Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blue State Graft Watch: Former IL Secretary of State Employee Sentenced in Cash-for-Liscenses Scheme

Despite an ealier 8 year federal probe into an Illinois cash-for-drivers-licenses scheme that resulted in the criminal convictions of former Gov. George Ryan and a number of senior Secretary of state employees, cases of bribery and corruption continued at some Illinois licensing facilities.
Federal prosecutors allege James Howell, of Chicago, started pocketing bribes while working at a licensing facility in Bridgeview in 2006.

On Wednesday, Howell was sentenced in federal court to two years in prison for accepting bribes of $100 at a time for fraudulently issuing licenses to mostly Chinese nationals.

Howell was so busy taking bribes that he didn't have time to administer road tests for the bribe-paying applicants, so he simply filled out their test scores for them to ensure they passed, according to his plea agreement.

Howell was one of two secretary of state employees snared in an investigation into a Chinatown phony-licensing ring that has led to 19 convictions so far.

During the scheme, Howell and co-defendant Timothy Johnson, a former secretary of state employee, pocketed up to $10,000 in bribes between them, prosecutors said.

While working at the licensing facility at 9901 S. King Drive on the South Side, Johnson also took cash bribes with three other employees, sharing in $40,000 in all, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty but has not yet been sentenced. The others haven't been charged.

After the bribery schemes came to light, the secretary of state's office ended up canceling the licenses of nearly 3,000 drivers, spokesman David Druker said Wednesday.
From the 1990s to 2002, the Illinois Secretary of State's office- which includes the DMV- was alleged to have sold phony licenses and vehicle registrations to unqualified drivers under Republican then-governor George Ryan. The ongoing scheme was busted up in a federal probe called Operation Safe Roads after the Feds approached two whistleblowers in the Illinois Secretary of State's office.

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