When the Bribe Isn’t Big Enough to Matter

Only in Illinois can your conviction for corruption be overturned for not accepting big enough bribes. From the Chicago Sun-Times,

Dominick Owens, 46, twice took bribes of $600 to issue certifications of occupancy for four newly constructed homes he hadn’t inspected, a jury found following a trial in November. Originally suspected of taking more than $20,000 in bribes in 2005 and 2006, he was sentenced in March by Judge Blanche M. Manning to a year and a day in federal prison.

But the sentence was reversed Thursday in a ruling issued by the Seventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Justices ruled that Owens should not have been convicted because prosecutors didn’t prove the bribes he took were worth more than $5,000, as the law requires.

That’s a pretty nifty requirement. In other words, accepting two bribes of $600 each isn’t really much of a bother. It’s like jaywalking. Sure, it’s against the law, but it’s not worth going to prison over. What’s several hundred dollars between a developer and a building inspector?

Owens was convicted as part of a much larger federal investigation called, “Operation Crooked Code,” which has resulted in the convictions of 21 people. Of the 21, 15 were Chicago building and zoning inspectors.

Six of the 15 crooked inspectors apparently used connections to get their city jobs, according to a hiring “clout list” that was kept by Mayor Daley’s former patronage director, Robert Sorich, who, in an outgrowth of the Hired Truck investigation, was convicted in June 2006 of overseeing an illegal-hiring system that gave city jobs and promotions to politically connected people.

You got that? The Hired Trucking scandal (more details on that can be found here and here) led to its own investigations, which in turn led to Operation Crooked Code. Operation Crooked Code showed empirically what most people in Chicago already knew: that city inspectors are open to bribes.

For Federal investigators, Chicago is a place where there’s plenty of corruption to investigate, which means there’s plenty of job security for them.

For writers, corruption is just one of the many inexhaustible sources of inspiration in Chicago. It’s a city that appalls, repulses, fascinates, seduces, and charms. It never bores. I never tire of it.


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