dropped a defamation lawsuit he had filed against a former mayoral opponent who questioned his military honors and claimed the mayor was violating the Stolen Valor Act. The federal law makes it illegal to lie about military honors. Those convicted face up to a year in jail or a fine up to $100,000. DuPar has not been charged.
New laws follow Tribune reports
NURSING HOME SAFETY
In July, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law landmark nursing home safety reforms aimed at ending chronic violence in the facilities. The law follows a yearlong Tribune investigation by David Jackson and Gary Marx that found assaults, rapes and murders in a subset of poorly supervised nursing homes that housed high numbers of mentally ill felons. Under the law, the state will beef up security and treatment measures and divert thousands of mentally disabled people into smaller, residential programs.
In June, Illinois became the first state to require the testing of all DNA evidence gathered from reported sex crimes under a new law that is expected to unearth thousands of unexamined rape kits from police vaults. The law follows a 2009 Tribune review by Megan Twohey that found many rape kits were being placed in storage untested, depriving the state of opportunities to solve crimes, exonerate the wrongfully convicted and bring closure to victims.
In July, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a measure that prohibits judges from granting a special type of probation called court supervision to drivers caught speeding at least 40 mph over the limit. The law resulted from a Tribune investigation earlier this year in which Joe Mahr found Chicagoland judges gave supervision to nearly two-thirds of drivers caught going 100 mph or faster, including many also cited for driving without a valid license or for driving that fast while drunk. Supervision — a staple of area courts — keeps tickets off public driving records.
We're still waiting, still watching
PARKING TICKET MYSTERY
The ongoing saga of Mark Geinosky and his 24 unwarranted parking tickets continues, as the Orland Park man still does not know why Chicago police officers targeted him. When the Tribune last checked on Geinosky on March 5, he had just filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago and two police officers, contending they had abused their power by repeatedly issuing false parking tickets. At the time, an internal investigation into the tickets was still ongoing. Police spokesman Roderick Drew said this week that the investigation is complete and that a recommendation from internal affairs is being reviewed. "I don't have a timetable when the review will be complete," Drew said. The Problem Solver first wrote about Geinosky's case Feb. 24, 2009.
CHRIS ZORICH AND THE $864,645
The Tribune reported June 23 that the charity of ex-Chicago Bear Chris Zorich was in disarray and that the native South Sider didn't know the location of $864,645 in assets listed on its 2002 federal tax return, apparently the last one filed. Zorich said then that he was searching for the relevant bank statements. Since then, Zorich has yet to produce bank statements or an explanation, despite repeated requests from the Tribune. Most recently, on July 26, he wrote: "I have hired counsel and we are in the process of hiring an accounting firm and contacting the AG's office." The Illinois attorney general's office — which canceled the charity's registration in 2004, rendering it inoperable — sent letters to Zorich at his office at University of Notre Dame after the initial Tribune story. Having not heard from Zorich by July 14, it's now investigating.
—Jared S. Hopkins
BELLWOOD'S $472,255 SALARY
In June, the Tribune revealed that the blue-collar western suburb of Bellwood paid Roy McCampbell $472,255 last year — by far the highest total compensation of any suburban municipal executive. McCampbell said he did the work of 10 people — comptroller, administrator, public safety CEO, finance director, budget director, human resources director, mayoral assistant, corporation counsel, property commission director and development corporation officer. When the Tribune started asking questions about McCampbell's pay, village officials said they were completing their own probe and turning over records to the Cook County state's attorney's office. The report stirred some local residents to confront their village officials about the high pay, but there is no final word yet from the mayor or the state's attorney on any action or further explanation.