In the last 30 days, five former public officials have been convicted of official misconduct in St. Clair County.
And before these convictions, only four people had been convicted of official misconduct since 2000.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said these cases are challenging and take a lot of time to investigate because of manpower shortages.
Kelly wants a special unit that can devote the time needed to investigate official misconduct cases and he hopes there will be enough support from Gov. Pat Quinn and the General Assembly to get more Illinois State Police officers in place to reconstitute the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit.
Kelly said the following people were convicted of official misconduct in the past month:
* Harry Halter, former Alorton director of public safety, conducted a traffic stop while off duty and out of his jurisdiction and then solicited a victim to perform a sex act to avoid arrest in 2008. Halter was not charged until 2011. He was arrested on March 25 in connection with an unrelated crime but was not charged in that case.
* Dallas Hill, a former New Athens police chief, committed official misconduct when he removed an Apple iPad and iPpod from evidence at the New Athens Police Department and took them home in July. He was charged in November.
* Marilyn Gooch, a former Alorton village employee and police officer, committed official misconduct when she stole some public funds from the village in August. Gooch was charged with this crime in September. As part of her sentence, she must pay restitution to the village of Alorton.
* Shantez Lockett, a former East St. Louis police dispatcher, was convicted of official misconduct for sending a text message to her boyfriend to let him know police were approaching his location. This interfered with the arrest of a suspect in June 2011. Lockett was charged in September 2011.
* Terrell McKire, a former Stites Township Park District commissioner in Brooklyn, was convicted of official misconduct for stealing public funds in February 2011. Kelly said the actual amount stolen was not determined but it was agreed that McKire would pay restitution to the Stites Township in the amount of $2,000. He was charged in May 2011 and convicted on Friday.
All five individuals were placed on probation. Kelly said none of them had prior convictions.
"Sentencing guidelines are not as strong as federal sentencing guidelines for corruption," Kelly said.
Seventy percent of official misconduct cases end up being dismissed or end in acquittal due to a variety of legal and evidentiary reasons, Kelly said.
"These were not slam dunk cases and official misconduct continues to be a challenging offense to investigate and prosecute, but with aggressive charging and negotiations, federal support and a little luck, we are having more success at holding public officials criminally accountable for felony criminal acts under state law, not just federal law," Kelly said.
"But, that frankly is not good enough. We need the State Police Public Integrity Unit reinstated. These cases take too long to investigate and the intricate evidence needed requires a lot of manpower," he said.
Kelly and U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton's public corruption task force includes federal and state agencies but where there is no federal legal nexus, investigations of public corruption often fall upon the Illinois State Police to handle because of the innumerable conflicts that arise for local police departments.
Manpower for Illinois State Police in District 11, which includes St. Clair County, has been gradually dropping since the 1990s, Kelly said.
What happens when pubic officials are convicted of misconduct?
They become felons and can never hold public office. They are placed on probation and if the probation is violated, the individual faces a prison sentence of between two to five years. Also, any official who is convicted of official misconduct is stripped of his or her pension benefits under the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
Police officers who get convicted of official misconduct lose their gun and badge and can never serve as peace officers again, according to the Illinois Police Training and Standards Board.
Kelly has met with state police leadership, State Senate President John Cullerton and Quinn's staff about the portion of the proposed state budget that includes three more graduating classes of state police officers who can, in part, be assigned to District 11. And he said he is "cautiously optimistic" it will be included in the 2014 budget.
East St. Louis City Councilman Delbert Marion, a former East St. Louis police chief and Brooklyn police chief, said he is pleased with the successful convictions of official misconduct cases "because the people of East St. Louis, Brooklyn and the surrounding communities put their faith and belief in whoever was elected to represent them. And the officials should represent them fairly and without bias or trying to further their own personal gains."
Marion added, "When allegations of official misconduct come up involving public officials -- whether it be mayors, department heads or any other person who is involved in city government -- those cases should be looked at and prosecuted just as thoroughly as those involving police officers."
Marion also would like to see the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit brought back and he also wants a federal officer to be a part of the unit.
"Their sole purpose would be to investigate allegations of official misconduct with police officers or public officials who are not doing their jobs the way they should," Marion said.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.