Updated August 3, 2020

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Media reports about the Annabel Melongo case compiled by Peter M. Heimlich -- for the most recent stories, click here

Click here and/or here for case documents filed in Annabel Melongo's wide-ranging federal civil rights lawsuit v. Carol Spizzirri et al

Click here for a compilation of media reports about the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) scandal

3/14/12: Applications of Illinois Eavesdropping Act still being debated - A whistleblower’s story by Susan Johnson, Rock River Times (Rockford, IL)

Peter M. Heimlich: In 2007, I was one of a group of defendants named in a nuisance lawsuit brought by the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF), a Chicago nonprofit with which my father was affiliated. The entire complaint was a string of false allegations which in July 2009 resulted in SALF’s attorney asking the judge to drop the case. [Click here and here for Cincinnati CityBeat articles.]

Since then, SALF has been the subject of dozens of critical news stories and (is) reportedly under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Bureau....

While the lawsuit was active, Annabel Melongo contacted my attorney. I came to learn that she was a computer professional who’d been working for years in the Chicago area. Ms. Melongo was placed at SALF by a temp agency in December 2005 and left the job in April 2006.

Five months later, on Oct. 31, 2006, SALF founder/president Carol J. Spizzirri swore out a pair of felony warrants, claiming that after leaving her company, Melongo somehow destroyed SALF’s computer files. She was arrested, and her home computer was seized by police from Schiller Park, the Chicago suburb where SALF’s offices were located. She was released on a $10,000 bond.

A month later, ABC7 Chicago aired the first of four I-Team reports about SALF. According to ABC7, Spizzirri had falsely claimed to be a registered nurse and pretended to have a nursing degree from a Wisconsin college. She even contrived a story about her daughter bleeding to death...Reportedly, SALF received about $9 million in Illinois and federal funds to provide first aid training classes to students in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois. But the ABC 7 story included an interview with Arne Duncan casting doubts on SALF’s claims. (Now Secretary of Education, Duncan was close to SALF and Spizziri when he headed the Chicago Public Schools).

Despite ABC7 poking sizable holes in Spizzirri’s credibility, two months later, the Cook County State’s Attorney put the case in front of a grand jury and obtained an indictment against Melongo....

As the case worked its way through Cook County Criminal Court, an Internet website appeared called The Chronicles of a Criminal Case: The Trial of Annabel Melongo. The site consisted of case records and opinionated commentary...As media exposes about SALF kept appearing, Spizziri’s organization went out of business in September 2009. Nevertheless, the state didn’t drop the Melongo case. In other words, she was now being prosecuted for allegedly harming a defunct company.

Then, in April 2010, new charges were filed against Melongo under Illinois’ controversial eavesdropping law. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez claimed that in December 2009, Melongo had recorded two routine phone calls with a Cook County Clerk of Courts...without obtaining her consent, then uploaded the recordings and transcripts of the calls to her website.
7/30/12: Ill. judge declares state's eavesdropping law unconstitutional by Amanda Simmons, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
An Illinois judge ruled last week that the state’s eavesdropping law – one of the broadest restrictions on audio recording in the nation – is unconstitutional.

The decision granted a request for dismissal made by Annabel K. Melongo, a 39-year old woman who faced criminal charges under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act....Melongo, who is representing herself in court, recorded three phone calls with a clerk at the Cook County Court Reporter’s office in Illinois without consent and posted them on her watchdog website in 2010, incurring six charges of eavesdropping.

...The conversations she recorded involved other charges that have been brought against her for computer tampering in 2006, when she worked as a computer programmer for a scandal-ridden and now defunct non-profit organization, the Save-a-Life Foundation. Melongo's motion to dismiss those charges is currently pending.

11/7+8/12: Jailed For Recording Law Enforcement Parts I & 2 by Patrick Fazio, NBC2 Terre Haute, IN

6/25/13: Email links Obama to embattled nonprofit by Erin Murphy, Dubuque Telegraph Herald
An email sent in 2007 by an official at an Illinois-based non-profit currently under a state investigation suggests Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator, attempted to help secure $10 million for the embattled organization...White House media contacts did not respond to inquiries from the Telegraph Herald.
6/27/13: Email exchange: Obama tried to steer $10 million to Chicago nonprofit under investigation by Patrick Howley, The Daily Caller

1/4/14: Annabel Melongo eavesdropping case back in court Jan. 14 by Jim Hagerty, Rock River Times (Rockford, IL)

1/11/14: Arguments set in another Illinois eavesdropping case by Chris Dettro, Springfield Journal-Register
Arguments in a case that could further invalidate Illinois’ eavesdropping law are scheduled Tuesday before the state Supreme Court in Chicago.

...The wiretapping law was declared unconstitutional in a state court ruling in 2012; the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

...But (Cook Count State's Attorney Anita) Alvarez is still appealing the dismissal of the eavesdropping case against Annabel Melongo, an immigrant from Cameroon who recorded a public official, rather than a police officer.

1/15/14: Courthouse News Service article by Jack Bouboushian about oral arguments heard the previous day by the IL Supreme Court re: the State's appeal of the dismissal by a Chicago judge of charges brought against Annabel Melongo under the IL Eavesdropping Act. Click here for the video and audio posted on the website of the IL Supreme Court.

The (IL Supreme Court) is considering the constitutionality of the law after a woman prosecuted under it was incarcerated for over 18 months before her trial ended with a hung jury.

Annabel Melongo was once an employee of the Save-A-Life Foundation, an Illinois charity that has been accused of dishonesty or financial impropriety. After secretly recording her phone conversations with a Cook County court reporter and posting those tapes on a personal website, she was arrested in 2010 for violating the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, a law that requires a person to obtain the consent of anyone whose conversation he records.
Also see Media reports about the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) scandal

3/20/14: Court deals Illinois eavesdropping law final blow by Michael Tarm, Associated Press:

Illinois' Supreme Court declared one of the nation's toughest eavesdropping laws unconstitutional, saying Thursday that the statute was so overly broad that it would technically make the recording of screaming fans at a football game a crime.

The ruling is a final and decisive defeat for the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which had made it a felony for someone to record conversations unless all parties involved agreed. The 1961 law violates free speech and due process protections, and is way too broad in scope, the court decided in unanimous decisions in two related cases focused on audio recordings.

..."The burden is now on the legislature to craft a statute that actually serves the goal of protecting privacy - and that does so without infringing on the rights of citizens to keep public officials honest," said Gabe Plotkin, a lawyer for Annabel Melongo, a defendant in one of the two cases.

Melongo spent nearly two years in jail after being charged under the statute for recording a Cook County court official over the phone who she believed wasn't carrying out her duties properly.

3/20/14: State Supreme Court strikes down eavesdropping law by
Hours after the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s eavesdropping statute on Thursday, Annabel Melongo reflected on the 20 months she spent locked up in the Cook County Jail under the now-unconstitutional law.

Melongo said she had been ordered held on a six-figure bond typically given repeat or violent offenders for recording three telephone conversations she had with a court reporter supervisor at the Leighton Criminal Court Building about the policy for correcting a hearing transcript.

“It’s not easy,” Melongo, 41, a Cameroon native who came to the U.S. after studying in Germany, said of her time in jail. “I went through all the emotional states you can imagine. Sometimes I was crying, sometimes I could not sleep.”

“And I don’t even...” she said, breaking off before describing being accosted by another inmate. “They say what doesn’t kill you makes you strong and believe me, when I got out of jail, there’s nothing in the world that can actually kill me now.”
3/20/14: Wise words from state high court, Chicago Sun-Times editorial:

3/21/14: Listen up! Illinois Supreme Court strikes down eavesdropping law by Ben Yount, Illinois Watchdog.org
Illinois’ eavesdropping law was never about privacy.

Illinois’ eavesdropping law was mainly used against people taping cops or lawmakers.

The law was created to protect public officials, police officers, elected representatives and the like from the public. But the Illinois Supreme Court protected the public from those officials this week in striking down the law.

The Supreme Court used its ruling in an eavesdropping case, People v Annabel Melongo, to end the statute Thursday.

3/21/14: Courthouse News Service report by Jack Bouboushian:
Annabel Melongo, a former employee of an embattled, now-dissolved charity, spent 18 months in jail facing charges that she violated the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which requires a person to obtain the consent of anyone whose conversation he records.

After secretly recording her phone conversations with a Cook County court reporter and posting those tapes on a personal website, Melongo was charged in 2010. After her trial ended with a hung jury, the court found the statute unconstitutional.

...Characterizing Melongo as "an innocent party subject to a naked prohibition against disclosure," the court concluded that it is irrelevant "whether the contents of the recorded conversations were a matter of public interest because the recordings cannot be characterized as illegally obtained."

That Melongo's constitutional challenge was inconsistent with her initial defense to her criminal charges, which relied on exceptions within the statute, is immaterial, the court found.

"The state does not explain why a criminal defendant may not argue in the alternative that the statute under which she was charged is unconstitutional and, failing that, that an exception to the statute excused her conduct," (Chief Justice Rita) Garman wrote.

Melongo has also sued the state in federal court for civil rights violations.
Click here for my December 10, 2013 blog item that first reported Melongo's civil rights lawsuit.

3/21/14: Illinois eavesdropping law struck down as unconstitutional, Chicago Tribune editorial:
(Justices) ruled that the eavesdropping law criminalizes the recording of conversations that can't be deemed private, including arguments on the street, fans yelling at an athletic event, encounters with police officers and other exchanges loud enough to be overheard.

"None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet the statute makes it a felony to audio record each one," both rulings say. The law "burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to serve a legitimate state interest," the court said, and is therefore unconstitutional.

This makes perfect sense to anyone familiar with the dictionary definition of eavesdropping. The law was intended to prohibit the secret monitoring of private conversations — not to punish citizens for documenting public interactions with their government.

3/27/14: Supreme Court strikes down recording law by Patrick Yeagle, Illinois Times:
Originally from the Republic of Cameroon in Africa, defendant Annabel Melongo was accused in 2006 of computer tampering after files from a supposed charity for which she worked disappeared from one of the organization’s computers. The charity, the Save-A-Life Foundation, has since disbanded and been accused of pocketing state grant money without performing any services, and its once influential founder Carol Spizzirri has reportedly moved to California and avoided answering questions by the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
4/16/14: Eavesdropping law overturned by Angela Stewart, Loyola Phoenix:
Richard Devine, an adjunct professor for the Loyola School of Law and former Cook County State’s Attorney, helped bring charges against Melongo in the 2006 computer tampering case, during which she was accused of violating the eavesdropping law and subsequently charged with a felony.
Click here for May 8, 2006 "Dear Dick" letter to Devine from SALF founder/president Carol Spizzirri on behalf of herself and Palatine, IL, Mayor Rita Mullins

4/29/14: What Sterling said was very wrong, no question. But there is a question as to whether it was wrong to record it by Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune

7/8/14: New Trial Could Highlight Obama Allies’ Links to Scandalous Chicago Nonprofit by Fred Lucas, The Blaze:
A long-delayed computer tampering trial could dredge up the connections two of President Barack Obama’s top political allies have to a now-defunct Chicago nonprofit investigated for potential fraud.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Education Secretary Arne Duncan were once huge proponents of the Save-a-Life Foundation, which taught first aid skills to schoolchildren.

Save-A-Life received $9 million in state and federal grants from its founding in 1993 to when it folded in 2009, amid scrutiny over how the organization was spending its money. Political support evaporated from Duncan, Durbin and several other politicians from both parties who had previously secured or advocated for the grants and publicly praised Save-a-Life and its founder, Carol Spizzirri.
8/7/14: Missing the money -- Computer tampering case resolved, but questions remain about public grants by Patrick Yeagle, Illinois Times:
Computer tampering charges have been dropped against a defendant in a bizarre court case involving supposed computer hacking at a defunct Illinois nonprofit. Still, millions of dollars in state and federal grants are missing, and the nonprofit’s director has yet to account for the money.

Annabel Melongo of Chicago was found not guilty of computer tampering in a directed finding on July 29 in Cook County Circuit Court. Her case is part of a complex and sometimes murky saga surrounding an allegedly fraudulent charity with an office in Springfield and ties to numerous public officials.

...Melongo’s case contained no actual evidence tying her to the destruction of the records, according to her attorney, Jennifer Bonjean of New York. The only evidence was (Carol) Spizziri’s accusation, Bonjean says.

“(Spizzirri) offered no evidence whatsoever,” Bonjean said. “Indeed she lied on the stand...."
11/16/14: Carol Spizzirri named as defendant in Annabel Melongo's federal civil rights lawsuit by Peter M. Heimlich, The Sidebar
Carol Jean Spizzirri -- whose once high-flying, politically-connected Save-A-Life Foundation nonprofit is now under investigation by the IL Attorney General -- has been named as a defendant in a sweeping federal civil rights lawsuit filed by attorney Jennifer Bonjean on behalf of her client Annabel Melongo

For those interested in political corruption and abuse of the legal system by public officials, the 26-page complaint, filed November 5 in U.S. District Court in Chicago, makes for lively reading.

Click here to download a copy or page down to view.

7/15/15: 2 Investigates: CDC gives millions of tax dollars to shady nonprofit by Jodie Fleisher, WSB-TV (ABC Atlanta)

The CDC is refusing to answer Channel 2 Action News' questions about a high-ranking employee who served on the board of a now-defunct nonprofit that's been the subject of a series of scandals.

The Save A Life Foundation (SALF) also happened to receive more than $3 million in CDC funding, much of it while that same employee was serving as the nonprofit's treasurer.

"Save A Life was a fraud, it can't be described as anything but a total fraud," said attorney Jennifer Bonjean, who represents a whistleblower who used to work there.

7/17/15: The Downfall of a Non-Profit: The Ongoing Saga of the Save A Life Foundation -- Peter Heimlich provides a full look at the rise and fall of the Schiller Park-based organization by Tim Moran, Patch.com:

PMH: On October 31, 2006, Spizzirri swore out felony charges against Annabel Melongo, a former SALF employee who left the company months earlier. Based on Spizzirri’s word and little else, Schiller Park cops arrested Melongo on dubious charges that she destroyed SALF’s computers. That triggered eight years of relentless, baseless, and ultimately unsuccessful prosecutions of Melongo by the Illinois criminal justice system. In a wide-ranging federal civil rights lawsuit, Melongo is now suing Spizzirri and others responsible for the abuse she endured.

6/30/20: Maricopa County attorney candidate accused of misconduct in decade-old case by Lauren Castle, Arizona Republic

A decade-old civil lawsuit out of Illinois is being used to attack the credibility of Maricopa County attorney candidate Julie Gunnigle.

...While Gunnigle was with Cook County, she helped prosecute Annabel Melongo, who worked for a now-defunct nonprofit organization called the Save-A-Life Foundation.

...In 2013, Melongo filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Gunnigle and other prosecutors, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, law enforcement, court reporters, a forensic science expert, the state's assistant attorney general and the attorney general.

She accused officials of conspiracy, unreasonable seizure, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, emotional distress, consumer fraud and deceptive business practices, and breach of fiduciary duty. The lawsuit also accused officials of violating her rights of free speech, equal protection, freedom of press and petition.

8/3/20: In Arizona, a County Attorney Candidate’s Past Seems To Contradict Her Pro-Reform Stance: Julie Gunnigle, who is running in Maricopa County, says she supports alternatives to incarceration. But a decade ago in Illinois, she prosecuted a woman for recording phone calls and helped put her in jail for 18 months by Meg O'Connor, The Appeal

Julie Gunnigle is one of three Democrats vying to become the top prosecutor in Arizona’s Maricopa County, the fourth most-populous county in the U.S. An Arizona native, Gunnigle has billed herself as a strong supporter of criminal justice reform who would break from the county’s historically harsh approach to charging and sentencing if elected. 

But as she heads into the final stretch of the race—the primary is Tuesday—Gunnigle finds herself having to contend with a controversy from her past. A decade-old case from her time as a prosecutor in Cook County, Illinois, has caused a stir on the campaign trail and raised doubts about her commitment to some of the stances she’s taken during the race.

While in Cook County, Gunnigle helped prosecute Annabel Melongo, who is Black, first for alleged computer tampering, then for recording and publishing a conversation with a court reporter. Eight years, two trials, and one appeal later, Melongo beat all the charges against her. But she spent a year and a half jailed on a $300,000 bond in the process, and at one point had to undergo a hysterectomy while handcuffed to an operating table. In 2013, Melongo filed a lawsuit against Gunnigle and a slew of other public officials over what she alleged was a malicious prosecution and wrongful arrest.