Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Chicago Crime Commission is Fighting to Survive

There is turmoil at the top of the Chicago Crime Commission, the nation's oldest organization of citizen crime fighters.

After leading the fight against a Rosemont casino and a high-level role in the Operation Family Secrets mob trial, the Chicago Crime Commission last week closed its doors and moved out of its long time headquarters in the Loop. A spokesperson says they are waiting for new office space to open. But the recently departed president says the commission was out of money late last year and couldn't make payroll.

"We simply were out of money at the time that I decided I had to resign," said James Wagner, Former crime commission president.

Decorated former FBI agent Jim Wagner left the crime commission last October without public explanation. Now, he tells the I-Team they were teetering on collapse. "I believed it was when I resigned, I was not at all confident that they would be able to continue," said Wagner.

It was thriving 90 years ago, along with the mob. The crime commission received its charter and was run by civic and business leaders. Prohibition triggered a gangland war, led by notorious hoodlum Al Capone. The crime commission began a decades-long fight against the outfit and the public corruption that fuels it.

"To come to its demise is very sad for me," said Robert Fuesel, former crime commissioner.

Former IRS investigator Bob Fuesel ran the commission 15 years ago. He says he accepted a $930,000 donation from the estate of a late board member. "That money is now all gone. People came in and started with high salaries and hired people that weren't needed," said Fuesel.

By last fall, the organization was in dire shape. "We didn't have what you would call a staff," said Wagner.

The latest public filings show the commission spends more than it brings in.

After Wagner, business magnate J.R. Davis took over what's left as chairman, board member and president. "He has no law enforcement experience and he is holding three positions, being a one man office...It's just a sham operation, there is nothing going on over there," said Wagner.

In an email, Davis cited the commission's "very formidable financial position" but said it's not "in the best interest of law enforcement to outline specific financial details of the commission."

"My concern is that all power is vested in one individual and I'm not sure that's a healthy situation for any independent not for profit to operate in that fashion," said Wagner.

State records reveal that a former crime commission employee is under investigation for alleged theft of funds.

The case was referred to the FBI and on Wednesday a bureau official says the matter is pending.

Despite the turmoil, a crime commission spokesperson contends they are not out of business and promises new innovative programs that address gang violence and public corruption as well as new members of their leadership team.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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