Durbin, Obama linked to defunct Chicago nonprofit under investigation

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin urged a Senate subcommittee chairman to appropriate $1 million in federal funds for a Chicago nonprofit that is now under investigation for potential fraud, according to documents obtained by The Daily Caller.

Durbin’s relationship with Chicago’s embattled Save-A-Life Foundation began in the mid-1990s and continued for at least several years, with Durbin even being listed as a member of the foundation’s “Advisory Council,” according to the documents.

President Barack Obama also had a relationship with Save-A-Life during his tenure as an Illinois state senator and U.S. senator, meeting with the organization’s founder and earning praise from the Foundation as a legislator who was “always supportive” of its publicly-funded efforts.

The controversial non-profit is reportedly under investigation for misappropriating potential millions of dollars in taxpayer money by the Illinois Attorney General’s Charitable Trusts Bureau. A Bureau representative declined to comment to The Daily Caller, citing a policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations.

The Save-A-Life Foundation, which received nearly $9 million in federal and Illinois state funding to teach schoolchildren CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, dissolved in 2009 but is still under investigation amid claims that it misrepresented the number of children it provided services to and of “money unaccounted for.”

“We can’t really find anywhere that there were a lot of kids that were trained. There may have been some kids, but not the claims that were made in the thousands or tens of thousands. It doesn’t seem to exist,” Illinois state Sen. Tim Bivins said last month.

Former Chicago schools CEO and current Obama administration Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in 2006 that it seemed unlikely that the Foundation could have trained as many children as it claimed. The Foundation previously claimed that it trained more than 1 million schoolchildren, which would have conceivably brought thousands of EMTs and other outside employees into classrooms.

“There’s money unaccounted for through Save-A-Life,” Bivins added.

Save-A-Life also purchased a building in Springfield, Ill., with $200,000 in state grants in 2003, only to sell that building to a private owner upon its dissolution in 2009 without reporting the location of the sale money to the Illinois Attorney General.

Illinois resident Carol Spizzirri founded the Save-A-Life Foundation in 1993 to teach emergency life-saving procedures to students after her own daughter Christina died in what Spizzirri she claimed was a hit-and-run car crash, reportedly due to the first responders’ inability to provide first aid.

It was later reported, however, that Spizzirri’s daughter died at a hospital, rather than at the scene of the crash, as Spizzirri claimed, and that she did not die in a hit-and-run but rather in a single-car crash that resulted after she drove with an illegal blood alcohol level. Spizzirri’s claim to be a registered nurse was also disputed, as no records exist to support her claim. Spizzirri now lives in southern California.

Records reveal that Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s relationship with Spizzirri’s nonprofit, beginning during his time as a U.S. congressman, was a major factor in the group’s ability to gain taxpayer funding.

Durbin wrote a letter to then-chairman of Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Sen. Arlen Specter, dated March 31, 1999, requesting that $1 million in federal funding be provided to the Save-A-Life Foundation.

“I am writing to request that the Fiscal Year 2000 Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill include $1 million for the Save A Life Foundation (SALF) in Chicago, Illinois,” Durbin wrote to Specter in the letter.

“The SALF has been influential in training children to save the lives of others…Thank you in advance for your consideration of this important request,” Durbin wrote.

Durbin to Specter Letter by The Daily Caller

In 1995, Durbin, then a congressman, spoke on behalf of SALF at an event and appeared in a photograph with Spizzirri featured in SALF’s April 1995 newsletter.

“Ill. Congressman Richard Durbin spoke on behalf of SALF to kick off Save a Life Week at the Chicago Hyatt. Durbin is scene (sic) here with Carol J. Spizzirri,” according to the newsletter.

Durbin was listed as a member of the Save a Life Foundation’s “Advisory Council,” according to a June 29, 2000 application the Foundation submitted for a $25,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.

Grant Application 1 by The Daily Caller

Durbin was also listed on the Foundation’s “Advisory Council” in SALF’s July 28, 2000 grant application to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.

Grant Application 2 by The Daily Caller

Though the Save-A-Life Foundation used Durbin’s name to help gain public funding, Durbin is not the only high-profile Democratic politician who crossed paths with Spizzirri and her embattled nonprofit.

“Save A Life Foundation (SALF) President and Founder Carol Spizzirri recently spoke with U.S. Senator Barack Obama and Illinois Congresswoman Melissa Bean regarding SALF’s future lifesaving efforts,” according to a Feb. 27, 2006, SALF news release that featured a photograph of then-Sen. Obama.

“While in the Illinois legislature together,Obama and current Illinois Senate President Emil Jones were always supportive of SALF’s efforts to train Illinois schoolchildren in life-sustaining skills for free. … Spizzirri says she looks forward to implementing SALF’s future goals with both U.S. Senator Obama and Congresswoman Bean on a national level,” according to the SALF news release.

"SALF President Speaks Frankly with Obama and Bean About Future Lifesaving Efforts," 2/27/06 by adenunno

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