A scandal is brewing in Chicago which threatens to make Operation Greylord look like a dress rehearsal for a cotillion. Starting with a seemingly innocuous question, tendered to press liaison Jim Grogan at the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) in Illinois, a boil of corruption got inadvertently pricked, which threatens now to reveal a subterranean cancer in the legal system in Illinois.
For those who are unaware of Greylord, here is a bit of history: back in the eighties, a collaborative effort by the FBI, IRS and a couple of outraged judges and attorneys resulted in one of the biggest takedowns of public officials in the history of Illinois. At the end of the 3 1/2 year undercover operation, a total of 92 people were indicted, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, ten deputy sheriffs, eight policemen, eight court officials, and state legislator James DeLeo.
The extent of the takedown might have mitigated further predatory acts by those in the legal system. Thirty years later, however, the corruption that was supposedly expunged by Greylord has simply become systemic.
Back to Jim Grogan. Grogan, who is an attorney as well as ARDC press liaison, declined to reply to questions from this reporter as to why no statements of economic interests could be found for the attorneys who work for the ARDC. The law governing economic interests reporting is in place to ensure that those working in government capacities are not being influenced by financial lures and temptations. These statements are mandated by 5 ILCS 420 to be filed every year for nearly everyone who works in a government capacity.
Here are relevant clauses from the law, with pivotal sections underlined:
When Grogan failed to respond to the query, Press Secretary Jim Tybor at the Illinois Supreme Court was contacted and astoundingly told this reporter that this law did not apply to the judicial branch. (See 6 and e, above).
Michelle Burton, a paralegal at the ARDC assured this reporter that the ARDC employees are not state employees. However, the website for the ARDC announces that the Commission is an arm of the Illinois Supreme Court.
The ARDC is in a particularly pivotal position. As the Commission responsible for disciplining attorneys, the ARDC functions as a gatekeeper. In that sense, the ARDC defines the legal climate in Illinois. Right now, the ARDC has taken upon its shoulders the regulation of an attorney’s right to free speech. Attorney Ken Ditkowsky, who has been practicing law in Chicago area since 1961, is facing disciplinary proceedings for sending emails to federal authorities asking for an investigation of corrupt practices in Illinois courts.
Shades of Greylord . . . Except this time, the feds are turning a deaf ear to evidence of legal malfeasance in Illinois. And Ditkowsky may in fact lose his license to practice law, due to his incisive perceptions and requests for investigation.
Attorney Ken Ditkowsky’s concerns about judicial and attorney misconduct began with the adult guardianship of Mary Sykes, an elderly woman who was placed under a guardianship without due process. Another Illinois attorney, JoAnne Denison, is also under disciplinary proceedings due to her maintaining a blog about the Sykes guardianship. (Source)
Ditkowsky soon realized that the phenomenon of what he is calling “elder cleansing” is going on nationwide. And for his act of speaking out against a pervasive assault on a vulnerable demographic group—the elderly and incapacitated—the ARDC has recommended a four year suspension of his license to practice law.
As it turns out, the ARDC attorneys appear to have quite a bit to hide in terms of their economic interests.
If you want to bribe someone, there are only a couple of ways to do this that would not trigger the red flags that are built into the banking infrastructure. One way would be to give someone a big envelope stuffed with cash. Brian Mulroney, a former Prime Minister of Canada, was caught red handed receiving such a bounty and a scandal ensued. (Source)
The other way is through a “loan.” The mechanism is simply and virtually opaque—Mr. X takes out a loan, such as a mortgage and Mr. Y pays it back. There are no banking flags to trigger and no embarrassing wads of cash, a la Mulroney, to explain.
The use of such property loans to funnel payola to judges was exposed in a 2009 article, which first appeared in the San Bernardino County Sentinel. Now it seems that those in the Illinois legal system, specifically attorneys at the ARDC, have climbed onto the dinero express.
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Jerome Larkin, the Administrator of the ARDC and the individual who has signed the complaint against Ken Ditkowsky, has funneled several million dollars through his property in the last ten years. For example, Larkin took out a loan for $450,000 in December of 2001 and paid it back in exactly five years. In the meantime, he had taken out another $450,000 loan—in October of 2006, which he paid back in just a tad over four years, in January of 2011. In the meantime, he had taken out yet another mortgage—this one for $101,000—in November of 2009, which he was miraculously able to repay in just about a year.
But his unusual loan behavior doesn’t stop here. In January of 2011, Larkin took out a whopping $750,000 mortgage on the same piece of property. Larkin must have a direct line to lottery bucks, because he was able to repay this loan by January of 2013.
In the meantime . . . are you getting the picture yet? . . . he took out another $750,000 loan in December of 2012.
Neither Jerome Larkin nor his wife, psychologist Antoinette Krakowski responded to telephone inquiries concerning the amount of money being funneled through their home.
Larkin is the big cheese over at the ARDC. There are other attorneys in the employ of that powerful, shadowy, not-government, not private – commission whose loan history is also questionable, including attorneys Melissa Smart and Sharon Opryzcek.
Apparently, the word about the loan trough is getting out. A check was run on the loan history of attorneys and guardians ad litem, Adam Stern and Cynthia Farenga, whose actions first alerted Ken Ditkowsky to the predatory nature of probate guardianships. Lo and behold, Adam Stern’s loan history looks like that of a hyperactive kid in a Ritalin store.
A review of the Cook County recorder’s website reveals that Stern has run over a million dollars through his property loans in roughly the last ten years. A couple of examples of quickly repaid large loans taken out by Stern include a $272,000 mortgage taken out on 9/13/2004 and paid back on 2/17/05. Stern also took out a $51,000 mortgage on 9/13/04 and paid it back May of 2005. On October 4, 2004 Stern took out an $80,000 mortgage which he paid back less than three months later.
Adam Stern also has a federal tax lien on his home for $60,000. Stern, who is parenthetically serving as guardian ad litem in the Sykes guardianship and is thus in the responsible position of looking out for OPM—other people’s money—can’t even pay his own taxes.
Attorney and guardian ad litem Cynthia Farenga’s loan history is similarly manic. Farenga is also a guardian ad litem in the Sykes case. For example, Farenga took out a $385,000 loan on 11/09/2006 and paid it off on 6/12/2007. A loan of over a half million dollars – $575,000 to be exact – was paid off by Farenga within five years, on 6/24/2013. Farenga took out a smaller, $244,000 mortgage on 10/16/2003 and paid it back within two years, on 9/28/05. In the meantime, she had taken out another mortgage, this time for an even $300,000 on 9/07/2005, which she quickly reconveyed in less than a year and a half, on 1/08/2007. All told, over two and a quarter million dollars have been funneled through Farenga’s property in the last ten years.
The head of a private investigator’s firm out in the Southern California area confided in me that judges were coming to him to inquire how to hide their property, so that public searches for these records would not result in transparency. Recently, Judge Ronald Christianson, formerly the Presiding Judge in San Bernardino County, changed the name on the records of his primary residence to “Property Owners.” Such tactics will make determinations of suspicious activity increasingly more difficult.
Ditkowsky has filed a complaint with the ARDC referencing the impropriety of Adam Stern working as a GAL when he has failed to fulfill his own tax liabilities. At the time of going to press, other records detailing suspicious financial activity by ARDC attorneys and others are being turned over to a Grand Jury.
The Director of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Supreme Court, Michael Tardy, did not respond to queries from this reporter concerning the economic interests and reporting requirements of the ARDC, which is an arm of the Illinois Supreme Court.
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Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. She currently resides abroad. You may browse through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com