Blagojevich's summer jobs program called 'disaster'
(MCT) — A 2008 summer youth jobs program launched by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich using money set aside for transportation turned into "a disaster" that instead saw teens doing community organizing and helping on golf courses, according to a state watchdog report released Monday.
The misspent money became the subject of a federal investigation, and the Illinois Department of Transportation is trying to recoup some of the funds.
The review by the office of the executive inspector general concluded that the $7 million program in which Blagojevich promised to hire up to 10,000 youths for eight-week jobs ended up costing $7.8 million and led to jobs for only 3,500 youths.
The report said transportation officials conducted an audit of the jobs program, and findings were referred to Attorney General Lisa Madigan. In December 2010, Madigan's office "responded to the referral stating that the matter was the subject of an active federal investigation" and would not take action, the report said.
Randall Sanborn, a spokesman forU.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, had no comment Monday when asked if the investigation was ongoing. Fitzgerald's office successfully prosecuted Blagojevich on federal corruption-related crimes, and the former governor is serving a 14-year term in a Colorado prison.
The report said five Chicago nonprofit social service agencies that deal with minority, ethnic and disadvantaged youths administered the program for more than 100 service providers, including neighborhood churches.
The work was supposed to be transportation-related because the money came from the state's road construction fund. But the audit of activity work sheets found several teens participating in non-transportation-related work, including "community organizing," "moving furniture," "help cart attendants at golf course" and "clean out ball washer."
State transportation officials said they have tried to recoup more than $643,000 in overpayments to the five agencies that acted as financial administrators: Chicago Area Project, Westside Health Authority, Alternative School Network, Latin Women in Action and Black United Fund.
The Black United Fund repaid $170,000 — what it earned in administrative fees — while the four other nonprofit fiscal agents are disputing the bill, a transportation spokesman said.
Morris Reed, CEO of the Westside Health Authority, said the Department of Human Services ran the program on behalf of the transportation agency and promised a flat administrative fee. Reed contended that after payments went out to youth workers and service providers, IDOT later sought to change the terms of the contracts.
"At the end of the day, they're trying to hold community agencies responsible," Reed said. "IDOT provided the funds. They really should be going after DHS."
Reed said he was not familiar with a federal investigation and had not been contacted by agents.
Blagojevich cobbled together the program out of road-fund dollars after lawmakers rejected his plans for a massive public works program incorporating a youth jobs effort.
Though transportation officials had questioned making a second round of payments because of "red flags" about the jobs workers had performed, one unidentified agency official said "there was considerable pressure from … (Blagojevich's office) to just keep this program going," the report said.
An unidentified top transportation official interviewed by the state executive inspector general's office was quoted as calling the program "a disaster" and "thrown together at the last minute."