Chicago Criminal Defense Blog

Illinois pastor charged with stealing $800,000

An Illinois pastor at a Chicago church has been indicted on charges of stealing over $800,000 of money that was designated for a food program to help needy children. The 45-year-old man had previously been charged with fraud for taking $100,000 from an elderly man in 2011.

The pastor ran a daycare at a local church, which received funding from the Illinois State Board of Education's Child and Adult Care Food Program. These funds were intended to provide meals and snacks over the summer to children at the daycare. Authorities launched an investigation after finding the pastor owed the program $3.3 million. The pastor and church have been barred from participating in the program in the future.

DNA evidence may show innocence in old cases

A number of people in Illinois and across the country have been exonerated even many years after a criminal conviction on the basis of DNA evidence examined later on. While DNA evidence is often entered at trial by both the prosecution and the defense, there are circumstances where DNA could be re-examined after a conviction. These kinds of requests, especially for older cases before the routine use of DNA analysis, have become so common that standard procedures have been developed to determine how a new analysis can be requested by those who say they were wrongfully convicted.

Across the country, at least 266 wrongfully convicted people have been freed from prison or had their records wiped clean as a result of post-conviction DNA testing and analysis. There are two ways in which DNA analysis can contribute to winning the release of a previously convicted person from prison. In most cases, the level and clarity of DNA analysis currently available was not accessible at the time of the conviction. The person may be excluded entirely as a result of the analysis or a much higher level of reasonable doubt may be introduced, depending on what is determined by the results.

Illinois man facing many drug charges after search of his home

Police in Dixon have placed a 67-year-old man in Lee County Jail on accusations of selling cocaine in the area. A news release from the Dixon Police Department named him as a suspect in a drug investigation. Investigators reported finding 30 grams of cocaine during a search of the man's home located in the 200 block of Willett Avenue.

Law enforcement agents who searched the home claimed to find equipment associated with packaging cocaine for sale. After collecting this evidence, police arrested the man.

Criminal justice system still fraught with racial disparity

Black people in Illinois and across the country are still more likely to be imprisoned than white people, although one study points to a positive trend in reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system. The Council on Criminal Justice reported declining racial gaps in imprisonment rates in local jails and state prisons as well as probation and parole authorities. The council includes bipartisan members from government agencies, police organizations and the criminal justice reform movement. The study noted that declines in racial disparity were found in all major crime categories but were most pronounced in terms of drug offenses.

Racial gaps in drug prosecution and sentencing have drawn serious attention from criminal justice reformers over the years, especially as many people were serving long sentences for nonviolent crimes, including simple possession. While black people in 2000 were 15 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses than white people, that multiple dropped to five times by 2016, still a staggering number. Various factors have changed the situation for drug sentencing, including the opioid crisis and cannabis legalization.

Packages containing ecstasy intercepted in Illinois

A 31-year-old Illinois man has been charged with drug possession, attempted drug possession and manufacturing, trafficking and delivering a controlled substance after ecstasy worth about $80,000 was allegedly discovered in packages mailed to him. He is being held at the Kane County Jail, and his bail has been set at $80,000 according to media reports. The man was taken into custody following a two-week investigation conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, the Geneva Police Department, the Kane County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Postal Service.

The investigation was launched when the DHS intercepted two packages that had been sent from the Netherlands to addresses in Geneva. DHS agents determined that the packages contained about 175 grams of ecstasy. One of the packages was mailed to the man's Fargo Boulevard residence. Law enforcement decided to allow the package to be delivered, and then agents, officers and deputies executed a search warrant when it arrived.

Don't face embezzlement charges without a strong defense

If your employer has entrusted you with keeping the books or managing the financial accounts of his or her business, you may have felt honored with the level of trust imparted to you. However, you undoubtedly felt the weight of that trust. Handling the money and maintaining the records means any mistakes fall squarely on your shoulders. It also means eyes are on you if the accounts don't add up.

Facing allegations of theft or embezzlement can be frightening. You may feel that it is you against everyone else. While it is true that you may have been under investigation for weeks or months for embezzling from your employer, you still have a chance to build a strong defense and protect your rights. This begins by understanding the charges you are up against.

Unconscious bias could affect judgments in court

Bias in the criminal justice system is a major concern in Illinois and across the country. Disparate sentencing and penalties have led to nationwide calls for criminal justice reform. However, one of the most concerning aspects of bias are the forms that are unintentional or subconscious. It can be more challenging to prove unconscious bias, but the effects on a defendant may be significant. Unconscious bias is a major field of study for natural and social scientists looking into how brain activity can affect behavior. Results have indicated that unconscious beliefs and social stereotypes can affect judgment even in contradiction with expressed beliefs.

Unconscious biases can affect the way that people interpret actions and motivations, judge people's actions and capacity for change, and make an array of decisions. While studies show that it is a common human phenomenon, this could also apply to judges making long-term decisions about the fate of a criminal defendant's life or liberty. Other studies show that judges regularly refer more on their intuition than on the power of deliberation, while holding strong beliefs about their capacity for objective thinking and decision-making. This can pose a danger, because intuition can be far more likely to be influenced by subconscious biases than a clearly laid-out, thoughtful process.

U.S. House passes bill making animal cruelty a federal crime

Illinois animal lovers might be happy to learn that the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that makes animal cruelty a federal crime. The measure was passed by a unanimous vote on Oct. 22.

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, also known as PACT, expands on another anti-animal cruelty bill that Congress passed in 2010. That law made it illegal to create and distribute videos of animals being crushed or otherwise tortured and killed, but it did not outlaw specific acts of animal cruelty. PACT, which was sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., would close that loophole and make it a federal crime for anyone to intentionally burn, drown, impale, suffocate or otherwise harm non-human mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians.

Man faces multiple federal charges

An Illinois resident was charged with multiple counts of money laundering after it was discovered that he was running an illegal sports betting business. The 35-year-old defendant paid a fee to use an online sports betting platform in Costa Rica. He would then collect money from bettors and pay out their winnings in cash. In addition to money laundering, the defendant was also charged with two counts of bankruptcy fraud.

Authorities say that the defendant concealed income that he generated from running the gambling ring in a bankruptcy proceeding. He was seeking to discharge a $1.5 million judgment against him, which was ultimately settled for $4,500. If the defendant is convicted of all five counts of money laundering, he could spend up to 100 years in jail. Each count of bankruptcy fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Businessman sentenced in Operation Varsity Blues case

Illinois residents may have heard that actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced for her role in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scam. However, a second parent has also been convicted for paying an individual $250,000 to help get his son into college as a water polo recruit. The 53-year-old businessman was sentenced to four months in jail in addition to a $95,000 fine and 500 hours of community service.

In court, the man said that his actions were unacceptable and the opposite of doing what was best for his son. The judge, however, said that the man's actions were more about his own status as opposed to doing what was best for his child. She decided to sentence him to time in prison because of a perceived lack of remorse. The man did place at least some of the blame on the individual he paid to help get his son into USC.

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