Tribune watchdog update
The Tribune keeps you informed, from doctors' misdeeds to DNA mishaps
Do Duc Diu, 58, and his daughters Do Thi Nga, 15, and Do Thi Hang, 19, were featured in a Tribune series on the lingering effects of agent orange spraying during the Vietnam War. (Tribune photo by Kuni Takahashi)
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.