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Entries in Illinois (10)

Saturday
May112013

Huge Donation Goes to Wrong Animal Shelter

Tiffany Hagler-Geard/ABC News(SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.) -- One morning in early March, Susan Babbitt received a phone call from the Dana Law Firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was the kind of call people dream about: A woman had recently passed away, she was told, and had left money to the Friends of Collinsville Animal Shelter, the animal haven Babbit founded in Collinsville, Okla.

Babbit was shocked. Who was this woman? And more specifically, how much was the donation for?

"I was too polite to ask," Babbitt told ABC News.

A few days later, after mailing back a notarized and certified letter with the shelter's tax identification number as a nonprofit organization, she got her answer: The donor was 68-year-old Mary Kay Thomas. Thomas had no family and wanted to donate 27.5 percent of her estate to the animal shelter, according to Tulsa World.

As for the donation? It was for a whopping $188,981.03.

"I couldn't believe it," said Babbitt, who is also the librarian for the town, just north of Tulsa. She did wonder how Thomas was connected to her organization, but no one in Dana's office seemed to know. "That should have been a red flag, but it wasn't," Babbitt admitted.

Still, she was thrilled by the situation. "Every month we worry that we're going to have to close, and almost every other month we have some kind of a fundraiser"-- art sales, bake sales, garage sales. These small fundraisers helped her build the no-kill shelter, which goes by the name, Ward-Wiseman Animal Haven. It opened in 2008 after four years of effort and can hold about 30 cats and dogs, she said.

"I've always said, when you have an animal shelter you spend money, you don't make money," said Babbitt. "There's no way to get ahead. We charge a small fee--$120--to adopt the animal. But by the time we spay, neuter and give the animals heartworm tests, we've spent that much. But for the animals to be able to go to a good home, it's worth it to us."

On March 27, Babbitt received the check and immediately transferred it into the shelter's account. And that would have been that, but for the call she received on April 15. The law firm had made a mistake, the voice on her answering machine said. The check had gone to the wrong shelter. Instead, it was meant for the Friends of Collinsville Animal Shelter--the animal control and adoption shelter for the City of Collinsville, Illinois, not Oklahoma.

"I said 'You're kidding me! How can this happen after eight weeks?" Babbitt recalled.

She consulted her lawyer, who told her that she had to return the money.

Matt Dana, the owner and president of Dana Law Firm, told ABC News that it was an honest mix-up, the result of changing personnel in his office. "Somewhere along the way the file was assigned to a different attorney in the firm with a different paralegal, and they mailed out the check to the wrong charity," he said.

Dana said his company realized the mistake after a representative from the Collinsville, Ill., shelter—now called the Warren Billhartz Collinsville Animal Shelter -- called to ask about the status of the check. "Everybody started to panic and looked in the file and discovered there were two shelters and the check was sent to the wrong one," said Dana.

Although he feels "terrible," he does expect Babbitt to return the money. "It's no different than if you go to the grocery store and when you check out there's a bag of sugar under your cart that you didn't buy," he said. "The clerk made a mistake. It's not like you get to keep the sugar."

 Babbitt, for her part, has every intention to send back the cash, although she has not yet done so. "I just haven't had time," she said. "I'm going to do it."

But just in case, she gave a call to John Miller, the mayor of Collinsville, Ill., to ask if he would be willing to split the donation in half. "We are a no-kill institution," she said. "They euthanize. We don't. I doubt the woman would have wanted to donate to a shelter that euthanizes the animals."

Neither the Illinois shelter nor the mayor's office returned calls to ABC News. As of this writing Babbitt had not heard back from the mayor.

To help compensate for his error, Dana plans to donate his $12,000 fee to Babbitt's shelter.

"We've been told those people never had more than $2,000 in their bank account," he said. "We can understand that this is devastating to them."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Feb092013

Illinois Man Leaves Estate to Two Actors He Never Met

Brand X Pictures/Getty Images(LINCOLN, Ill.) -- A man who died last summer willed his estate to two actors he never met, leaving them an estimated half a million dollars each.

Ray Fulk was 71 when he died last July. He lived alone on a 160-acre property in Lincoln, Ill. that he inherited from his father. He had no family or children.

"He was a loner, and a lot of neighbors didn't know who he was," Behle said.

What Fulk did have, though, was an admiration for actors Kevin Brophy and Peter Barton, whom he had never met. He admired them so much that he left his estate to be split between them.

Donald Behle, an estate attorney, said he helped prepare Fulk's will around 1998, and never saw him again. Behle had helped with the estate of Fulk's father, who died in 1997.

Why did Fulk will his estate to the two actors?

"He just said they were friends of his," Behle said, who knew they were actors but did not know Fulk had never met them.

Behle is not sure why he considered them friends, but the State Journal-Register newspaper of Springfield, Ill., says he was a fan of their television shows.

Barton is known for his role as Dr. Scott Grainger in the soap opera The Young and the Restless from 1987 to 1993.

Brophy was in the 1977 show Lucan. Fulk had a poster from the show on the wall of his house, according to the State Journal-Register.

Behle is currently overseeing the sale of Fulk's property, which is appraised at $1,054,000. Behle declined to say how many bidders he has but said that a sale is "imminent."

Fulk also had about $230,000 in cash and CDs.

After Fulk died, Brophy and Barton received letters informing them of the bequest. The two are friends who had acted in the film Hell Night in 1981. They could not be reached for comment.

Barton actually visited Lincoln and Behle to see if the letter was real, Behle said.

"His reaction was disbelief," Behle said. "What would yours be?"

Behle said he enjoyed meeting Barton and giving him a tour of the property, except for the home.

Besides a farm and timber ground, the property also has a home that had plumbing, but for which Fulk did not have running water.

"His house was an absolute filthy mess. We wore masks when we were in there," Behle said.

The only other bequest he left was to the Anti-Cruelty Society, an animal organization in Chicago.

"He loved animals," Behle said, though he said he doesn't know if Fulk was affiliated with the organization.

Trisha Teckenbrock, a spokeswoman for the organization, didn't know how Fulk was associated with the organization either, but she confirmed the group received a letter informing them of the $5,000 donation.

The Anti-Cruelty Society is Chicago's oldest and largest humane society, established in 1899.

"We receive bequests all of the time from people we have never met before," said Teckenbrock. "It is quite an interesting thing when that happens."

Behle said the two actors should expect to receive checks in the mail once the estate is sold.

"It's been one of the oddest things I have ever had to deal with in 30 plus years of practicing law," he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep262012

Auction of Horses From Indicted City Comptroller Earns Almost $5 Million

Dixon, Ill., Comptroller Rita Crundwell is shown in this undated photo. (American Quarter Horse Association)(DIXON, Ill.) -- An auction of horses that belonged to an Illinois city comptroller indicted for stealing more than $53 million yielded $4.8 million this week, with millions in seized assets that have not been liquidated, says the U.S. Marshals Service.

Rita Crundwell, 59, comptroller of Dixon, Ill., is accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $53 million in city funds to support a "lavish lifestyle," including a large farm with over 150 horses, over $339,000 in jewelry, and numerous vehicles.

Crundwell was arrested in April and indicted in May by the U.S. Attorney's Office for one count of wire fraud after allegedly helping herself to public funds since 1990.

At the time of her arrest, FBI agents used seizure warrants at Crundwell's home, office, and her champion horse farm in Beloit, Wis., as well as another farm in Dixon, and seized contents of two bank accounts she controlled.

As the town's comptroller since the early 1980s, Crundwell earned an annual salary of $80,000, according to the complaint filed in April in the Northern District Court of Illinois.

Her attorney, Paul Gaziano of the Federal Defender Program, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The U.S. District Court Judge of Rockford, Ill., had ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to seize, manage and liquidate Crundwell's assets and to deposit the funds into an escrow account. The U.S. Marshals will use some of the funds for their expenses, including $1.5 million from caring for the horses. Other expenses include $400,000 that Crundwell still owed on a luxury motor home, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The funds are expected to be available to the city provided the government proves the allegations against Crundwell.

There have been three auctions this month that earned $7.2 million and Jason Wojdylo, chief inspector of the U.S. Marshals Service asset forfeiture division, expects millions in assets have yet to be sold.

The most expensive horse from the live auction, a three-time quarter-horse world champion called "Good I Will Be," sold to a Canadian for $775,000. Also sold during the live auction were frozen horse semen for $98,500 and tack and equipment for $892,945. Earlier this month, an online auction sold 80 horses for $1.6 million. On Tuesday, Crundwell's luxury motor home sold for $800,000.

Tim Jennings, co-owner of Professional Auction Services Inc., which managed the live auction of 319 horses on Sunday and Monday, said Crundwell would have probably never let go of many of the horses sold.

"These bloodlines will be dispersed in the industry and will have an impact for quite some time," he said.

Jennings said he was surprised by the show of interest in the auction from around the world, from people in Australia, Brazil, Europe. Part of the attention was driven by Crundwell's horses, which have made her "tremendously successful" in the quarter-horse world. She is an eight-time leading exhibitor at the American Quarter Horse world championship show.

However, Jennings said the allegations against Crundwell brought a large number of the 4,000 auction attendees.

Now that the most expensive assets to manage, the horses, have been sold, the Wojdylo said the U.S. Marshals Service can focus on the other assets, which include jewelry, vehicles and land. Wojdylo said one of her farms, which spans 80 acres, may be worth $800,000 alone.

Dixon has a population of 15,733, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office, and a budget of $8 million to $9 million a year. Crundwell, who handled all finances for the city, allegedly had access to an account that was unknown to Dixon's Mayor James Burke.

Burke said a new comptroller has been hired by the city and Crundwell is undergoing due process from both the federal and state court system. Last week, a Lee County grand jury returned a 60-count indictment against Crundwell on state charges that she embezzled almost $11 million in city money since January 2010.

Crundwell is accused of moving funds from the city's various bank accounts through a series of wire transfers and checks payable to "Treasurer," and depositing them into the unknown account from which she withdrew money for her own personal and business expenses.

The unknown account was held by the City of Dixon, but an entity called "RSCDA," was also listed. Checks written from this account were in 'C/O Rita Crundwell,'" the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Between January of 2007 and March of 2012, Crundwell allegedly used city funds to spend more than $2.5 million on her personal American Express credit card account, including more than $339,000 on jewelry, spending an average of over $5,380 a month.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jul202012

Top Six States Facing Major Financial Stress

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new report by the State Budget Crisis Task Force paints a chilling picture of what's ahead for U.S. states, even long after the 2008 recession officially ended.

The pessimistic analysis identifies major threats to fiscal sustainability, including out-of-control Medicaid spending; reductions in federal state-aid; underfunded state retirement plans; an eroding tax base; and laws that allow states to use gimmicks to hide their fiscal troubles.

The co-chairs of the Task Force -- former Fed chairman Paul Volker and former New York State Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch -- say state governments are coping with the "unprecedented challenges" in their attempt to keep providing "established levels of service with uncertain and constrained resources."  States' ability to continue to meet their obligations to their own employees, to their creditors and to their citizens, say the chairmen, "is threatened."

The report's recommendations include the following:

  • Reduce budget gimmickry.  States should, for example, replace cash-based budgeting with modified accrual budgets, so that legislators and the public can see how revenues earned in any given fiscal year relate to obligations incurred in the same year.
  • Enact forecasts and plans that extend at least four years into the future; encourage independent review of these forecasts.
  • Strengthen state 'rainy-day' funds.  Examples of successful funds, such as those created by Texas and Virginia, should be copied by other states.
  • State pension systems need to account more clearly for the risks they assume and for the potential shortfalls they face.  States should create mechanisms to ensure that required contributions are paid.
  • The federal government should shore up states' eroding tax bases by making it easier for states to collect taxes on goods and services sold over the Internet.


The report examines in particular the health of six states -- California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia -- because, say its authors, these account for more than a third of the nation's population and almost 40 cents out of every dollar spent by state and local government.

Here's a sampling of the challenges facing these six states, which the report says face major threats to their ability to provide basic services:

1. Illinois -- Medicaid Spending
Medicaid, says the report, is the single biggest spending category in most states' budgets and is growing faster than both the economy and state tax revenues.  If trends of the past decade continue, the gap between Medicaid spending and state tax revenue growth will increase by at least $22 billion annually within five years.  Illinois, by the end of the current year, will face accumulated unpaid Medicaid bills estimated to total $1.9 billion.

2. New York -- Reduced Federal Aid to States
When the federal government gets around to taking significant steps to reduce its budget deficit, predicts the report, "such action could wreak havoc on the states."  Even a 10 percent cut in federal aid would cost states a collective $60 billion, the equivalent of eliminating all states' spending on libraries, parks and recreation.  Such a cut would cost New York and California more than $6 billion each, but New York's cut per capita ($316.5) would be highest of any of the six states.

3. California -- Underfunded Retirement
Under current actuarial assumptions, says the report, state and local government pension funds are underfunded by approximately $1 trillion.  Despite that shortfall, California and other states have continued to sweeten pension benefits, some retroactively, on the basis of assumptions that in hindsight were too optimistic.  California's unfunded liability, based on the current market value of its fund's assets, is greatest of the six states: $135.8 billion.  Illinois is next, at $92.5 billion.

4. Texas -- Eroding Tax Base
The report calls states' sales tax revenues "volatile and eroding."  Reasons include a nationwide shift in consumer spending away from goods toward more lightly-taxed services.  An increase in cars' fuel efficiency has reduced revenue from fuel taxes.  Texas' situation is complicated by the fact that it has no income tax, and so relies "far more heavily" on the sales taxes than do most states.  Sales taxes, says the report, have been diminishing relative to the economy.  "A 1 percent change in personal income now produces only about an estimated 0.7-0.8 percent increase in sales tax revenue," the report says.

5. Virginia -- Local Government Fiscal Stress
"Fiscal stress rolls downhill," says the report.  Suffering states have tried to pass their troubles down to cities, towns and counties -- for example, by cutting aid to primary and secondary education.  Such moves, however, result in no net reduction of a state's fiscal stress: The pea is just hidden under a different walnut-shell.  While laws in some states prevent local governments from raising property tax rates to offset those housing-bust declines in value, Virginia's towns and cities can raise taxes all they want, and some are doing so.  What good is achieved?  Says the report: "This kind of compensating mechanism only turns potential stress for local governments into actual stress for property owners."

6. New Jersey -- Laws and Practices That Hinder Fiscal Stability

Short-term budget gimmicks, says the report, only serve to destabilize a state's long-term finances.  One of the most notorious gimmicks, it says, is capitalizing future revenues to produce a balance in a current year, borrowing cash "not just from the year ahead but from many years into the future."  An obvious way to end the practice is to put in place "a multi-year financial and capital plan linked to the annual budgeting process."  Multi-year planning has been practiced successfully by many states, says the report, but New Jersey isn't one of them: the state has no such plan in place.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun072012

Mega Millions Jackpot Brings Another Lawsuit from Disgruntled Baker

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Another man in Chicago claims he is one of now five bakers owed dough -- their fair share of $118 million in winnings from the Illinois State Lottery. They say they were part of a betting pool at the Pita Pan Old World Bakery in Chicago Heights that won the windfall in a May 4 drawing.

Chris Tzinis is the latest worker who claims he was part of the bakery's office pool since its start in December 2011. He said he last contributed to the pool on March 30 at the request of a lottery pool member, but was not asked to pitch in more money for the May 4 drawing, according to the suit filed with Cook County's circuit court.

Last month, four other workers filed three lawsuits with similar stories, saying they are entitled to part of the Mega Millions jackpot. Tzinis did not return a request for comment.

"This group had been running a pool since 2011," said attorney Michael LaMonica of Fisher & LaMonica, the law firm representing two of the five claimants. "Normally, they collected money for the pool on Mondays and Thursdays."

His clients, Jose Franco, 56, and Marco Medina, 39, contributed to the pool for a May 1 drawing, LaMonica said.

The group's ticket won $9, and the modest winnings were re-invested in the drawing for May 4.

"The collector came around again," LaMonica said. "But because some auditing was going on at the bakery, he switched the day of his collection to a Wednesday. For whatever reason, he didn't ask my clients for any additional money."

The ticket that the contributors bought won $118 million on May 4.

Now Franco and Medina say their co-workers are refusing to give them their fair share. Why do they feel they deserve part of the windfall? They paid into the ticket that won $9. And, since the $9 went into the purchase of the next ticket, they had an ownership stake in the $118 million winner.

The pool, they contend, had a standing agreement to divide its winnings equally. They say that if they'd been asked to contribute their customary share for the purchase of the winning ticket, they would have. Only nobody asked them for their money.

Michael Haugh, the attorney for the 12 defendants, said he disagrees with the plaintiffs' "characterization of the facts."

"Anybody who puts in their money can play," Haugh said.

The dozen defendants in the separate lawsuits include Mario Juarez, who allegedly served as the collector of the group's money, and Tony Koumalis and Doug Lein, who allegedly were the pool's organizers.

Haugh said different people participated from drawing to drawing. Two of the 12 winners participated in the office pool for the first time on May 4, he said, "and nobody said to them they don't get their share because they just started playing."

"If you want to play you put in your money," he said. "It's your responsibility, if you want to play, to put your money in. No one was going to chase you for your money."

Haugh said he has not seen the latest complaint filed by Tzinis, who had already filed a claim with the Illinois lottery, saying he believed he was one of the winners.

The group of 12 defendants presented the winning ticket but the Illinois lottery is waiting for a court order from the judge to direct how they should release the funds. If there is a dispute over the winners, the lottery's policy is to wait until it has been resolved to make a payout. The law views betting pools as joint ventures, LaMonica said.

"It's one-for-all and all-for-one," he said. "Everybody gets an equal share. There's no way of knowing which dollar won." Courts in New Jersey and Ohio, he says, when presented with similar disputes, have elected to give equal shares to each participant.

On June 11, the judge in Chicago will likely consolidate the four lawsuits into one, Haugh said. At that time, Haugh will request the lottery release some portion of the jackpot to his twelve clients.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan112012

Illinois Man Wins Lottery -- Again

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Lightning struck twice for a Chicago man who has won a second $1 million lottery in the past 10 years.

“I won $1 million about nine years ago from the Merry Millionaire game,” Scott Anetsberger said in a statement touting his second windfall.

“He plans on using his winnings to pay bills and send his two younger children to college,” Lottery officials said.

Merry Millionaire is a $20 scratch-off game.

Anetsberger bought the winning ticket at the J&P Food store in Villa Park, Chicago.

“He’s a regular at our store and we’re happy that he won,” the store manager told Illinois Lottery.

J&P gets a $6,000 cut from the winnings, about one percent of what Anetsberger will collect after taxes. He received his ceremonial check Tuesday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun022011

New Chicago Mayor Bets on State-Owned Casinos

Scott Olson/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Visitors to Chicago may soon do a double-take upon landing at either of the city's major airports when they see gamblers working one-armed bandits. They may also see a glittering new casino nestled among the city's iconic skyscrapers when they arrive downtown if new Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his way.

Emanuel and state legislators -- faced with crippling budget deficits -- want Chicago to become the first big city in America to own a casino and control thousands of slot and video poker machines. The Illinois legislature has already approved such a plan, allowing five casinos in Chicago, its suburbs, and downstate cities, but Gov. Pat Quinn is holding the veto card and he's worried about turning Chicago into Las Vegas of the Midwest.

Illinois voters, Quinn says, do not favor "excessive gambling," but he has not publicly said whether he will veto the plan.

Chicago's new mayor, like his predecessor, sees a city-owned casino generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year -- money that could be used to help fill a nearly billion-dollar deficit. Potential developers are already eying possible sites downtown, including the once grand Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue, the gleaming new Trump tower in the River North neighborhood, and Northerly Island -- a spit of land off Chicago's lakefront that once served as a small airport.

"A Chicago casino will spur local economic growth and provide jobs to Chicagoans," Emanuel says.

But opponents fear a casino will divert revenue away from local venues and the city's strong convention business. Doug Dobmeyer, long active in Chicago civic affairs, wonders, "If you lose your money at a casino, are you going to go to a restaurant, are you going to go to the opera, are you going to see the Cubs or the Bulls? The answer is no."

Many Chicago-area politicians are betting that Gov. Quinn will approve at least part of the deal. After all, Illinois is broke -- it's struggling with a nearly $13 billion-dollar deficit and is unable to pay many of its bills. That reality alone may be enough to drive the politics that could make Chicago the biggest gambling mecca between Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May092011

Sears Considering New Headquarters Options

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill.) -- Sears Holding Corp. may move its headquarters from Illinois, a company spokesman announced Monday.

Sears is currently operated from a complex called Prairie Stone in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Some 6,200 employees report to the center. The company is now considering options for when its state and local tax incentives expire next year.

The company has still not made a decision. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn reportedly intends to meet with company leaders to negotiate options.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Apr092011

US Regulators Close 28th Bank of the Year

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The total of U.S. bank failures this year stands at 28, after banks in Illinois and Nevada were closed by federal regulators on Friday.

The assets from Nevada Commerce Bank will be assumed by the City National Corp.'s City National Bank.

Heartland Bank and Trust Co. has agreed to assume the deposits of Western Springs National Bank and Trust.

Combined, the two bank failures will cost the federal deposit insurance fund $62.9 million.

Last year 157 banks failed, the most since the savings and loan crisis ended in 1992.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan132011

Illinois Set to Hike Taxes: Necessary or Bad for State's Economy?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- As states across the country face mounting budget deficits, Illinois is preparing to hike taxes to cover a $15-billion budget shortfall.

In a plan just passed by the legislature and set to be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois will more than double its state personal income tax rate and also levy increases on corporate income taxes to preserve some state services.

The personal income tax rate will jump from three to five percent, a 66-percent increase that some argue will hurt Illinois' economy and drive business to other states.

State Sen. Dan Duffy, a Republican, called the tax increase "the nuclear bomb of job bills," and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Democrat, has said the hike will result in job losses.

But others say it's more important to keep the state government on track and programs in operation.

"I pity women trying to work and afford child care because these services were about to go away," Maria Whelan with Illinois Action for Children told ABC's Chicago affiliate, WLS.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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