Saturday, July 19, 2008

Barack Obama, Yesse Yehudah and the foul odor of corruption

The Chicago Sun-Times ("Obama's goodie bag") has produced a laundry list of State Senator Obama's grants during his brief tenure. Among the suspect donations: a $75,000 grant to a group called Fulfilling Our Responsibility Unto Mankind in 2001 (FORUM, a "21st Century initiative").

In 2007, The Los Angeles Times offered the back-story behind the grant.

...In Springfield he once directed state funds to a nonprofit group headed by a Republican and former ballot foe, Yesse B. Yehudah... Yehudah barely registered a ripple of meaningful opposition, drawing only 10% of the vote in his 1998 challenge of Obama.

The following year, a nonprofit run by Yehudah, a social services organization called Fulfilling Our Responsibility Unto Mankind, began seeking state support. At the same time, Obama was considering mounting an ambitious challenge to U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, a fellow Democrat.

Former foe Yehudah stepped up early to help. In November 1999, five people who worked for the Republican's nonprofit organization each gave $1,000 checks to Obama's congressional campaign committee. Yehudah [made] no secret of his goal...

...Obama lost his congressional bid [and was] left with a $40,000 debt.

Later that year, Yehudah associates pitched in an additional $5,000 to help retire Obama's debt. The contributions were recorded on Oct. 7, 2000, three days after the Illinois Senate, at Obama's behest, approved a $75,000 state grant to Yehudah's nonprofit, state records show.

In 2002, the Chicago Tribune ("2 Accused in Scheme at Pork-Rich Charities") noted the depth of suspect behavior related to FORUM and other "charities".

The head of a South Side Chicago group that has received millions of dollars in state contracts and special pork-barrel grants from top legislators was sued by the state Friday for allegedly siphoning funds from two charities... [the suit] accuses Yesse B. Yehudah... of misusing or failing to account properly for hundreds of thousands of dollars from FORUM and Elmhurst-based Life Education Center.

Also named in the suit is David S. Noffs, the former head of Life Education Center and a longtime friend of Lura Lynn Ryan's, the wife of Gov. George Ryan. Until last year, she served on the anti-drug charity's board along with Yehudah.

The suit charges that Yehudah and Noffs washed money between the two charities and companies they controlled, in the process converting accounts of the non-profit groups into personal piggy banks. They diverted state money intended for anti-drug programs to personal travel, health club memberships, auto repairs, dental work, phone bills and college tuition costs, the lawsuit charges.

...The so-called member initiative grants total more than $750,000, records show. All were sponsored by Democrats, including one by state Sen. Barack Obama of Chicago... Additionally, FORUM holds a $538,000 per year contract for drug-prevention and health programs funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services. The agency's payments to FORUM have exceeded $500,000 for the last four years.

Life Education Center leveraged its political ties to obtain more than $4 million in state grants since 1996, even though a 1995 state audit of earlier grants found "serious and significant" violations of state accounting rules. The governor's son, George Jr., once served as an assistant national director for the group and its insurance broker... More than $500,000 of the group's funds can't be properly accounted for, $180,000 of which appeared to be used for personal purposes, the suit alleges.

All of this stink hasn't stopped FORUM.

As recently as last month, the organization received $200,000 from the Illinois State Board of Education (PDF).

Images via: MyDD: Obama - the candidate of change - Chicago-style.

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