Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cash-Strapped Illinois Gave $10 Million Grant To Film Company To Buy Land That's Not For Sale

Alex Pissios. | Sun-Times files
Alex Pissios
It's little wonder the state of Illinois finds itself in dire financial straits when it gives away money to businesses like it grows on trees. A Chicago Sun-Times report says the state's economic development agency gave a Chicago film studio a $10 million grant to acquire real estate for its west side campus where several television shows are produced, including "Chicago Fire," shortly after Gov. Pat Quinn lost his re-election bid last year. The company cashed the check but never used the money to purchase any real estate. That's because the property it said it intended to use the money to acquire is supposedly not even for sale.

If that's not bad enough, the Sun-Times report says this isn't the first grant Cinespace Chicago Film Studios has received from the state. When it received the $10 million grant late last year, it had already cashed grant checks totaling $17.3 million, including a recent $1.3 million construction grant for which it had received four letters of non-compliance. The state wrote grant checks to the film company totaling $16 million while it was still trying to get the company to comply with the $1.3 million construction grant.

An aide to former Gov. Pat Quinn told the Sun-Times there was nothing nothing out of the ordinary with the state writing lump sum checks to companies to purchase real estate when it involved creating jobs. "To get these deals done, you have to have liquidity," the aide says. "There was quite a bit of due diligence and discussion, which is totally in keeping with these types of grants." There was absolutely no paperwork to prove the company had any land under contract or had been in negotiations to acquire any of the property. The only requirement of the grant was that Cinespace agree to put in at least twice as much of its own money as it spends from the state grant acquiring land.

In case you hadn't suspected, politics seemed to play a role in the generous grants to Cinespace, which is a family-owned business owned by real estate developer Alex Pissios, who looks the part of a mafia don. The Sun-Times reported last year that Pissios owed the city debts for unpaid taxes and code violations while obtaining news tax breaks from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year. The Sun-Times says a lot of the grant money has been deposited into a politically-connected bank, Belmont Bank & Trust. Its president is James Banks, brother of Chicago Alderman William Banks. Its board includes former State Sen. James DeLeo and Fred Barbara. DeLeo was ensnared in the infamous Operation Greylord investigation back in the 1990s for serving as a bag man carrying bribes to Cook Co. judges. A plea agreement allowed him to keep his seat in the legislature at the time. He now owns Tavern on Rush in Chicago. Barbara, a close friend of former Mayor Richard Daley, made a fortune hauling garbage for the city of Chicago.

If you read between the lines in the story, you can figure out why the parcels of property Cinespace claimed it intended to acquire were likely not for sale by the owners. Two of the properties were just acquired by other buyers. In the case of one of the properties, the purchase price Cinespace listed on its grant acquisition was nearly double what the new owner, automobile dealer Joe Perillo, paid to purchase the property in January. It's quite obvious the plan was to allow politically-connected individuals to use the generous state grant money to flip the properties for a quick, tidy profit--at least until the anonymous state employee contacted the Sun-Times and a reporter started asking questions about the generous grant. How did we ever arrive at the point in this country where our government is allowed to write checks to a select few private business owners? Language contained in both the U.S. and state constitutions is supposed to prohibit this sort of thing from happening, but warped and corrupt interpretations of those documents have rendered them meaningless.


Anonymous said...

After reading this, I'm so happy I don't live in Illinois, more specifically in Chicago.

Gary R. Welsh said...

You haven't been paying attention if you don't know the same thing happens here.

Anonymous said...

Gary, this story reminds me of Indianapolis and the sheer lunacy of our current failed mayor and his equally disastrous City County Council (Christine Scales excepted). My opinion of "disastrous" includes Republicans AND Democrats. I will leave our bought and paid for Ozdemir harem of long-past-their-prime male prostitutes at the State House for another time.

The last sentences of your excellent news report about Chicago political corruption perfectly sum up the complete and sometimes intentional ignorance our mayor and councilors have about our laws, charters, and constitutions. There are legion examples to support my viewpoint but in the interests of time I offer two of the most glaring.

Yes, when did it become our politicians' "job" to hand out tax dollars to select few business owners? I am reminded of just one of the legal and Economics-ignorant Councilors who actually believes he can make money for this City with our tax dollars; he stated this as a rationale (excuse?) for his vote for the acrid Angie's List most recent taxpayer money giveaway. Instead of the failed "Just Hair" we now have the "Just Stupid".

Then we have the ignorant-about-all-topics south east side councilor who must love a landscape littered with digital signboards most citizens of Indy do not want. Or maybe he just loves campaign donations. No one can top this guy for taking a side on all positions before casting his vote for crony corporatism. The only thing less ambiguous about this fence-straddling expert is his sexuality.

I struggle to stay connected with my party because it is as corrupt as the other. I struggle with justification for voting because it will make so little difference. I know because I've seen local and state political corruption up close and personal and I am thoroughly disgusted.

The only reason I will register to vote for the upcoming local primary is to vote against ANYONE and EVERYONE the local Democrat and Republican machines try to again shove down my throat.

Anonymous said...

Gary at 8:30- RIGHT ON, Brother!!!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a list of campaign donors lined up with all the gifts IEDC hands out to business owners in this state. Then look at the tax abatements locally. And if it's not campaign contributions, it's make-work jobs for cronies, it's hiring preferred contractors, engineers, architects and lawyers, tickets, meals, trips, etc, etc. you're spot on Gary, the same crap happens here every damn day, it just rarely gets tossed into the spotlight here.

Anonymous said...

8:56, I cast my votes with just the same strategy! I can't wait for the day someone like Gary runs for office or organizes a new party centered around truly efficient government, representing all citizens and not just the connected and wealthy few.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 10:14: We will be more effective if we can return our party to its founding principles instead of allowing it to continue to be controlled and used for personal gain by the likes of D+SB, BG, BB, MC, TJ, etc. I struggle to continue participating for change because the deck is so stacked against honest and transparent politics. Look at how viciously the local GOP has done to one of its very best members when it comes Christine Scales! I would hope I could never be bought and paid for as it seems was her insider-created opponent Craft. It is the track record of failure racked up by third party attempts that cause me to prefer change from within.

We are going to need courage to wrest the party away from the strategy of ghost PC's perfected by DB and which removed power from "the streets" to the top tier who can select candidates THEY want... candidates like Chuck Brewer. And that is one of the many reasons I am voting for Jocelyn-Tandy Adende (not a "plant" endorsement here). The people at the top of the MCRCC [and even Democrats] and all politicians after greed and personal enrichment (but I digress) fear this woman. And for good cause.

Josh said...

For some reason after reading this story I was reminded of how a spook was placed in my old workplace, well, at least the spook had an office there and got a fat paycheck every payday. No one who worked there ever saw the spook or got to use his office, but it was always there, waiting for him. This wasn't just rumour, this was told me by mgmt. So maybe a lot of the corruption going on is just the various off-the-books ways that spooks and their infernal operations are being financed by we the people?
Spooks = cia/dhs/nsa dbags so you know.

Anonymous said...

Josh, I used to see this kind of thing a lot in consulting. Many names on the payroll or always empty offices of folks who we'd only see once a year at the office Christmas party. Nobody ever knew what the heck it was they were doing for the company. Every so often you'd see their names in the news for something related to politics. I bet this happens in many more businesses serving government than just those providing engineering services.

Anonymous said...

11:07, I've always wanted to get involved in politics but I've always hated my choices too much to want to help them out in any way. Maybe I'm still young and naive enough to think there is hope for real change in local politics. There are so many people who hate their election day choices. Many of those folks, like us, see the nonsense going on, but very few care enough to say something. I'm always hoping that one day I'll scroll through a blog like Gary's and find a group of like-minded citizens who want to get organized and start influencing the local political landscape. - 10:14

Sir Hailstone said...

>>We are going to need courage to wrest the party away from the strategy of ghost PC's<<

Solution seems simple but you'll never see it implemented - allow only elected PCs a vote at party leadership elections and abolish slating.

Won't happen.