- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - In the past three years, U.S. Attorney James Lewis’s office has dug up enough evidence of stolen taxpayer money to justify prison time for more than a dozen people - including a Chicago couple after their 17-count conviction this week for stealing $3.4 million in state grant funds to sustain a sumptuous lifestyle.

The case of Leon and Karin Dingle is one of the more brazen cases that Lewis’ public corruption task force has encountered since it formed several years ago.

The Dingles and their bookkeeper stole what amounted to $2 of every $5 received from an $11 million Illinois Public Health Department grant intended for raising awareness of AIDS and cancer in minority and under-served communities.

But the case invited biting, race-based criticism for Lewis. Prosecutors had considered calling former public health director Dr. Eric Whitaker, a close friend of President Barack Obama, as a witness but demurred when, in outside testimony, Whitaker accused the U.S. attorney’s office of racial bias. Whitaker is black, and 13 of the 14 people the unit has indicted since 2011 are black.

Questions about race are fair, but evidence is colorblind, Lewis told reporters on Wednesday.

“When cases are presented on an analysis of money and an analysis of evidence, it’s not about a person’s race, gender, national origin, or anything else,” Lewis said. “It’s about evidence and following the money.”

Lewis’s boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, who is black and a friend of Whitaker, told the Chicago Sun-Times that his central Illinois prosecutors are fair.

Karin Dingle is the only white defendant among those convicted. The other 12 who are black are:

-Quinshaunta Golden, former Department of Public Health chief of staff who controlled the grants to the Dingles. Pleaded guilty in April to bribery and theft involving $772,500 in taxpayer money she shared with former IDPH employee Roxanne Jackson, who also entered a guilty plea in September. They await sentencing.

- Jacquelyn Kilpatrick, who stole $900,000. The Dingles blamed the bookkeeper for their troubles. Kilpatrick and her partner, Edmond Clemons, have pleaded guilty in the ruse. Kilpatrick and Clemons await sentencing.

-Margaret Davis, former director of the Chicago chapter of the Black Nurses Association. Pleaded guilty in July 2011 to taking at least $500,000 from more than $1 million in grants received from four state agencies. Sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay $377,575 in restitution.

-Tonja Cook, Davis’s associate. Pleaded guilty for assisting Davis and sentenced to 19 months in prison.

-Former state Rep. Constance Howard, a Chicago Democrat. Pleaded guilty in July 2013 to soliciting $76,700 for scholarships through a charity golf outing and pocketing about $28,000. Sentencing is April 3.

-Howard’s former legislative aide, Lloyd Kelly, faces trial March 3 for mail fraud.

-Regina Evans, former Country Club Hills police chief. Pleaded guilty in June 2013 to multiple charges in a ploy which promised construction-trade training for a $1.25 million Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant, but instead paid rent on a historic Chicago theater she and her husband owned. Sentenced to 60 months in prison, restitution of $917,194.

-Evans’ husband, Ronald, pleaded guilty in August 2013 and sentenced to a year in prison. Regina Evans’ brother, Ricky McCoy, pleaded guilty in August 2013 and sentenced to six months in prison.

-Jeri Wright, a close friend of Evans and daughter of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, outspoken one-time pastor of Obama. Awaits sentencing on conviction of money laundering and false statements to authorities in connection with the Evans case.

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Contact John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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