Monday, May 17, 2010

Names fade from local news scene

Charles Flowers and Harry Aleman.

For anyone who has followed the Second City’s local news scene in recent years, those are a pair of names that keep cropping up because of their alleged activities. Not that many people would think of the two as a natural pairing.

ONE IS A suburban Chicago schools official who allegedly used his position to enrich himself, while the other is a member of what federal government junkies like to think of as “LCN,” but which normal people would describe as organized crime or the outfit (or the Mafia if they've watched "The Untouchables" with Robert DeNiro too many times).

But what makes them a pairing is that their best days are behind them. Both of them literally this weekend dropped off the face of the public policy earth.

Aleman is the so-called gangster – a man who is known among mob-watchers as being someone who was used whenever “the mob” wanted someone killed. Because of allegations of bribery, Aleman managed to avoid prison for decades.

But eventually, federal prosecutors became ambitious enough to conduct a second trial for Aleman, even though it technically violated his right to be free of “double jeopardy” – as in not being accused twice of the same crime.

THEY GOT THEIR conviction, and that is why Aleman finally went to prison in 1997 for a 1972 crime for which he had been acquitted (it’s not a true acquittal, the courts decided, if it was obtained through payoffs to a judge).

Aleman has been a continuing tale, his name cropping up throughout the years – usually as a sickly-humorous tale of how strong a hold “the outfit” had over the judicial system in Chicago even in contemporary times.

Some people literally would tell the story with a little chuckle about how a mobster managed to get one over on the courts – who theoretically were supposed to be protecting the interests of the people, as in us. Even after Aleman was finally convicted and sent to prison, some people found “amusement” (perhaps in the same way that Joe Pesci’s mob character from “Goodfellas” was a “funny guy”) in the fact that Aleman was able to remain free for so long – even though everybody within law enforcement “knew” who committed the crimes, even if if couldn’t be proven.

But now, Aleman and his tales have come to an end. The inmate at the Hill Correctional Center near Galesburg died Saturday afternoon. Officials say there was nothing particularly suspicious about the circumstances surrounding his death.

NO PRISON FIGHTS or vendettas. No possibility that a corrupt guard did something funky to the inmate. He was 71 and at the end he had cancer. Some people might think Aleman lived a long, full life under the circumstances.

In Aleman’s case, he got to spend the bulk of it outside of prison, even though mobwatchers and others who like to turn the ugliness of organized crime into overly-romanticized tales say that Aleman’s whole life was filled with acts of violence.

It’s not like the September 1972 shotgun shooting of Teamsters steward William Logan was an isolated incident within his life.

Also coming to an end this weekend – although in a different sense – is the saga of Charles Flowers, who for many years was superintendent of the Cook County Regional Office of Education.

THAT OFFICE WAS supposed to handle tasks such as ensuring that teachers within suburban Cook County school districts were properly certified, overseeing training programs for school bus drivers and and conducting the background checks on people who have jobs within the suburban school districts.

It was thought that having one agency for the more than 140 elementary and high school districts in the 128 towns that comprise suburban Cook County was more efficient than requiring each and every school district to do these duties on their own.

Yet throughout the years, the stories have been told of the often-inane bureaucracy within the agency that made the performance of such duties extremely difficult and a drawn-out process. There even were the rumors repeated in whispers throughout the years that the reason the office was not more efficiently run was because it would have cut into the schemes by which Flowers and his allies were personally enriching themselves.

Those rumors gained credence back in January when prosecutors came down with an indictment against Flowers. The charges are theft and official misconduct. Prosecutors claim that Flowers’ management style cost taxpayers more than $400,000 during the past two years, and they’re claiming it was not ineptitude that caused the losses.

IN ALL FAIRNESS, these are merely allegations. Flowers will get his day in court, and could potentially manage to be acquitted of all charges. But whether he just wants to focus on his eventual criminal trial or whether he felt there was something to the charges, Flowers earlier this month resigned his post.

There won’t be a successor. For Gov. Pat Quinn, the master of using Sunday press conferences to gain attention for himself, scheduled a public appearance this Sunday – during which he formally signed into law a measure that abolishes the regional schools superintendent for Cook County.

Flowers’ job died this weekend, as did Aleman himself. It is nice to know that these ongoing stories have reached their end, and that someday soon we will reach the point where most people will hear those names and won’t have a clue as to whom either one was.

Now if we could only resolve the decades-long saga of locating and building a third airport for the Chicago metro area, that would be perfect.


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