Burris Linked to Troubled Trade Association

September 23, 2009
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Newly appointed Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., has dealt with questions about his ties to impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but now questions are being raised about his links to an Illinois trade association where a trust fund is reporting tens of millions of dollars in losses. The fund, run by the Illinois Funeral Directors Association, is a repository for money paid by families in advance for funeral services.

According to state records, Burris issued the license the IFDA needed to run the insurance-type setup while he served as comptroller for the state of Illinois years ago. But within the last two years apparently he has been the beneficiary of IFDA funds, since the organization was a client of his consulting and lobbying firm, Burris & Lebed.

The license now has been voided by Illinois, forcing the association to find another trustee to manage the funds.

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R. Brian Burkhardt, a funeral director in the state and the author of a book on saving money on funeral costs, told WND he noticed a year ago that the fund set up under the license granted by Burris had reported a $40 million loss ? $59 million at the most recent reporting.

“One of the complaints that have been made against the IFDA is that excessive fees were paid to lobbyists,” Burkhardt told WND.

The IFDA declined to answer most of the questions WND posed regarding the issue. A spokesman did confirm that Burris’ law firm “was retained to provide government relations representation in 2007.”

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Illinois

But the statement said, “At no time did Mr. Burris or his firm provide legal services relating to IFDA Trust Administration.”

The organization also released a statement regarding the move of the funds from the IFDA’s own management to Merrill Lynch Bank & Trust, without addressing any of Burris’ involvement in setting up the license under which the fund originally was assembled.

The statement noted that the losses for the fund developed when officials set “too high an interest rate” for the trust.

“This, coupled with serious losses in the financial market, was the source of the imbalance between assets and liabilities in the IFDA Trust,” the statement said.

Burkhardt, however, pointed out that the large losses in the fund apparently started before the U.S. market meltdown.

According to a report in the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., the trust fund also had the unusual circumstance of being propped up financially by insurance policies worth more than $160 million taken out on IFDA board members, various funeral home directors and association members.

The report also said that in 2005, the IFDA Services subsidiary that ran the fund took in at least $515,000 more in fees for its management services than was allowed by state law.

And among the trust’s transactions were at least five loans to IFDA board members.

As a result, Carol Knowles, a spokeswoman for state comptroller Dan Hynes, told the newspaper the state decided that the organization never should have been licensed by Burris years ago.

So the license was voided by the state and the FIDA needed to find a licensed manager for the fund.

On the AshestoAshes weblog, which has monitored the situation, a commenter expressed outrage, noting IFDA officials had said consumers would not be affected.

“This is absurd. There is not enough money in the fund to pay the funeral homes the contracted price when a death occurs. So the homes will have to find alternative ways to recoup their losses. Either through some sort of additional charge or by a general price increase that will leave all consumers paying more.”

Burris had a contentious arrival in the U.S. Senate aftering accepted the appointment from Blagojevich, who was arrested on corruption allegations that he tried to sell the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich since has been impeached and awaits trial in the state Senate.

U.S. Senate leaders initially insisted they would block Burris from being seated, because of his appointment by the tainted governor. But courts determined the appointment was legal, and Burris was sworn in yesterday.

Burris has said Blagojevich’s problems are his alone, and he has sought to minimize his links to the governor, even though he’s worked on the Democrat’s campaigns in the past.

A USA Today report as Burris prepared to be sworn in said he had avoided the typical controversy found in Illinois’ politics while serving as comptroller starting in 1978 and attorney general in 1990.

Cynicism of the voters, however, was evident in comments on the USA Today website.

“‘Burris has been free of controversy,'” wrote one participant. “And now he has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make up for it.”

“Donating $14,000 from his law firm, and then being nominated by this guy isn?t a scandal?” added another.

Reports actually document Burris donating $15,296 to Blagojevich since 2002.

“Corrupt, discredited and thoroughly despicable governor sets-up a well-meaning black lawmaker through a suspect political appointment for his own devious purposes… didn’t Mel Brooks already cover this concept in Blazing Saddles?” added a third.

There are reports funeral homes are seeking legal action over the handling of the trust fund moneys.

Burris also has survived controversy in the past. While attorney general he was targeted over the prosecution of Rolando Cruz in the 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville.

Published reports say in 1992 while Burris was seeking the death penalty for the twice-convicted Cruz, a deputy prosecutor was convinced of Cruz’ innocence and resigned when Burris refused to change his stance.

Deputy Attorney General Mary Brigid Kenney alleged Burris had chosen to “ignore the evidence in this case.” The conviction eventually was tossed out, and a 1995 DNA investigation linked a different man to the crime.

Article By: WorldNetDaily

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