The U.S. attorney’s office and five law enforcement agencies are pooling their resources to establish an anti-corruption task force in central Illinois.

The U.S. attorney’s office and five law enforcement agencies are pooling their resources to establish an anti-corruption task force in central Illinois.


 


The task force also has created a toll-free “tip line” for the public to report suspected fraud and abuse.


 


Corruption by public officials and those who deal with government agencies “weakens the foundation of the house we live in,” said Rodger Heaton, U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois. “It’s not enough to complain at the coffee shop or over dinner with friends.”


 


Agencies participating in the task force are the FBI, Springfield division; Illinois State Police; Illinois Secretary of State Office of Inspector General; U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Chicago division; and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations division.


 


“Because the state capital is in this district, we have to be vigilant,” Heaton said, adding that one of his goals when he was appointed to the post in April 2006 was to establish a public corruption unit.


 


He cited the recent indictment of a Palos Park man for allegedly defrauding two state departments and the conviction of an Oak Brook businessman for cheating the Illinois Department of Transportation as examples of recent corruption cases prosecuted by his office.


 


Also, in January, former secretary of state director of physical services Cecil Turner and three secretary of state janitors were sentenced to prison for defrauding the state. The U.S. attorney’s office and the secretary of state’s inspector general’s office worked together in that case.


 


The tip line, 1-877-U-Tip-Off (1-877-884-7633), is staffed 24 hours a day. During business hours, a caller is likely to reach a task force member or FBI agent. After-hours calls will be handled by the FBI Operations center, said Janice Fields, of the FBI.


 


She said anonymous calls will be welcome, but leaving contact information could help corroborate information.


 


“It’s always better to have someone who’s cooperating fully, but we’ll take what we can get,” she said.


 


Public corruption cases are difficult for a number of reasons, according to Jim Burns, inspector general for the Illinois secretary of state and a former U.S. attorney in Chicago.


 


“They’re hard to make in the first place, and they attract a lot of media attention,” he said. “Plus, a large percentage of these cases go to trial, and they attract typically the best defense attorneys. That’s why you can’t just hip-shoot and put these cases together,” Burns said.


 


He said he expects the tip line in the beginning to yield “a lot of anonymous calls that won’t amount to a hill of beans.”


 


“Over time, if we work it right, we’ll get very few anonymous complaints,” Burns said. “They’ll learn they can trust this group and that we can get the job done.”


 


Both he and Heaton expect the task force’s best sources to be government employees “who are on the ground floor,” Burns said.


 


Assistant U.S. attorney Tim Bass will be the lead prosecutor for the task force. He said he expects to refer corruption cases back and forth with state’s attorneys in the district, depending on the case.


 


In addition to the tip line, Web sites are available to report suspected wrongdoing.


The FBI uses a national Web site, www.reportcorruption.fbi.gov. Burns’ office has another Web site available, www.reportitnow.net, to report suspected abuses.


 


The task force also will place posters in government offices to promote the tip line.


Chris Dettro can be reached at (217) 788-1510 or chris.dettro@sj-r.com.