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Entries in Illinois (52)

Wednesday
Mar272013

Suspected Craigslist Rapist Linked to 20 More Attacks

ABC News(CHICAGO) -- An Illinois man accused of raping five women he met through Craigslist is being investigated for potentially attacking at least 20 more women, according to authorities.

Police were searching for more of Charles Oliver’s possible victims as a judge set his bond for $3 million on Tuesday.

In a hearing on Monday, prosecutors painted a portrait of a house of horrors where Oliver attacked, photographed and videotaped hundreds of often-violent encounters, according to ABC News Chicago station WLS-TV.

Oliver, 44, of Woodstock, Ill., allegedly answered Craigslist ads for paid sexual encounters. While many of the encounters appear to have been consensual, there are now five women who claim he attacked them. Evidence from Oliver’s home has led prosecutors to believe there could be at least 20 other women who were victimized.

The women allegedly answered the ads but were then tied up, taunted, photographed or videotaped and physically assaulted, according to WLS. The attacks took place from November 2011 through early 2013.

Prosecutor Sharyl Eisenstein told the court that Oliver sometimes saved the women’s driver’s licenses and other souvenirs from the encounters, WLS reported.

He would then allegedly taunt them, saying things like, “Now you can have your picture taken and be in my collection” or calling them later to say, “I know where you live. You can’t call the police or I’ll come after you.”

Prosecutors said Oliver would lock the women in the basement first and then take them to his bedroom where he would videotape them as he forced them to perform sexual acts.

His defense attorney Mark Facchini said at a Tuesday bond hearing that in at least one of the cases, there was no evidence that the sex was forced, according to the Chicago Tribune. He said that Oliver had a relationship with one of the alleged victims.

Facchini did not immediately respond to request for comment from ABC News.

Oliver was arrested Jan. 28 after two women came forward as victims; he was released on bail. Evidence from his home lead police to three more victims and Oliver was re-arrested.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Mar022013

Tattoo Artist Helps Ex-Gang Members Erase Past for Free

ABC News/McKenzie Baker(OSWEGO, Ill.) -- Second chances can be hard to come by, but Chris Baker, 42, a tattoo artist in Oswego, Ill., gives them away for free.

Since 2011, Baker, who is also a youth pastor, has created more than 500 free tattoos for former gang members and victims of human trafficking eager to remove or cover up the visible evidence of their past. Big city human trafficking networks are often run by gang members, who tattoo their victims with barcodes, pimps’ names or gang symbols to track them and make it almost impossible for them to escape.

“It’s my way of giving back to the community that’s given me so much,” Baker told ABCNews.com, in explaining his service. “I just decided to do something positive, and to show people that people can change.”

Baker founded INK 180, a nonprofit organization that he funds with money he earns from his regular tattooing business and through donations. The name symbolizes the degree of change he hopes for in the lives of those he tattoos.

Baker has worked with former members of the Latin Kings, Black Disciples and Aryan Nation, explaining that the tattoos are like a rite of passage for initiated gang members.

It was during one of his youth group meetings that Baker realized he wanted to help these people, whose efforts to change and progress were often halted by the markings of their past.

Once a warehouse manager, Baker said that many of his employees had belonged to gangs, and they often compared their tattoos to Baker’s religious ones.

“They would say, ‘I wish I could get rid of my tattoos.  I’m tired of getting judged,’” Baker recalled. “And I decided, ‘That’s my calling.’”

For two years, Baker has worked with local, state and federal authorities to offer his services to former gang members who had difficulty finding jobs, or who were living in secrecy from gangs that they had left.

A member of his church who works with the Department of Homeland Security brought Baker’s attention to victims of human trafficking –  pointing out that by covering up or removing their tattoos, Baker could make it much harder for their captors find them.

The gang members who come on their own, or the women who have escaped sex trafficking rings and arrive with law enforcement protection, open up to Baker as he listens to them describe what they’ve done and what they want to do.

“These guys will say, ‘Yeah, it hurts,’ but it’s almost like penance for them. It’s representative of the pain they caused others, and they don’t want to cause anymore,” Baker said.

Baker leaves the type of tattoo up to his customers. “No matter the design, I just love being able to take away the visible reminders of their past and give them something beautiful to remind them of their future,” said Baker.

“There was one guy from Kansas City who had gotten out of prison,” Baker recalled. “We did a cover-up of a tattoo for him and found out he was an artist. He’s now working as an artist for a greeting card company.”

The Oswego village board recently approved Baker’s special use permit, and in a few weeks, he will have a more permanent home for INK 180, after previously renting spaces. It’ll be one of the few tattoo shops in the United States with a prayer wall and an information center for other nonprofit ministries in the area.

“People always ask me why I do this for free,” Baker said. “The stories I hear make it worth it.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Feb152013

Illinois Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SPRINGFIELD, Ill.) -- Illinois lawmakers took a major step in legalizing same-sex marriage on Thursday when the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill that would sanction the unions.

The vote was 34 to 21 with two abstentions.

Although Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk, passing the measure in the House will likely be more problematic.

Currently, Illinois permits civil unions for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Catholic leaders in the state are vehemently opposed to any same-sex marriage legislation, arguing that the Bible says marriage is only between one man and one woman.

If the measure passes, the definition of marriage officially would be altered in state law from an act between a man and a woman to two people.

Illinois is trying to join nine other states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex couples to wed.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jan122013

Poisoned Lottery Winner’s Family Knew Something Wasn't Right, Nephew Says

Hemera/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Urooj Khan had just brought home his $425,000 lottery check when he unexpectedly died the following day. Now, certain members of Khan's family are speaking publicly about the mystery -- and his nephew told ABC News they knew something was not right.

"He was a healthy guy, you know?" said the nephew, Minhaj Khan said. "He worked so hard. He was always going about his business and, the thing is: After he won the lottery and the next day later he passes away -- it's awkward. It raises some eyebrows."

The medical examiner initially ruled Urooj Khan, 46, an immigrant from India who owned dry-cleaning businesses in Chicago, died July 20, 2012, of natural causes. But after a family member demanded more tests, authorities in November found a lethal amount of cyanide in his blood, turning the case into a homicide investigation.

"When we found out there was cyanide in his blood after the extensive toxicology reports, we had to believe that ... somebody had to kill him," Minhaj Khan said. "It had to happen, because where can you get cyanide?"

Authorities could be one step closer to learning what happened to Urooj Khan. A judge Friday approved an order to exhume his body at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago as early as Thursday to perform further tests.

Moments after the court hearing, Urooj Khan's sister, Meraj Khan, remembered her brother as the kind of person who would've shared his jackpot with anyone. Speaking at the Cook County Courthouse, she hoped the exhumation would help the investigation.

"It's very hard because I wanted my brother to rest in peace, but then we have to have justice served," she said, according to ABC News station WLS in Chicago. "So if that's what it takes for him to bring justice and peace, then that's what needs to be done."

Khan reportedly did not have a will. With the investigation moving forward, his family is waging a legal fight against his widow, Shabana Ansari, 32, over more than $1 million, including Urooj Khan's lottery winnings, as well as his business and real estate holdings.

Khan's brother filed a petition Wednesday to a judge asking Citibank to release information about Khan's assets to "ultimately ensure" that [Khan's] minor daughter from a prior marriage "receives her proper share."

Ansari may have tried to cash the jackpot check after Khan's death, according to court documents, which also showed Urooj Khan's family is questioning if the couple was ever even legally married.

Ansari, Urooj Khan's second wife, who still works at the couple's dry cleaning business, has insisted they were married legally.

She has told reporters the night before her husband died, she cooked a traditional Indian meal for him and their family, including Khan's daughter and Ansari's father. Not feeling well, Khan retired early, Ansari told the Chicago Sun-Times, falling asleep in a chair, waking up in agony, then collapsing in the middle of the night. She said she called 911.

"It has been an incredibly hard time," she told ABC News earlier this week. "We went from being the happiest the day we got the check. It was the best sleep I've had. And then the next day, everything was gone.

"I am cooperating with the investigation," Ansari told ABC News. "I want the truth to come out."

Ansari has not been named a suspect, but her attorney, Steven Kozicki, said investigators did question her for more than four hours.

"Absolutely, positively, you know, she had nothing to do with her husband's death," Kozicki said.

Despite the legal battle over the estate, Minhaj Khan said the family "can't really point fingers or we can't really speculate until a further investigation is done."

"When they are exhuming his body, I really hope the truth does come out, and our family finds some peace and we get to the bottom of this," he said. "Because everybody has to go one day, but the way that he died was not the way to go."

Urooj Khan won $1 million in a scratch-off Illinois Lottery game in June, though he elected to take the lump sum payout amounting to $425,000 after taxes. He said he planned to use the money to pay off his bills and mortgage, and make a contribution to St. Jude Children's Research Center.

Minhaj Khan remembered his uncle as that sort of giving person.

"He had a successful business, he was a great father, he was a great uncle to us and we knew him since the late '80s, since he came here [to the United States]," he said. "We lived with him. My kids used to play with him too, you know? I have two little girls. He was a really big family man and everybody loved him.

"He was the life of the party," he said, "always joking around, always joking with us and the family."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan112013

Poisoned Lottery Winner's Exhumation Approved

Hemera/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- A judge has approved the exhumation of the Chicago lottery winner who died of cyanide poisoning.

Judge Susan Coleman of the Probate Division of the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois Friday approved the county medical examiner's request to exhume the body of Urooj Khan at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.

Khan, 46, died July 20, 2012, from what was initially believed to be natural causes. But a family member whose identity has yet to be revealed asked the medical examiner's office to re-examine the cause of death, which was subsequently determined to be cyanide poisoning.

The office did so by retesting fluid samples that had been taken from Khan's body, including tests for cyanide and strychnine.

In explaining the request for exhumation, Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cina has said, "If or when this goes to court, it would be nice to have all the data possible."

The Chicago businessman had won a $1 million lottery jackpot -- before taxes -- the month before he died.

In the latest legal twist, Khan's brother filed a petition Wednesday to a judge asking Citibank to release information about Khan's assets to "ultimately ensure" that [Khan's] minor daughter "receives her proper share." Khan reportedly did not have a will.

He left behind a widow, Shabana Ansari, 32, and a teenage daughter from his first marriage. Ansari and Khan reportedly married 12 years ago in India.

Authorities questioned Ansari in November and searched the home she shared with Khan. She and her attorney, Al Haroon Husain, say she had nothing to do with his death.

"It's sad that I lost my husband," she told ABC News. "I love him and I miss him. That's all I can say."

The siblings of the poisoned lottery winner have pursued legal action to protect their niece's share of her late father's estate. They also questioned whether he and Ansari were legally married, but Ansari's attorney said she has a marriage certificate from India that is valid in the United States.

ImTiaz Khan, 56, Khan's brother, and Meraj Khan, 37, their sister, had won a court order to freeze the lottery winnings after Ansari cashed the check.

Husain said Ansari cashed the lottery check after it was mailed to the home, which she did not request.

The lottery check, about $425,000 in cash, was issued July 19 by the Illinois Comptroller's Office, then mailed, according to Brad Hahn, spokesman for the Comptroller's Office. Hahn said it was cashed Aug. 15, nearly a month after Khan's death, but he did not know who cashed it.

The judge later approved Ansari's competing claim as an administrator of the estate.

"I don't care what they talk [sic]," Ansari told ABC News of what her in-laws are saying.

Ansari said she was married to Khan but declined to comment to ABC News about cashing the check after his death.

Meraj Khan filed in September to become the legal guardian of her niece. After the judge asked the 17-year old daughter with whom she wished to live, she chose her aunt and has been there since November, Husain said.

Neither sibling has petitioned to obtain a share of the dead man's estate, which is estimated to be $1.2 million in lottery winnings, real estate, Khan's laundry business and automobiles.

Neither the attorney for ImTiaz Khan nor the two siblings has responded to requests for comment.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov152012

Ex-Comptroller Pleads Guilty to Stealing $53M from Illinois City

American Quarter Horse Association(DIXON, Ill.) -- A former comptroller for a small town in Illinois pleaded guilty to embezzling $53 million from city accounts to feed a lavish lifestyle that included a nationally known horse-breeding operation.

All of Rita Crundwell's items are up for auction by the U.S. Marshals, including 400 horses.  Only $7 million has been recovered so far.

"Since the day of her arrest, Rita has worked with the government to accomplish the sale of her assets, including her beloved horses -- all with the goal of helping to recoup the losses for the city of Dixon," Public Defender Paul Gaziano said.

The question many residents of Dixon are now asking is how did she get away with the scam for so long?  Dixon Mayor James Burke said Crundwell was the only person who controlled the city's finances and funneled public money to her secret, private accounts.

"There were no red flags that we were able to, or did notice here at city hall," Burke said.

Authorities say Crundwell was eventually taken down after going on vacation in October 2011, and her replacement at work called the bank to clear up some confusing paper work and stumbled upon her secret bank account.  Crundwell was arrested in April by the FBI.

Prosecutors say she began stealing money in 1990 to support her extravagant way of life.  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.

"There are all kinds of things that I wish I would have done differently," Mayor Burke said.

Many residents in the working-class town are in shock that she was able to get away with it for so long.

"Nobody really had any idea that she was doing what she did.  Now that we look back on it, watching all the stuff grow out there at the ranch and her home and her lifestyle and everything else, it's funny we didn't put two and two together," Dixon resident Stan Wolzen said.

Crundwell is facing up to 20 years in prison and will be back in court on Feb. 14.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov062012

Illinois Woman in Labor Stops to Vote on Way to Hospital

Cook County Clerk's Office(CHICAGO) -- A Chicago mom-to-be didn't let being in labor stop her from doing her duty as a citizen on Election Day.

With contractions five minutes apart, Galicia Malone stopped at Precinct 88 in Chicago to cast her vote on her way to the hospital, according to the Cook County Clerk's Office.

Malone, 21, was determined to vote in her first presidential election, even though her water had broken.  She voted at around 8:30 a.m. at the fittingly-named New Life Celebration Church, according to ABC News' Chicago affiliate WLS-TV.

Once she had voted, she headed to the hospital to deliver her baby.

"If only all voters showed such determination to vote," Cook County Clerk David Orr said in a news release.  "My hat goes off to Galicia for not letting anything get in the way of voting.  What a terrific example she is showing for the next generation, especially her new son or daughter."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov012012

Illinois Woman Charged with Killing Son, 5-year-old Girl Denied Bail

Joseph Devenney/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- The Illinois woman charged with the murder of her 7-year-old son, who she stabbed over 100 times, and a 5-year-old girl in her care was denied bail by a Chicago-area court on Thursday.

Elzbieta Plackowska, of Naperville, Ill., will be held without bond in DuPage County, ABC News' Chicago affiliate WLS-TV reported.  The 40-year-old woman was charged with two counts of first-degree murder Wednesday evening.

Plackowska, who was babysitting the 5-year-old girl, was arrested after the children were found by police slashed and stabbed on Tuesday at 10:15 p.m.

The children were identified as her son, Justin Plackowski, and Olivia Dworakowski.

Plackowska was covered in blood when she was taken into custody, according to WLS-TV.  Investigators from the Naperville Police Department and the DuPage County States Attorney's Office questioned her before charges were filed.

Police found two dead dogs in the home that also were stabbed, WLS-TV reported.  Investigators said there was no reason to believe that any additional suspects were at large.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Plackowska has given authorities various explanations for what happened, including hearing demonic voices that led her to kill the children.

The girl attended kindergarten at Brookdale Elementary School and the boy was a student at Scott Elementary School.

"This is an extremely difficult time, but this is an extremely strong community and I'm confident in this community and our school district that we will pull together and move through this tragic event," said Naperville School district Superintendent Dan Bridges.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct172012

Xbox Runaways from Iowa Found in Eureka, Ill.

Crystal Sunderman | Sheriff Randall Forsyth(EUREKA, Ill.) -- Four Iowa teens who ran away from home after meeting on Xbox were arrested Tuesday and charged with trespassing at an abandoned home in Eureka, Ill., nearly 360 miles away from home.

The two boys and two girls who ranged in age from 13 to 16 disappeared together Saturday. Before that day, the boys had never met the girls in person, their families told ABC News.

The families haven't spoken directly with their children since they left, but got word today that the teens were being held at the Woodford County Correctional Facility. When the phone call came that the kids were safe, their parents were ecstatic.

"I hysterically started crying, just overwhelmed with joy. All floods of emotions. Overjoyed, relief, you name it. I couldn't believe it," said Judy Hamilton, the mother of Jazlyn Visek, 15, one of the two girls.

Visek ran off with Corey Sunderman, 16, whom she began "dating" after meeting on Xbox.

"This was her first serious boyfriend. He gave her a lot of attention she's never got from any guys," Hamilton said.

Their romance may have led to legal trouble, Hamilton said.

"They were cuffed and they are getting charges of trespass, so they will be spending the night in jail," she said.

Crystal Sunderman, Corey's mother, told ABC News she was concerned about what will come after the teens return home.

"I'm starting to worry about what am I going to do to keep Corey, to keep him safe ... We've got to fix whatever it was that made him leave. He's had some problems at school with bullying but honestly, I don't know," she said.

When Visek and Corey Sunderman left town, they were accompanied by Visek's friend Skie Floyd, 15, and Sunderman's pal Austin Boggs, 13.

The boys are from Atlantic while the girls are from Shellsburg, Iowa towns that are three and a half hours apart.

The teens were arrested by Illinois police, six hours from Atlantic. After facing an Illinois judge Wednesday, the teens will be allowed to return home, Crystal Sunderman said.

"We'll probably leave tomorrow morning (for Illinois) in hopes that maybe we can see the kids before they go to court because we haven't had a chance to talk to them at all," she said.

The boys vanished Saturday after police brought them to the Sunderman home Friday night for violating the town's curfew. When Corey's father Tony woke for work Saturday morning, he realized not only were the boys missing, but so were Crystal Sunderman's laptop and $400 from the father's recently cashed paycheck, Crystal Sunderman said.

Also missing was the 1997 gold Jeep Cherokee Tony Sunderman had brought home from his iron and metal recycling job, the mom said. The vehicle, which didn't have a license, was spotted nearly four hours away in Benton County at around 10 a.m. Saturday, the same county the missing Iowa girls call home.

By the time it was located in Illinois, it had acquired stolen license plates from Atlantic, Forsyth said.

Hamilton said she thinks the teens plotted the escape in advance.

"[Visek] had been planning for a couple weeks at least, and I had no idea," Hamilton said.

"I've learned a valuable lesson on media devices and what you allow your children to do on Xbox or Facebook," she said. "I admit I was pretty free with Jazlyn and I trusted her, and I think I gave her too much freedom."

Crystal Sunderman said she tried to be cautious about what her son did online.

"I don't let him have a Facebook account because I don't want him meeting people online," Crystal Sunderman said. "I didn't realize they could do so much on Xbox."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep272012

Abducted 3-Week-Old in Illinois Found Alive; Mother Arrested

Stark County Sheriff's Office(TOULON, Ill.) -- An abducted 3-week-old baby girl from Illinois, who was kidnapped in front of a post office, was found alive on a rural gravel road Thursday night, authorities said.

Mia Graci Thompson was abducted in Toulon, Ill., a small town about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, on Wednesday morning at around 8:10 a.m. She was reportedly taken from the back seat of a vehicle, according to the Stark County Sheriff's Office.

Mia's mother, Kendra Meaker, 19, was arrested in connection with the kidnapping, ABC News affiliate WQAD reported.

An Amber Alert that was issued earlier was canceled at about 8 p.m.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children had previously categorized the case as a "Non Family Abduction."

Authorities said Mia has been taken to a local hospital to be examined.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio