Metro-East News

State provides added manpower after Kelly asks to reinstate Public Integrity Unit

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly. BND

Gov. Bruce Rauner has provided additional manpower after St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly asked him to reinstate the Illinois State Police’s Public Integrity Unit, which was disbanded in 2013 due to budget constraints.

However, Rauner stopped short of reinstating the unit. Kelly made his request to Rauner in a letter in February, and last month the governor provided the additional manpower.

“That unit is still disbanded and I am appealing to you and your great team at ISP to restore it,” he said.

A spokesman for Rauner’s office could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not known how much additional manpower the state provided.

Kelly also sought reinstatement of the ISP Public Integrity Unit in 2013 under then Gov. Pat Quinn.

“For many years, the unit was the primary law enforcement agency investigating complaints regarding public integrity and public corruption. Over the past decade, cuts in manpower in the investigative division of District 11 lead to the downsizing and eventual elimination of the Public Integrity Unit. Simply put, We need this unit back,” Kelly said in his letter.

Kelly say the Public Integrity Unit is necessary because the number of state prosecutions of public corruption cases has quadrupled in the last four years.

“We could not have done this without the support of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois and other law enforcement partners. These cases have been as varied as they are infuriating: fraud involving federal stimulus dollars and state benefits, theft of police vests; many cases of theft of police benefits; many cases of theft of public funds including bond money; drug sales by public officials, including a truancy officer; withholding of official acts in exchange for sex; bribery, hate crimes, government credit card fraud, forgery and numerous elections violations,” Kelly said

Kelly has been aggressive during his tenure in going after corruption by public officials. Individuals who were found guilty of these crimes include school and local government officials, both elected and appointed, at all levels of government.

“We have shown a commitment to protect the public at all levels,” he said.

For many years, the unit was the primary law enforcement agency investigating complaints regarding public integrity and public corruption. Over the past decade, cuts in manpower in the investigative division of District 11 lead to the downsizing and eventual elimination of the Public Integrity Unit. Simply put, We need this unit back.

State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, in a letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner

Kelly said not having the investigators in the Public Integrity Unit has placed an even greater burden on local police and investigative bodies, including the Illinois State Police. Sometimes, such cases can present an ethical conflict for local police when they investigate officials within their own jurisdictions, Kelly said.

“We’ve managed these conflicts on an adhoc basis, but the restoration of the Public Integrity Unit would allow for all such conflicts to to be handled by an independent agency without unnecessary delay,” he said.

Steve Johnson, chief of the Swansea Police Department, said it's critical for the public to know, in cases of public corruption, that the investigations are being handled by a unit or a set of professional detectives who are independent of a local agency.

“In my last 25 years, we've done investigations on members of our own,” said Johnson, former chief investigator for the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department. “It's important to have a unit or individuals who are impartial so the public knows the investigation is being done fairly and impartially.”

Kelly said because the public sees more prosecutions when it comes to public corruption, more people are reporting it.

“Our efforts have prompted more members of the public and honest government officials to report concerns regarding the public trust,” Kelly said.

“A backlog of these complaints builds routinely. Delays and unanswered complaints builds routinely. Delays and unanswered complaints, with or without merit, can undermine the public’s faith in the justice system,” Kelly wrote in his letter.

Rauner’s director of public safety, former U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton, recently spoke to a group of more than 40 St. Clair County public officials who enrolled in a government ethics workshop at Southwestern Illinois College.

“(Training) is an important part of changing Illinois culture, but you and I both know prevention is not enough. Investigation and potential prosecution must be a credible possibility to change long entrenched attitudes,” Kelly wrote to Rauner.

Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503

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