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Mouthwatch

The Year's Newsmakers, in Their Own Words

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January 2

Former Springfield police officer Walter Meek insisted he should get his job back after being acquitted of official misconduct. The department's internal affairs unit had taped Meeks talking with a prostitute in 1995. Accused of sparing her a traffic ticket in exchange for sex, Meeks claimed he was just leading the woman on to see what she'd say, noting: "Police officers, especially on third shift, see scum of the earth. We don't see the mothers in the PTA."

January 9

The New York Times published a transcript of a December 21 cell phone conversation between House speaker Newt Gingrich, his lawyer, and House Republican leaders including House majority leader Dick Armey. Gingrich and cohorts discussed how to orchestrate an attack on the House Ethics Committee when it announced that Gingrich had agreed to admit guilt in the ethics charges against him. (Gingrich admitted he didn't get legal guidance before financing a college course, meant to help elect Republicans, with money from his tax-exempt foundation, and that he misled Ethics Committee investigators about it.) But it had to look like Gingrich wasn't orchestrating the attack on the committee, because part of the agreement was not to orchestrate an attack on the committee. At one point Armey suggested Gingrich could use this excuse against the widespread belief that Gingrich lied to the committee during its investigation: "I am not sure you are ready for this, but you could quote Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers....[Sings] 'I did not mean to deceive you. I never intended to push or shove. I just wish you was someone that I love.'"

January 21

For the first time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives voted to penalize the Speaker of the House. The House reprimanded Newt Gingrich in a 395-28 vote and fined him $300,000. Still, Republican congressman Tom DeLay defended Gingrich: "What's he's charged with today is during the process, he happened to screw up."

February 18

Former millionaire William Stoecker of Orland Park tried to defend himself against charges of massive bank fraud in the collapse of his company, Grabill Corporation, by pleading idiot. Asked to confirm whether he had written a letter, Stoecker responded: "The grammar is bad enough where I believe it is mine."

March 1

Another American home was found stuffed with guns and bombs, this time in Roopville, Georgia. Aubrey Mark Turner allegedly lifted propane tanks from a store and when sheriff's deputies tracked him to his home took a shot at them from the bushes. Inside they reportedly found 16 bombs. Sheriff Tony Reeves reassured everyone that Turner had no connection to the Olympic Park bombing: "He was just a local boy that liked to make bombs."

March 4

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash that killed seven-year-old pilot Jessica Dubroff on her flight instructor. According to the NTSB, the instructor took off in lousy weather to stick to the itinerary set to make Jessica the youngest pilot to fly across the U.S., "in part, because of media commitments." Jessica's mother, Lisa Hathaway, who a year earlier had said she was happy her child died "in a state of joy," attacked the NTSB assessment. Though the NTSB is responsible for investigating crashes and determining their causes, Hathaway insisted: "They have no right to judge it. Safety is not a true state. Anything can happen anytime."

March 6

Illinois Senate president James "Pate" Philip suddenly gave up his opposition to secretary of state George Ryan's proposal to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit to .08 percent, letting the law pass the senate 48-8. Afterward, Philip noted grudgingly: "I still have reservations. I mean, once in a while you've got to do what the people want you to do."

March 6

State senator Denny Jacobs of East Moline criticized the lower alcohol limit, claiming it would cost Illinois 20,000 jobs. That prompted senator Marty Butler of Park Ridge to mention a Mothers Against Drunk Driving display in the state capitol, which featured 2,300 pictures of Illinoisans killed by drunk drivers: "If that were a legitimate concern about saving jobs, then we all ought to walk over to that [exhibit] and say, 'Thank you. Each one of you contributed to the economic well-being of this state. You died for a good cause because you saved jobs.'"

March 7

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials ripped Commonwealth Edison for an accidental shutdown on February 21 at the Zion nuclear plant in which the control room operator tried restarting the plant himself without telling anyone. Thomas Maiman, Edison's executive vice president for nuclear operations, commented on the NRC criticism with striking candor: "This is perhaps the most embarrassing career situation I have ever been in."

March 11

Lorie A. LaFata pleaded idiot when she was accused of selling diplomas from the fictional "Loyola State University." A bachelor's degree went for $1,995, and credit could be earned for activities like "buying a Persian carpet." The Illinois attorney general's office sued LaFata for consumer fraud and deceptive practices, and said LaFata was cooperating in the investigation. LaFata told the Sun-Times: "I'm stupid and I have nothing in my defense."

March 12

Neighborhood groups rejoiced when the city bought the West Town Goldblatt's building at 1615 W. Chicago, saving it from demolition by its owner, Delray Farms. But Planning Department spokesman Greg Longhini added a cautionary note: "We're not going to get into the habit of buying every building every neighborhood organization wants to save."

March 25

Convicted killer Pedro Medina got more than a jolt from Florida's "Old Sparky" electric chair during his execution--he also got a brief fire almost a foot high on the right side of his head. Afterward, Florida attorney general Bob Butterworth commented: "People who wish to commit murder, they better not do it in the state of Florida because we may have a problem with our electric chair."

March 25

Chicago Transit Authority president David Mosena spoke to the City Council Transportation Committee, looking for support in getting another $1.9 billion from the state and federal governments over the next five years to fix aging infrastructure: "We're not trying to say that anything is unsafe. It's just crumbling."

March 28

Quaker Oats sold Snapple just two and half years after buying it and took a $1.4 billion loss. Steven Kaplan, professor of finance at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, put it in perspective: "They could have taken 80 percent of that money and burned it and done better."

April 1

On April Fools' Day, Illinois Supreme Court chief justice James Heiple appeared before the Illinois Courts Commission for allegedly disobeying police and using his court badge to get out of speeding tickets. Stopped in Pekin, Heiple took off without permission and drove home, according to police, and there told a pursuing officer to "shut up." The ICC granted Heiple's motion asking that no evidence be presented at the hearing because he didn't dispute the complaints against him, and therefore the police didn't get to testify. But afterward Heiple held an hour-long press conference disputing the complaint anyway. He claimed: "I didn't admit the facts. I elected not to deny them."

April 1

Heiple reenacted the Pekin traffic stop for reporters, having his lawyer play one of the cops. He claimed the cop got in his face and screamed at him, then threw him down on the hood of his car. According to Heiple: "I was sure the officers were going to beat me up. I was sure the officers were going to hit me over the head with what is known as a sap or blackjack."

April 6

One of the police officers at the Pekin traffic stop, Daniel Brotz, told the Tribune that: "[Heiple has] an overactive imagination. We just leaned him over the hood."

April 6

State representative Gwenn Klingler was the first to say out loud that widely reviled Illinois Supreme Court chief justice James Heiple should be impeached for his behavior during traffic stops and for appointing his friend, fellow Supreme Court justice Moses Harrison II, to head the Illinois Courts Commission when Heiple knew himself to be under investigation by the ICC. Heiple's popularity can be gauged by the best defense anyone could muster for him, articulated by Daniel Polsby, Northwestern University law school professor: "Is it an impeachable offense to be a horse's ass? If so, then we aren't going to stop with Justice Heiple."

April 20

The idiot defense surfaced again, this time with disbarred New York attorney Burton Pugach. Back in 1959, Pugach went to prison for 14 years for hiring three men to throw lye in his mistress's face after she threatened to leave him. She was blinded. After getting out of prison and divorcing, Pugach married the blind former mistress. But then he had an affair with yet another woman, who charged that he harassed and sexually abused her when she tried breaking up with him last year. His new trial imminent, Pugach told his life story to a New York Times reporter, paraphrasing the Frank Sinatra song "My Way": "The end is near. This is chapter three, the final chapter in a stupid life. But I did it my way. And boy, did I foul up."

April 21

Burton Pugach's trial began. Wife Linda stood by his claim that he'd never threatened his mistress. The mistress, however, testified that Burton told her: "Don't worry. It will be quick. I will not blind you like I did with Linda."

April 22

In one of the year's ubiquitous courts-martial of army brass who had sex with subordinates, private first class Divina Scott said that a female soldier accusing staff sergeant Delmar Simpson of rape had told her she thought Simpson was sexy, and purposely walked past his office in shorts and a bikini top. Scott recalled her own response: "I was like, 'You go, girl,' because you can get promoted faster."

April 24

Linda Pugach testified at Burton Pugach's trial and was cross-examined by her husband, who was representing himself. Though Burton had hired thugs to throw lye in her face decades earlier, Linda testified, "You are a wonderful, caring husband." Outside the courtroom, Linda bristled when reporters expressed skepticism: "The Scriptures all teach you to forgive. Why is it that when someone does it everyone gets bent out of shape?"

April 28

While the jury was out, Pugach scoffed at the charges to a Newsday reporter: "People are threatening to kill people all the time. Besides, I'm not a tough guy. If I were, I would not have hired people to throw lye in Linda's face. I'd have done it myself."

April 31

Burton Pugach was found guilty of just one count of second-degree harassment against his mistress. Before the verdict, wife Linda offered this encouragement: "Just think, you're going to be stuck with this old bitch from here on in. You may be better off in the can."

May 11

Junior high social studies teacher Roger Katz was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Katz explained in court before sentencing that his love for the 14-year-old student dated back to previous lives more than a thousand years earlier when she was older than he was. And defense attorney Aaron Wolf told the judge: "I hope my daughters find men who love them as much as he loves her."

May 21

The Babe Ruth League banned 12-year-old catcher Melissa Raglin from its games until she agreed to wear a cup. Her mother summed up the situation: "If something was made for a girl, we'd have gotten it and she'd been wearing it. But she's not going to wear a boy's cup over a penis she doesn't have."

May 21

Houston Rockets star Charles Barkley told NBC sports reporter Hannah Storm, on videotape, that a lot of players on his team were "lackadaisical" because they've "accomplished what they want to accomplish." Then he got mad that NBC showed the tape. Barkley's comment: "It doesn't surprise me though because it was Hannah Storm. Women shouldn't be announcing men's sports anyway."

May 28

Federal prosecutors entertained the jury at alderman Jesse Evans's trial with videotapes of Evans accepting bribes from undercover FBI agent Mark Sofia. At one point Sofia paid Evans $1,500 and quipped, "Go out and buy a beeper." Evans took the money and answered: "Can't afford it."

June 24

Eighteen-year-old Melissa Drexler was arraigned on charges of murder and endangering the welfare of a child after she allegedly gave birth to a boy in a bathroom stall at her New Jersey prom, dumped him in the garbage, and went back to the dance. According to prosecutor John Kaye, Drexler gave birth in the stall and then called to a friend: "Go tell the boys we'll be right out."

June 24

Drexler's attorney, Steven Secare, told reporters: "She's not very happy."

July 20

Louisville resident Barbara Morris was forced into her car by a gunman who took her on a nine-hour shopping spree, forcing her to buy things at Target, Office Max, and White Castle. At White Castle, the gunman had her charge $40 worth of sliders. Morris kept her head: "I asked him if he was feeding an army."

July 28

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms was refusing to hold hearings on Massachusetts governor William Weld's nomination as ambassador to Mexico. Helms thought Republican Weld was soft on drugs because Weld favors legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Weld declared war on Helms by resigning his office to fight for confirmation, and Helms spokesman Marc Thiessen shot back: "He's not going to Mexico, except as a tourist."

July 28

IRS agent Robert Pinta testified at the sentencing hearing for attorney Ronald Belmonte, convicted of failing to file tax returns. Prosecutors pointed out that from 1989 to 1991 Belmonte had worked for Alderman Edward Burke's Finance Committee, earning $40,000, but didn't do much. Pinta testified that Belmonte told him he worked four to seven hours a week and quit when the City Council instituted new rules requiring committee employees to sign in and out. According to Pinta: "He said reporting every day was a hassle....It just wasn't worth his while."

August 26

Alderman Edward Burke proposed an ordinance banning nudity "in any place open to the public" after a new strip joint, Scarlett's Gentleman's Club, figured a way around the city's rule against total nudity in establishments selling alcohol. Scarlett's skipped a liquor license and let patrons bring their own. The strip joint's lawyer, Mark Vajdik, defended his client's right to eschew pasties and G-strings: "It's not prostitution. It's expressive dancing in the nude."

August 26

Democratic candidate for governor John Schmidt staged a campaign stunt, having aides buy assault weapons at a downstate gun show to demonstrate their easy availability. Schmidt said that as governor he'd work to extend the current ban on selling assault weapons manufactured after 1994 to all such weapons.

The Illinois State Rifle Association predictably opposed Schmidt. According to a spokesman: "That's like telling a person they can't have a Ford or a Chevy."

August 28

Darryl Brown missed the class at kidnapping school where they tell you to fill up the gas tank before abducting your ex-girlfriend. Vernon Hills police chief Gary Kupsak said Brown ran out of gas on Illinois highway 60 and told his girlfriend to stay in the car while he went to get some or he'd kill her. As Kupsak told it: "Guess what? She didn't listen to him."

September 2

Romuald Rat was one of the photographers arrested after the crash that killed Princess Diana. His lawyer defended him for taking Princess Diana's pulse as she lay dying in the wreckage: "He wanted to see if she was dead or alive."

September 7

The air force showed off another hugely expensive new plane, the F-22 Raptor. Raptors will cost $100 million each. Mickey Blackwell, president of one of the plane's major contractors, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Sector, claimed the Raptor will be a lot easier to keep in the air: "You just turn the key and go to war."

September 9

Cook County circuit judge Richard Walsh spoke bluntly when he gave probation to a 16-year-old girl for killing her dad with a baseball bat as he slept on the living room couch. The father had just tried to strangle the girl's mom, and had subjected the girl to years of sexual abuse. As Walsh observed: "If there is anything to be learned from this, it's that if you mess with your kids enough, they're going to beat your brains out."

September 11

Northwestern University's Dyche Stadium was renamed Ryan Field after the family of Patrick Ryan donated $8 million for major renovations. Relatives of William Dyche were unhappy. Dyche helped raise funds to build the football stadium in the first place, and the 1926 NU board of trustees decreed that it would forever be named after him. Grandson David Dyche told the Tribune he was sorry to see the honor being given not for a lifetime of service, but for money. His wife was more blunt. She said she'd have told NU president Henry Bienen: "Why don't you just rename the school Ryan University and be done with it?"

Septermber 17

Convicted alderman Jesse Evans announced a hunger strike. Evans was outraged that at his June trial prosecutors had entered into evidence a canceled check to his mortgage company that happened to be on a piece of microfiche with two unrelated checks. Though Evans's lawyers had allowed it, Evans demanded an official investigation before his next bite of solid food. Evans had been found guilty of taking bribes and was awaiting sentencing. But he insisted: "This is not--I repeat--this is not the case of a convicted alderman trying to escape justice."

October 21

Alderman Patrick Huels quits in disgrace after a Sun-Times investigation reveals, among other things, that Huels's security company got a $1.25 million loan from a trucking contractor, and Huels helped the trucking contractor get a $1.1 million city subsidy. Alderman William Beavers explained the situation to WTTW's Chicago Tonight: "People have to understand that if you got a friend, and--the purpose of your job here is to help people that you know. I mean, I try to help all the people that I know. I try to help 'em with jobs, I try to help 'em with contracts. And uh, this is my purpose in being here, is to help people I know."

October 24

A soused University of Akron student participating in an Alcohol Awareness Week demonstration of the dangers of drinking was sent to the hospital. Participants normally take a drink in front of an audience, then perform a sobriety test. This year they started drinking two hours before the audience arrived. According to David Stephen, director of residence life and housing: "It is obvious that some liberties were taken with the execution of the program."

November 3

Chicagoan Todd Miller had sued Metallica over a 1993 concert in which he claimed the crowd picked him up and passed him around before dropping him on his head. Miller and Metallica finally reached a settlement on the first day of the trial, relieving Iowa City judge Patrick Grady: "The good news for me is that I don't have to watch the tape of a two-and-a-half-hour Metallica concert tonight."

November 3

Chicagoan Todd Miller had sued Metallica over a 1993 concert in which he claimed the crown picked him up and passed him around before dropping him on his head. Miller and Metallica finally reached a settlement on the first day of the trial, relieving Iowa City judge Patrick Grady: "The good news for me is that I don't have to watch the tape of a two-and-a-half-hour Metallica concert tonight."

November 26

A truck carrying 42 cows crashed on the Edens Expressway, killing six cows instantly and sending the rest wandering around Skokie and the Old Orchard shopping mall parking lot. Police ended up shooting about 18 injured cattle, and the rest boarded a new truck to continue their journey to becoming beef patties. Vince Gryb, manager of a Goose Island company that shipped the dead cows off to be processed, was philosophical about their fate: "You die in a crash or you die in a slaughterhouse. There isn't much difference."

December 2

Peoria resident Christina Mack had a fight with live-in boyfriend Chester Parkman, who has one leg and uses crutches. The police said Mack tried to kill Parkman by greasing the floor at the top of the stairs and outside the bathroom door. But it was Mack who slipped, knocking herself out. Parkman told a reporter he hopes he and Mack will reconcile, insisting: "I honestly think she was trying to wax the floor."

December 4

San Francisco mayor Willie Brown grabbed his share of the publicity after the NBA gave Golden State Warriors player Latrell Sprewell a one-year suspension for attacking coach P.J. Carlesimo. Brown didn't think the suspension was fair: "His boss may have needed choking. It may have been justified. Someone should have asked the question, 'What prompted that?'"

December 21

Reverend Ed Willhelm, associate pastor of St. Michael's parish, contributed to the avalanche of Chris Farley right-before-he-died sightings with this on Fox News: "Last Sunday, the Sunday before he died, he was here at mass at seven in the evening, talking with others. He liked the yuppies and I think the yuppies liked him."

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