The new director of Illinois' child welfare department, Arthur Bishop, once pleaded guilty to theft from a social service agency where he worked. He also was sued for child support for a daughter he said he didn't know was his. The revelations are part of an ongoing investigation by WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times into the Department of Children and Family Services. IPR's Tony Arnold has more:
For months now, WBEZ and the Sun-Times have been looking into child abuse deaths in Illinois--especially where the state's child welfare agency had contact with the families. You may have heard some of the interviews.
WOLF: "We may be heading toward a system that starts to slip back to where it was 15, 20 years ago when it was one of the worst in the country. And it certainly isn't there yet, but I want to make sure it never gets there."
So last month - when Governor Pat Quinn appointed Arthur Bishop to lead DCFS - we wanted to know more about him. Bishop has been promoted within DCFS in his nearly 20-year career there. But when he was first hired in 1995 - he had a pending felony charge. He was accused of stealing 92-hundred dollars from his former employer - the Bobby Wright Mental Health Center. That's a West Side social service agency. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge. The agency's long-time director , Doctor Lucy Lang-Chappell, had accused Bishop of running a fake D-U-I program, in which clients paid him. And in exchange - he'd sign their forms that were part of an educational program.
LANG-CHAPPELL: "They thought that this was a regular program because he was the director of the substance abuse program. I trusted him entirely."
Other Bobby Wright employees substantiate Lang-Chappell's story. Bishop has insisted the accusations are false. But 20 years later - Lang-Chappell is firm.
LANG-CHAPPELL: "He really betrayed me and everybody in the agency when this happened. Nobody could believe that this was happening, that Mr. Bishop was doing such a thing."
Our public records search also found Arthur Bishop was the subject of a suit seeking child support. A Chicago woman named Yolanda O'Connor claims Bishop knew they had a daughter together in 1986. But she waited until until 2003 - when their child was 17 - to sue for support. A DNA test also in the court record - shows the child is Bishop's. O'Connor said in court documents that after the child was born - O'Connor's father questioned Bishop about his intentions for supporting his child. O'Connor recently sat down with two Sun-Times reporters and me at this McDonald's - on Chicago's near West Side. She refused to be recorded for this story - but she did say Bishop missed out on teaching their daughter how to ride a bike - and watching her get ready for prom. She said she holds no ill will toward Bishop - and hadn't been in touch with him in years. Neither Bishop nor Governor Quinn would talk with us for this story.
A spokeswoman for DCFS says in a statement the child support lawsuit is a personal matter. She also told us it's inappropriate to raise decades-old issues that have long been resolved and have nothing to do with Bishop's performance as director. So we looked to court records to get Bishop's side. They show that 10 years ago - Bishop argued that O'Connor had concealed from him that he had a daughter - until she sued for child support. The judge ruled in favor of Bishop. He did not have to provide back-pay in child support.
But O'Connor did receive a 41-hundred dollar judgment until their daughter turned 18. As for Bishop's theft conviction - a DCFS spokeswoman says Bishop has disclosed that every step of the way throughout his employment with the state...Including in 2010 - when Quinn appointed Bishop to head the state's long-troubled juvenile justice department. The spokeswoman points to written testimony Bishop submitted to the Illinois State Senate after his selection. In that testimony - Bishop repeats that his former boss at the Bobby Wright Mental Health Center - Doctor Lang-Chappell - falsely accused him... He says he only pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor - because he couldn't afford to keep his attorney - and couldn't subject his wife to more stress. State Senators confirmed Bishop's appointment with zero 'No' votes. He went on to be recognized nationally for his work in juvenile justice. In response to reporters' questions for this story - a spokeswoman for Quinn says the governor stands by his decision - that Bishop has the right experience to lead an agency as difficult as DCFS. Bishop's attorney in his child support case says there should be a statue of him outside juvenile court - because Bishop's done more for DCFS and juvenile justice than any other person. With Chris Fusco and Frank Main from the Chicago Sun-Times - I'm Tony Arnold.
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