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Judy Baar Topinka fed the FBI tips for years on possible corruption in the west suburbs, records show

Chicago Sun Times

Friday, February 14, 2020  |  Article  |  Mry Norkol

Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a)

Judy Baar Topinka, long a popular Illinois state officeholder, secretly provided federal authorities information about possible corruption in the 1970s and 1980s, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.


The longtime Republican state legislator, comptroller and treasurer died in 2014, which is why the FBI released its Topinka files, which are now part of the Sun-Times’ “The FBI Files” database.


Once someone has died, the FBI typically will release records it has on them on request, though usually with redactions.


Some of the material the agency released on Topinka is blacked out. But it’s still clear that the colorful, tell-it-like-it-is politician acted as an informant beginning in the 1970s, when she was a reporter for a newspaper in the west suburbs.


Topinka spoke with the FBI enough that a former aide has told the Sun-Times the conversations amounted to an “open dialogue.”


Topinka’s son Joseph Baar Topinka said he wasn’t aware his mother had helped the FBI but that he wasn’t surprised because she was often frustrated at how politics sometimes worked in the west suburbs.


The earliest contact between Topinka and the FBI, according to the files that were released, was in 1975, soon after her newspaper ran a “short article stating that it had been learned from sources in Berwyn . . . that the FBI was inquiring into official corruption in Berwyn.”


Topinka told agents she was “extremely familiar” with Berwyn and “willing to provide information to the Bureau,” according to the records.

She tipped off agents to a rumor about a bank she’d heard made a payoff to get a zoning change and about an “alleged shakedown” at a market, the FBI records show.


Topinka also told agents that a former alderman — whose name is blacked out — was involved in “extortion schemes,” according to the records.


In 1987, while Topinka was a state senator, she told the authorities of an allegation a Cicero official had demanded $7,000 from a business owner to open a liquor store, the documents show.


It’s unclear whether Topinka’s information had a part in any prosecutions. The FBI’s Chicago office wouldn’t comment.


Topinka herself was the subject of an FBI background check, the files show, when she was being considered in 1991 for an unspecified presidential appointment while President George H.W. Bush was in office.


Topinka’s son said his mother was involved in a White House commission, but it’s unclear whether the background check was regarding that or another potential appointment.


The Justice Department also mentioned her name in a memo in 2005, when George W. Bush was president, though the FBI records don’t specify what was about.