St. Clair County is on the verge of paying $35,000 to state Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, and business associate Joseph Summerill, of Washington, D.C., for their work to bring more federal inmates to the county jail.
Clayborne, the Senate majority leader, and Summerill have nearly wrapped up negotiations with the U.S. Marshal's Service, according to Summerill.
Now Clayborne and his partner apparently are trying broker deals for other counties.
St. Clair County will pay the $35,000 fee to Clayborne and Summerill within 30 days after the end of negotiations to boost the federal inmate per diem rate and to double the jail's federal inmate population from 25 to 50, according to the contract the St. Clair County Board approved in December.
The higher inmate numbers and increased per diem will generate almost $3.6 million in federal revenue for the county during the next three years, according to the county contract.
That figure would mean the county would pull in almost $700,000 in new annual revenue if the marshal's service boosts both the per diem to $65 from the current $54, while doubling the inmate count to 50.
Summerill said he wishes to work with other Illinois counties to boost their jails' federal inmate populations and per diem payments.
"I'd like to do more business because there's a lot of counties that are being underpaid by the U.S. Marshals Service," said Summerill, a former chief contracts attorney for the federal Bureau of Prisons.
In April, the Macoupin County Board agreed to pay $60,000 to Summerill's firm, the Summerill Group LLC, to increase the number of federal inmates housed at the Macoupin County Jail in Carlinville.
As in St. Clair County, Clayborne played a key role in cutting a deal between the federal government and Macoupin County.
For years Macoupin County had tried to fill its half-empty jail with federal inmates, Sheriff Don Albrecht said.
"And we tried the free route for several years, and we got what we paid for," Albrecht said.
So Albrecht decided on a new approach -- which is how Clayborne entered the picture.
On Feb. 17, the powerful Belleville lawmaker met with Albrecht and other Macoupin County leaders at the county courthouse in Carlinville. They had gathered for a presentation given by Summerill on ways to bring in more federal prisoners and boost the per diem the U.S. Marshals Service would pay to house them.
The resulting contract calls for Summerill's firm to calculate a federal per diem for the county jail and to submit a proposal to the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the News-Democrat.
The goal: attract up to 30 federal inmates to the jail. That would generate as much as $600,000 annually in new revenue for the cash-strapped county, according to the agreement.
Regardless of whether that goal is met, Macoupin County will pay Summerill in payments spread out for two fiscal years -- $20,000 on Sept. 1; $20,000 on Oct. 1; and $20,000 on Nov. 1. The contract does not specify how much money Clayborne would be paid.
Summerill denied that Clayborne's political prominence played a role in his decision to team up with the powerful senator to broker jail deals.
"Because I'm an attorney in Washington, I like to team with an attorney in the state that I'm working in," Summerill said. "Because I'm not barred in Illinois, working with Mr. Clayborne allows me to work in Illinois."
Besides serving as a state senator, Clayborne is also an attorney. He declined repeated attempts to be interviewed for this story.
David Morrison, a spokesman for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, in Chicago, said it's hard to isolate the role a powerful lawmaker's clout plays in obtaining outside consulting and legal work.
"State legislators are officially part time," Morrison said. "There are good parts and bad parts to that."
For example, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan enjoys a lucrative career as a commercial property tax appeal lawyer, appearing regularly before a board run by a fellow Democrat, the Cook County Democratic chairman.
"He represents clients," Morrison said of Madigan. "He has to make a case the same way everybody else does."
Yet recent media scrutiny of Madigan's powers as a legal rainmaker show that his political clout is crucial.
"When Mike Madigan calls and asks for a meeting, you meet with him," a well-known Chicago developer told the Chicago Tribune in 2010. "Nobody wants to (anger) the speaker of the House."
Either way, Morrison said, questions about the role of clout in lawmakers' outside business interests highlight the shortcomings of economic interest statements that Illinois politicians file each year.
"Part of the problem is the public has so little to go on when looking at those relationships," Morrison said. "It's just that harder to figure out where there would be conflicts for a state official. ... What they have to disclose about those potential conflicts is so scant."
In Clayborne's case, the economic interest statement he filed with the Illinois General Assembly in May for 2011 makes no mention of his work with Summerill.
Like the contract with St. Clair County, the Macoupin County contract does not specify Clayborne's role or how much of the contract amount he would receive.
Summerill did acknowledge that he had needed Clayborne's help 10 months ago when the deal with St. Clair County arose.
"I reached out to him," Summerill said of Clayborne, whose help was needed to make contact with St. Clair County leaders.
Albrecht said he did not know what part Clayborne would play in negotiations between his county and the federal government.
"I think he was acting as a private citizen at the time," Albrecht said, "but I really don't know what his role was."
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 239-2533.