Med school lawsuit and the jail
By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer
An Illinois Second District Appellate Court opinion delivered in October 2002 describes allegations that Brent Johnson, president of Ringland-Johnson Construction, Inc., was given a no-bid contract to build the University of Illinois at Chicago Womens and Childrens Health Clinic at 2780 McFarland Road. The clinic was built in the late 1990s.
Johnson along with Bovis Lend Lease, Inc., of Chicago and Scandroli Construction Co. are reportedly the front-runners for the construction manager position to help build the countys new $110 million jail. The winner of the construction manager position for the new jail may earn between $2.2 and $3.3 million.
Why this partnership is the front-runner for this lucrative position, is the subject of this article. The relationship between this partnership and Madison-based Durrant, the countys recommended choice for the approximately $6 million jail architect position also sheds light on Mark Goldman, the federally recommended jail consultant who pushed for the enormous size of the countys proposed 976-bed jail several years ago.
The lawsuit before appellate court was to determine whether Dr. Joseph Levenstein, a former tenured professor at the University of Illinois at Chicagos (UIC) College of Medicine in Rockford, was covered by the Illinois Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act and whether Levensteins claim was barred by law. The courts opinion was that Levenstein was covered by the whistleblower act, and his claim could not be barred by law.
Levensteins claims his constitutional rights were violated when medical college officials, led by Dr. Bernard Salafsky, dean of the college, retaliated for his whistleblowing by disciplining him on spurious charges of sexual harassment.
A federal lawsuit is pending, according to Mark Rosati, associate chancellor for public affairs at UIC. Citing the pending lawsuit, both Rosati and Levenstein declined comment about this story. Salafsky referred the Times to Rosati. Rosati referred the Times to two federal lawsuits that do not describe details of Johnsons no-bid contract.
Federal suit 95C-5524 reads that during 1995, Dr. Levenstein became suspicious of unexplained financial losses at the medical school. For example, he questioned how the Medical Service Plan [MSP]a patient care plan designed to generate income from patient services to help pay for such expenses as faculty salarieshad been depleted from a $1.5 million surplus to a $500,000 deficit over several months.
…He [Levenstein] also sought information regarding the allocation of State, grant, and other funds throughout the medical schools departments. Dr. Levenstein never received this information, a circumstance which he attributes to Dean Salafskys interference.
…Levenstein also questioned the Universitys use of state funds. Specifically, the State of Illinois made a line-item allocation of $7.8 million in fiscal year 1995 for a program, created and directed by Dr. Levenstein, known as the Rural Medical Education Program (RMED).
The Rockford Register Star reported Feb. 20 that the medical college will be receiving $1.5 million from Congress to train medical professionals for practice in rural communities. The article indicates that the college plans to build a $24 million, 72,000-square-foot expansion for the college, which will be primarily for rural health education.
The courts opinion continued: The State mandated that the money be spent on RMED or returned but, although RMED never spent more than $280,000 in state funds in 1995, the State never recouped any of the apparently unspent monies. Dr. Levenstein suspects that if the University had provided him with the requested funding information, he would have discovered the cause of this disparity.
Defendants argue that these allegations are sanctionable. They claim that RMED was never appropriated $7.8 million; rather, that money funded the transfer of research and education programs from the Illinois Department of Mental Health to the University of Illinois.
The state lawsuit reads: In September 1994, over Salafskys objection, Levenstein and other faculty members formed a management committee to oversee how money in the MSP is generated, collected, and spent. They did so partly because the College MSP was losing money, reporting a deficit of $400,000 in April 1995.
Despite this deficit, Salafsky announced that month that he wanted to build a clinic in Rockford. He assured the management committee that the College MSPs deficit was not a problem and that the MSP could count on assistance from Chicago. Under the heading Salafsky Circumvents Bidding Process to Build Clinic, the complaint alleges as follows.
In June 1995, Salafsky signed a letter of intent with Illinois Health Properties (IHP) to build and lease the new clinic. IHP did not yet exist; signing for it was Brent Johnson, who owned Ringland & Johnson, a construction firm.
Later in 1995, Johnson formed IHP, which then contracted to sell the clinic to the University. IHP hired Ringland & Johnson to build the clinic, thus giving Johnsons firm a no-bid contract. Salafsky never told the trustees or the College MSP about Johnsons interest in IHP or Ringland & Johnson, states the lawsuit.
This sort of property transfer has happened before. Sources said in the late 1980s, Johnson bought property that eventually housed the Winnebago County satellite jail. With the help of former county board Chairman Gene Quinn (R), the county leased the property from Johnson, who later sold the property back to the county. Sources described Johnsons contract as a sweetheart deal.
About the same time the state courts opinion in favor of Levenstein was issued in October 2002, Salafsky announced his retirement in early 2004. Johnson did not return a message for comment about this story.
Doctor and lawyer
Attorney, surgeon and medical consultant to physicians, Dr. Alan Tobias, who runs a California health care consulting and law firm, was asked to weigh the credibility of Levensteins allegations.
Concerning the federal lawsuit, Tobias said: Levenstein had accused Salafsky of potential malfeasance with school funds. Levensteins case was finally decided by the faculty advisory committee. They ruled that he should not be terminated.
Before the university president could make a decision [about Levensteins fate], Levenstein resigned and sued for constructive discharge…. The University was in the wrong. It should never take a year to investigate a case and the making of a respected physician review old training videos [during the time of the investigation] is a measure of their malice, Tobias said.
Tobias also said he is very familiar with Illinois politics. He worked for years in Chicago and did part of his medical training in Peoria. When aprised of the Illinois Appellate Courts opinion, Tobias gave a great deal of weight to Levensteins claims.
Assistant states attorney
Salafskys son, Daniel Salafsky, worked in Winnebago County States Attorney Paul Loglis office as an assistant states attorney in 1997 and 1998. The problem was Daniel Salafsky had no license to practice law because he did not take the required character and fitness evaluations.
Daniel Salafsky was convicted of bank fraud in 1996 and theft, official misconduct and impersonating an attorney in 1999. Daniel Salafsky stole $70,000 from the Rockford Police Departments evidence room in 1998.
He was forced to resign from the states attorney office in October 1998. At least one case was known to be overturned as a result of Daniel Salafskys prosecution of criminal cases.
When questioned about Salafsy, Loglisaid he believes that Salafsky received a sentence of jail time, probation and had to pay resitution in his state case. Slafsky was also sentenced to time in a federal penitentiary, according to Logli.
Logli has been the leader in pushing for the referendum for the new jail.
Architect and sub-consultant
Last fall, the Times published an extensive series (The criminal justice-industrial complex) in which Logli and other county officials named Atlanta jail consultant Mark Goldman as the person who originally recommended a 1,307-bed jail. After a series of public meetings last fall, county officials downsized the jail to 976 beds. Goldman was recommended to the county by the National Institute of Corrections, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Times also reported that Goldman viewed jail construction as an opportunity for economic development. The Aug. 15, 2001, meeting minutes of the Winnebago County Justice System Master Planning Committee read: Corrections is becoming more of a career path. There are currently three Basic Training sites in Illinois and Winnebago County has been selected as a fourth site with training to be held in conjunction with Rock Valley College in November.
Goldmans resumé reads that he was Director of Planning and Programming for a construction/program management firm where he managed and led all facility planning for the largest prison development program in the world.
Len Witke, director of criminal justice planning for Durrant, the countys recommended choice as architect for the new jail, said Goldman is a sub-consultant for Durrant for the jail. Witke was asked about Durrants relationship with Scandroli and JohnsonWitke originally said there was none.
However, Witke was reminded that Durrant worked with Johnson to build the Byron fire station that opened in 2000. Witke called back later and suggested that the only reason Johnson and Durrant worked together in Byron was because Johnson was the low bidder for the Byron project.
The speed at which the committee decided to recommend Durrant as the jail architect left many scratching their heads. The committee that made the decision did so within about an hour of the completion of presentations, by a 6-4 vote.
Scott Long, president of the Northern Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said, A decision of this magnitude usually takes a few days. Long said that officials who decided to build the new $200,000 village hall in New Milford took more time making their decision than did the committee for the $110 million jail.
Committee member Rick Pollack (R-13) said the decision was made quickly because members had being doing their homework studying the architects for weeks prior to the vote.
Voting and non-voting members of the committee who selected Durrant were: Dina Getty, Winnebago County Sheriffs director of corrections; Sally Claassen, Winnebago County purchasing director/risk manager; Richard Meyers (D), Winnebago County Sheriff; Kris Cohn (R), Winnebago County Board Chairman; Polly Berg (D-7); Gary Bauer (R-2); Bruce Nelson, Winnebago County Facilities Manager; Pollack; Chuck Prorok, Winnebago County Board attorney; Randy Sturm (R-5); Reggie Taylor (D-12).
The committee will also choose the jail construction manager within the next few weeks.
In 1997, Meyers was appointed Winnebago County Sheriff after the retirement of Don Gasparini (D). The same year, the former sheriffs son, Marc Gasparini (R) was appointed to the county circuit clerks position after Ron Kotche retired from that post.
Sources said Kotche left the position before his term was complete to enable Marc Gasparini to get the job and run with the power of an incumbent. Sources alledge that in return , Kotche was sold a piece of property on Fish Hatchery Road by the elder Gasparini. Denying those allegations, Don Gasparini and Kotches supporters argue the two stepped down in 1997 to take advantage of early retirement packages.
Marc Gasparini is currently asking the Winnebago County Board to re-zone about 7.5 acres of property near Kotches property from agriculture to residential even though it is not consistent with the countys wetland use plan.
In addition, Kotches property he acquired from Gasparini is now for sale. Reportedly, an religous organization wishes to buy the property, which would then be exempt from Burritt Township and Winnebago County taxes, another point of controversy about this proposed zoning change and possible sale. Sources report that developer Sunil Puri is involved with the group that may purchase Kotches property.
Joe Scandroli Sr.s construction company is a partner with Johnson for the jail construction manager position. Reportedly, the elder Gasparinis sister is married to Scandroli Sr. The Scandroli family has recently contributed cash to the campaigns of Marc Gasparini, Meyers and Cohn.