New report finds public corruption convictions have fallen over past 20 years

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, and Tom Jones WLS logo
Thursday, February 8, 2024
Illinois public corruption cases have fallen in last 20 years, report finds
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, Illinois' three judicial districts are no longer in the top 10 of the nation for corruption conv

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The state of Illinois has lost a national title it may never have really wanted in the first place: Being in the top ten judicial districts for public corruption convictions.

New data reveals a significant drop in the number of federal official corruption convictions here and across the country during the last twenty years, leading to an underhanded question: Are politicians becoming more ethical, or are federal resources allocated to investigating and prosecuting these types of crimes being diverted elsewhere?

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University in New York, Illinois' three judicial districts are no longer in the top ten judicial districts of the nation for corruption convictions.

A recently released report from TRAC found that official corruption convictions nationwide have decreased by 49% from 2003 to 2022.

Susan Long is the co-founder of TRAC, and told the I-Team official corruption cases are some of the most important types of prosecutions.

"We found that there were 334 convictions in the last fiscal year, that's up slightly from the year before," Long explained. "But what happened is that prior to the pandemic, they had been declining."

Even with a slight recent uptick of corruption cases brought by the Biden Justice Department, the totals remain much lower than two decades ago.

This chart below shows the overall decline of corruption convictions nationwide for each administration's Justice Department from 2003 to 2023.

"Official corruption, I mean, it goes to the heart of our belief that we are a nation committed to the rule of law, and that nobody, no matter how powerful, or what kind of a position, is not above the law," Long said.

Stuart Green, a Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School, told the I-Team prosecutors today may have different priorities.

"I don't think anybody really believes that we have less public corruption today than we had 20 years ago," said Stuart Green, a criminal ethics expert.

An ABC 7 I-Team analysis of the U.S. Attorney's Office's annual statistics over the last 20 years found the vast majority of cases filed fall under the categories of immigration, violent crime, and drug-related prosecutions.

Spanning that 20-year timeframe, immigration cases had increased by 9%, violent crime cases up 15%, and civil rights cases more than tripled by 250%.

Official corruption cases filed by the U.S. Attorney's office nationwide had decreased 30% since 2002.

Green said corruption cases may be more complicated for prosecutors.

"You're going against more sophisticated and possibly more deep pocketed defendants," Green told the I-Team. "These are people who often hold public office, whether it's federal office, or in the case of the Speaker of the Illinois House [Michael Madigan], these are public officials who have a lot of power, a lot of resources, and a lot of allies."

Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for the Illinois Northern District's U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment to the I-Team for this report.