Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hotel scandal has a Peoria connection -- and the JS isn't reporting it

Since Peoria’s newspaper of record isn’t going to cover this story, I might as well pick up the slack.

The Chicago Sun Times has the details about the investors in a luxury hotel developed by a Republican big-wig have snatched up $1.8 billion in state deals — even though they haven’t repaid taxpayer-backed construction loan for the hotel.

Republican power broker William Cellini is the majority owner of the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center in Springfield. A minority owner is Michael Cullinan.

Yes, that Mike Cullinan: The CEO of R.A. Cullinan & Sons, the Peoria-area-based contractor that is the general contractor on the first phase of the “Upgrade 74″ project. This is the same Mike Cullinan who is a member of the Peoria Civic Federation, the group of Peoria-area power brokers with whom former Mayor Dave Ransburg met to map out policy for the city.

Most of the state business goes to companies linked to Cellini, led largely by the Commonwealth Realty Advisors investment company that he founded and now is controlled by his children.

Another hotel investor, Michael Cullinan, runs a pair of Peoria-area road building businesses with $494.9 million in state contracts since 2001, state records show. This year, his companies are getting more than $186 million.

Various state agencies are trying to get the loan repaid or declared delinquent. There’s been not much luck getting the investors — including Cullinan — banned from doing business until the loan is repaid:

Citing the lucrative road-building deals with Cullinan’s companies, Topinka’s office said it would not have awarded those contracts and disputed the idea the administration lacks authority to scuttle the deals. Blagojevich aides predicted more lawsuits if it arbitrarily pulled the plug on any of the contracts.

“Any firm primarily owned or wholly owned by any of these investors, we think, shouldn’t be awarded huge, lucrative contracts while we’re trying to squeeze every penny from them based on a deal gone bad 20 years ago,” said Martin Noven, Topinka’s top lawyer.

So how big is Cullinan’s investment in this hotel? Not much, as it turns out:

Cullinan, a 0.98-percent stakeholder in the hotel investment group, did not return two messages left at R.A. Cullinan & Son.

We’ll have to add this to growing list of scandals involving Peoria big shots that Peorians cannot find within the pages of Peoria’s daily newspaper.

I dunno. Perhaps I’ll pick up a paper tomorrow and see it run across the front page. I kind of doubt it though.

NOTE: The Belleville News Democrat, the KWQC in the Quad Cities and NBC5 in Chicago all picked up this story.

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