Updated June 9, 2015

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LEFT: Via a January 12, 2005 media release, then-Chicago Public Schools (CPS) boss Arne Duncan. SALF founder/president Carol J. Spizzirri and you-know-who. Now U.S. Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, Duncan promoted the Save-A-Life Foundation for years, called Spizzirri "one of my heroes," and personally arranged a $174,000 contract with her to provide first aid training classes to 18,000 CPS students. In response to a federal court subpoena and FOIA requests, CPS is unable to produce any records and Duncan is now dodging questions. Click here for details.

RIGHT: Ciprina Spizziri (who, according to her LinkedIn, grew up to become SALF's Communications Director), SALF Honorary Chairman David Hasselhoff, and Carol J. Spizzirri.

REPORTERS: Except for my blog, Duncan's $174,000 giveaway to SALF is unreported. Contact me for thorough supporting documents -- all from publicly-available sources and easily verifiable. Unreported except for my blog, I caught The Hoff lying about his relationship with Spizzirri and SALF. Click here for details.

The Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) Scandal

A quick summary of the scam followed by a compilation of media reports by Peter M. Heimlich; for the most recent story, click here.
For a compilation of related media reports about former Save-A-Life Foundation employee Annabel Melongo who helped overturn the IL Eavesdropping Act, click here. For key court documents filed in Ms. Melongo's ongoing, wide-ranging federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Carol Spizzirri along with a variety of IL public officials, click here .
(Carol) Spizzirri launched a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children emergency response techniques, raising at least $8.6 million in federal and state grants for her Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF). Firefighters and paramedics were recruited to offer instruction on how to apply CPR and stop bleeding and choking, said Spizzirri, who estimates 2 million children took the classes, many of them from the Chicago Public Schools.
Her supporters in the 1990s included Gov. Jim Edgar, then-U.S. Rep Dick Durbin and television star David Hasselhoff of "Baywatch" fame.
Per a 2003 government press release, SALF became a FEMA member organization. (More details via my blog.)
Since its establishment in 1993, the (nonprofit Save-A-Life Foundation) pledged to teach school children first aid and emergency response practices. Despite receiving nearly $9 million to fund the program, however, very few records of students being taught have been found.

According to exposes in the San Diego Reader and aired on ABC7 Chicago (both largely based on my research), Spizzirri is a twice-convicted shoplifter who claimed non-existent medical credentials, a non-existent college degree, and built her organization on false claims about the death of her daughter.

When U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ran the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), for years he was close to SALF, reportedly called Spizzirri "one of my heroes," and personally arranged a $174,000 contract with her in which SALF was paid $49,000 in CPS funds and $125,000 from Ronald McDonald House Charities. In exchange, SALF was supposed to provide first aid training for 18,000 CPS students in school years 2005 and 2006.

In response to a federal court subpoena and FOIA requests, CPS has stated they have no records for any training and that the program was Duncan's responsibility. Since then, Duncan has failed to respond to inquiries from me and others about the money and his relationship with SALF, so I submitted a thoroughly-documented investigations request to CPS Inspector General James Sullivan.

In 2010, the Illinois Attorney General reportedly initiated an investigation of SALF. More from the Dubuque Telegraph Herald article:

...(IL State Senator Tim) Bivins has attempted to learn about the attorney general's investigation into the nonprofit, which reportedly began sometime in 2010. Bivins is frustrated by the lack of information offered by the attorney general's office.

..Bivins' last letter to the attorney general's office asks about a $25,000 grant it awarded Save a Life in fiscal year 2003. The grant was intended to fund the teaching of first aid to students in eight school districts, but when asked about the program none of the districts could recall any association with Save a Life or its program.

"Does Attorney General Madigan intend to refer the $25,000 grant your office awarded to SALF to her ongoing investigation of SALF?" Bivins asked in his letter.

Click here for Sen. Bivins's correspondence to date with Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office which includes details about the AG's $25,000 grant to SALF for which thousands of students at the eight school districts below were supposed to but apparently never received first aid training. In other words, the AG funded SALF for what appears to be a "phantom program" and now the AG's office apparently refuses to respond to questions from the senator.

Salem School District #111 (Marion County)
South Central Community Unit School District #401 (Kinmundy, Marion County)
Camp Point CU School District #3
Beardstown CU School District #15
Rantoul City School District #137 (Champaign County)
Cass County School Districts (Cass County)
Edwardsville CU School District #7
Greenview CU School District #200.

Per the same pdf, the grant was arranged by former SALF lobbyist Bennett Krause, who's now an IL state employee earning a $79,000 salary. For more paperwork about Krause's employment by SALF (which I obtained via FOIA requests), click here.

Via 1/29/15: You Paid for It: Portrait of a con by Matt Porter, WCIA-TV (Springfield, IL CBS affiliate), January 29, 2015:

Another former lobbyist, Bennett Krause, had a similar opinion. He said he only did what Spizzirri told him to do. After watching the first investigative report in 2006, Krause said he couldn’t believe it.

“I felt duped,” Krause said.

Former Palatine mayor, Rita Mullins, was with Save a Life, almost from day one. She denies trying to deceive anyone. She said the organization kept records of its training.

When asked to present some, Mullins said “I don't know where they are now.”

Click here for a photo gallery of prominent public officials with SALF executives Carol J. Spizzirri and Rita Mullins, former 20-year mayor of Palatine, IL.

Click here for documents I obtained via FOIA about the IL Attorney General's (ongoing) investigation of SALF.


Note that except for the Chuck Goudie's four ABC7 Chicago exposes, the last of which aired on May 31, 2007, Chicago media has all but ignored reporting about the SALF mess -- PMH

11/16/06: The Maneuver Part I by Chuck Goudie, ABC7 Chicago - click here for text version

One of Illinois' highest profile charities teaches the Heimlich maneuver to children while maneuvering the truth to get money from government and big business. It's called the Save-A-Life Foundation and is known across Illinois as an organization that teaches schoolchildren how to respond in emergencies. For the past few years, Save-A-Life has received millions of dollars in government funds and corporate donations. An ABC7 I-Team investigation has uncovered a series of misleading claims and deceptive credentials that raise doubts about Save-A-Life's integrity, funding and training.
11/17/06: The Maneuver Part II by Chuck Goudie, ABC7 Chicago - click here for text version

1/17/07: Foundation Ends its Relationship with Dr. Heimlich by Chuck Goudie, ABC7 Chicago - click here for text version

5/31/07: Save-A-Life's main government funding may be drying up by Chuck Goudie, ABC7 Chicago - click here for text version

In a letter, (IL Senate President Emil) Jones writes that "issues and questions have been raised in the past year regarding SALF," and he "strongly encourages the foundation to answer those questions." He wrote the letter to Chicago woman Julia Rickert after receiving her complaint about Save-A-Life's use of state funds. Rickert worked at Save-A-Life's Schiller Park headquarters in late February as a temporary employee...Rickert says she was told her assignment was to find misspellings in a new first responder's manual being prepared for it's instructors, but she says her supervisor had something else in mind."He never mentioned proofreading at all. He said their manual needed to be edited. They wanted it rewritten on a high school level. They wanted me to rewrite the entire book line by line," said Rickert said.A Save-A-Life spokesman confirms to ABC7 that temp workers typed the copyrighted book into their system then hired Rickert as a temp who was told to rewrite it. The charity contends it was to be a first draft for a new training curriculum, even though Rickert had no expertise in emergency response.

October 2007: Tattoos Tell a Story of Abuse by Tim Coleman, Skin & Ink magazine

9/10/08: Heimlich Maneuvering - Thousands of local schoolkids were taught a faulty lifesaving technique thanks to (Mayor) Manny Diaz by Tim Collie, Miami New Times

9/26/08: Commentary: More questions than answers over odd Coleman bill by Scott Wente, Detroit Lakes Online (Forum Communications)

Take the example of a recent news tip about little-known legislation authored two years ago by U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman. The Minnesota Republican wanted to spend $40 million to help teach children basic first aid.

"This legislation gives us the opportunity to support an initiative that can truly pay dividends down the road by giving the American people the training and tools to help other citizens in times of emergencies," Coleman wrote in 2006, after a streamlined version of his proposal - without funding attached - passed as part of a Department of Homeland Security bill.

...Yet, reporting yielded interesting facts. An emergency training organization with a controversial leader claimed it sought the legislation, had Coleman's support and expected to reap funding from the program. That organization, Save A Life Foundation, operates out of Illinois and while it administers training in a number of states, has little affiliation with Minnesota.

...Homeland Security officials responded to an initial inquiry, but clammed up when asked about Save A Life Foundation. There was nothing more to discuss, they said.

The foundation's leader, Carol Spizzirri, would not return repeated calls.

12/14/08: (Putnam County) Health chief denies troubled foundation link by Marcela Rojas, The Journal News (Gannett)

Dr. Sherlita Amler, who has led Putnam's Health Department since 2004, is named, along with her husband, on the (Save-A-Life Foundation's) Web site as a member of the medical advisory board. But Amler said she wasn't aware she was still on the Web site.

...Amler said it was a conflict because she worked with the Illinois-based Save A Life Foundation about six years ago, when she was a medical officer with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. At that time, SALF received a federal grant and she served as a "scientific adviser" on the project, Amler said.

Meanwhile, her husband, Dr. Robert Amler, a dean at New York Medical College in Valhalla and a Hawthorne-based pediatrician, said he knew he was on SALF's medical advisory board. He worked with SALF in 2003 when he was the regional health administrator for the Department of Health and Human Services, he said, assisting the foundation with figuring out where to seek federal funding.

As dean of the medical college's School of Public Health, Robert Amler said, he appointed SALF founder Carol Spizzirri in 2005 to be a visiting lecturer at the college. Spizzirri is listed as such on the medical college's Web site under the School of Public Health's Health Policy and Management Department, though in an archived page on the SALF Web site under Spizzirri's biography, it says she was "invited by the New York Medical College as an adjunct professor for Pre-EMS, with its newly created department of emergency preparedness."

The medical college listing also indicates she is a registered nurse and holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from a Wisconsin college, credentials not supported in state or college records.

12/21/08: Putnam health chief asked a year ago about link to troubled foundation by Marcela Rojas, The Journal News (Gannett)
Putnam Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler denied having any ties to the Save A Life Foundation or knowing her name was listed on its medical advisory board earlier this month even though a county legislator sent her a memo more than a year ago inquiring about her involvement with the embattled agency.
7/14/09: Lawsuit Against Haap, Heimlich Dismissed by Kevin Osborne, Cincinnati CityBeat
An Illinois-based organization dropped its defamation lawsuit this month against local blogger Jason Haap and two other critics. The two-year-old case was widely viewed as having the potential to set a precedent involving First Amendment protections for online commentary. ..The Save-a-Life case was the eighth most-viewed case on a Harvard Law School-affiliated Web site that monitors Internet-related free speech cases. Save-a-Life is an affiliate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Citizen Corps, a department subsidiary organized by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although Homeland Security officials ordered the foundation to remove the DHS logo from its Web site and materials in spring 2007, the foundation still has the DHS logo on its Web pages.
7/15/09: Suit dropped as Save A Life changes mission by Kimberly Pohl, Daily Herald
Two years after filing a defamation lawsuit to repair its tarnished image, Save A Life Foundation has closed its suburban Schiller Park office and is changing its mission.

...Save A Life's attorney filed a motion to drop the suit against three men accused of organizing a smear campaign against the foundation and harassing employees and board members, among them ex-Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins.

...Named in the suit was Peter Heimlich, estranged son of Heimlich maneuver namesake Dr. Henry Heimlich, who served on Save A Life's medical advisory board. A blogger and a doctor critical of the Heimlich maneuver were also defendants.

ABC 7 and Chuck Goudie, an ABC 7 reporter and Daily Herald columnist, were briefly part of the suit for a derogatory report he did on Save A Life, but the case against him was dropped in March 2008.

His report questioned Spizzirri's credentials and said the foundation, which received millions of dollars in government money and corporate donations, was misappropriating funds and teaching the maneuver inappropriately - all falsehoods, according to the lawsuit.

Spizzirri said her new personal focus is fighting the type of online stalking outlined in the suit. She has a meeting scheduled later this month with several legislators and has been working with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, she said.
8/3/09: Tell the public more about Save A Life by Gordon T. Pratt, Daily Herald (letter to the editor)

I was married to Carol Spizzirri from 1968-1981, when we divorced. Since 1993, I have repeatedly contacted elected officials in Illinois and elsewhere in an attempt to bring to light misrepresentations made by the Save A Life Foundation. In that spirit, I urge the Daily Herald to report further on this subject.

10/2+5/09: Due Diligence? Part I & Part II by Jon Margolis (former Chicago Tribune chief political correspondent) re: the president of the Vermont Electrical Power Company's connections to SALF (blog)

10/11/09: Save-A-Life Foundation in limbo - Charity dogged by critics, economy is 'in hibernation' by Lisa Black, Chicago Tribune:

(Carol) Spizzirri launched a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children emergency response techniques, raising at least $8.6 million in federal and state grants for her Save-A-Life Foundation. Firefighters and paramedics were recruited to offer instruction on how to apply CPR and stop bleeding and choking, said Spizzirri, who estimates 2 million children took the classes, many of them from the Chicago Public Schools...The Federal Emergency Management Agency adopted the program as one of many Citizen Corps affiliates, but, "The group did not receive funding, and Citizen Corps has since ended its affiliation with the foundation," said spokesman Clark Stevens ...Today, Spirrizzi is consumed with a new project: helping municipalities fight cyber-crime. She said she is starting a private business with close friend Rita Mullins, 64, former mayor of Palatine.

12/13/09: Gerald Bracey's Last Column: The Skeleton in Arne Duncan's Closet by Paul Rosenberg, Open Left

10/16/09: Group in Heimlich Scandal Disbands by Kevin Osborne, Cincinnati CityBeat

9/28/10: In Illinois congressional race, challenger raises questions about charity by Zak Koeske, Medill News Service 

9/29/10: The State Investigates the Save-A-Life Foundation, WSIU radio (NPR)

9/29/10: Opponent accuses (Congressman) Shimkus of lack of oversight by Bernard Schoenburg, The State Journal-Register (Springfield IL)

Tim Bagwell, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House from the 19th Congressional District, is accusing his opponent, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, of failing to oversee a group for which he helped get federal funds...Bagwell was referring to the former Save A Life Foundation, which was dissolved in September 2009, according to Robyn Ziegler, spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office. The foundation, which was based in Schiller Park and run by a woman named Carol Spizzirri, received state and federal grants to oversee training of school children in life-saving techniques such as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Ziegler said the foundation's finances are being reviewed by the attorney general's charitable trust division, a routine process for a closed charity. An extra review of its financial reports is being done due to a complaint the office received, she added.

10/8/10: Shimkus opponent sees uphill fight by Doug Finke, The State Journal-Register (Springfield IL)

(Congressman John) Shimkus helped secure funding for the Save A Life Foundation, which oversaw training of school children in life-saving techniques. News reports as far back as 2006 questioned the foundation director. s credentials and whether the group had trained the number of students it claimed to have trained...I think oversight is what is missing in Washington, (challenger Tim) Bagwell said. "They don't investigate enough. I think we are up to our neck in problems where the money isn't being spent appropriately."
10/11/10: Democrat challenger tries to tie Shimkus to CDC funding controversy by Julian Pecquet, The Hill
Bagwell sent an 8-page letter to Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson on Monday requesting that the office "review and determine" whether $3.3 million awarded to the Save-A-Life Foundation were "properly administered." Bagwell also sent a letter to Shimkus last month asking him to investigate the nonprofit for which he helped secure $1.5 million in 2004 and 2005...Bagwell also wants the inspector general to review the relationship between the nonprofit and CDC Deputy Director Douglas Browne, who served as the nonprofit's corporate treasurer from 2004 to 2009.

10/12/10: Democrats tout plans by Kevin Ryden, Olney Daily Mail (Olney, IL)

(Bagwell) said Shimkus and others received earmarks from the foundation. Bagwell said Save A Life Foundation was supposed to train people in CPR and that millions of dollars have gone to the organization and "it went poof."
10/19/10: Possible Charity Scam by Sophia Beausoleil, WCIA-TV, Champaign-Urbana IL CBS affiliate (Save-A-Life Foundation's relationship with the National Guard Lincoln's ChalleNGe youth program)

10/25/10: Local company snared in scandal - Candidate seeks to make public Portsmouth firm's financial records regarding partnership with Save-A-Life 'scam' by Elizabeth Dinan, Portsmouth Herald (New Hampshire)
Dare Mighty Things is caught in the mudslinging of a Chicago congressional race, with the congressional challenger calling for an accounting of the local company's books and a national investigation. Tim Bagwell, an Illinois Democratic candidate for Congress, issued a public statement last Monday describing Portsmouth-based Dare Mighty Things as a funding source for a former nonprofit that raised millions of dollars by "making false claims." The organization, the Save-A-Life Foundation, claimed to have taught CPR and other lifesaving techniques to millions, then closed amid controversy in July 2009. By all accounts, it was largely funded with public money, including at least $590,000 in federal funds through DMT for CPR training by the National Guard at 33 military bases in 27 states. When it contracted with Save-A-Life, DMT should have known the company was founded on "false claims" to perpetuate "a scam," Bagwell said ...(DMT founder/president David) Van Patten called the Chicago candidate's demand for his company's financial (and training) records "absurd" because DMT is a private company. Bagwell said the company may be private, but the funds he's questioning were federal, so the records should be publicly disclosed.



11/17/10: Where Did the Save-A-Life Money Go? by Don Bauder, San Diego Reader (print version):

(Save-A-Life Foundation founder/president Carol) Spizzirri was a darling of politicians and bureaucrats, although it was a matter of record that she had been convicted twice for shoplifting. Save-A-Life began raking in money from government grants...By this time, her foundation had raised about $8 million from such groups as the Illinois Department of Public Health and the United States Centers for Disease Control, and she had been paid more than $100,000 in some years. She had gathered support from such politicians as Democrat Dick Durbin, now a Senate kingpin, and Norm Coleman, then a Republican senator.
...Arne Duncan, then the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, now United States Secretary of Education, had lauded what the foundation was doing for the schools and effused, "Carol [Spizzirri] is one of my heroes."

... On June 29, 2009, the Save-A-Life Foundation closed down. And Carol Spizzirri came to San Marcos. I have confirmed that she and a former treasurer of Save-A-Life are living at Palomar Estates West, a mobile home community in San Marcos.
...On May 18, 1992 - four months before the fatal accident - Christina filed for an order of protection against her mother. A neighbor who lives four houses away was willing to be Christina’s primary caretaker. The complaint stated that Spizzirri had struck Christina “on several occasions and threatened her on many occasions.” The order of protection, granted the same month, barred Spizzirri from seeing her daughter at several locations such as school and work. Christina “fears her mother will attempt to harass her or retaliate,” said the complaint. Spizzirri asserted, among other things, that she could use “reasonable force to discipline a child” who needed medical attention.


2/17/11: Gery Chico Save A Life Foundation Connection: What Was His Role At Troubled Charity? by Will Guzzardi, Huffington Post

According to documents obtained by Huffington Post Chicago, mayoral candidate Gery Chico appears to have been closely involved with a scandal-plagued high-profile charity.

Though the exact details of Chico's involvement with the now-shuttered Save A Life Foundation are not yet known, documents state that he was on the foundation's board of directors near the height of its alleged fraudulent activity. Puzzlingly, in the face of those documents, the Chico campaign has persistently denied that he was ever on the board.

...Save A Life lashed out with defamation lawsuits that ultimately failed,
as did the charity itself, which shut its doors in the summer of 2009.

The collapse of the foundation was politically uncomfortable for a number of major figures in Illinois, from President Barack Obama to now-Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who were connected to it in some way.

6/22/11: Chico’s confirmation as state school boss hits snag by Dave McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times:

Former Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico’s appointment as chairman of the state Board of Education hit a snag Wednesday amid GOP questions over his ties to a now-defunct non-profit organization.

Based on issues raised by a Texas blogger, Senate Republicans put the brakes on Quinn’s appointment, asking that Chico personally appear before a Senate panel to explain his relationship with Save A Life Foundation, a charity that is undergoing a probe within Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office.

..Reached late Wednesday, Chico said he was not aware of any wrongdoing by the organization and first became aware of it as chairman of the Chicago Public Schools board.

6/22/11: Committee holds up 2 of Quinn's appointees by Chris Wetterich, Springfield (IL) State Journal-Register

Two of Gov. Pat Quinn’s appointees were held up in a Senate committee Wednesday, including his nomination of Gery Chico to chair the State Board of Education.

The governor’s office predicted they would have no problem being con­firmed later. Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said he asked that Chico’s appointment be held so that he could be asked whether he participated as a board member in the now-defunct Save A Life Founda­tion, a charitable organization that has faced media scrutiny over whether it trained as many children in first-aid as it said it did. Chico was an unsuccess­ful candidate for Chicago mayor ear­lier this year.

“There’s some indication that he was on the board at some time. There’s also an indication that he has denied that. I don’t know. But we need to look at it further,” Bivins said, emphasizing that he was not accusing Chico of wrongdoing. “There’s millions of dol­lars that went to this foundation from not only the state, but from federal funds also...I’d just like a clarification.”

6/22/11: Lawmakers vote to cut their pay again by Monique Garcia and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune

Meanwhile, the Senate held off on confirming Quinn's appointment of former Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico to lead the State Board of Education.

Republicans asked that the matter be put off until Chico can come to Springfield to answer questions about his connections to Save-a-Life, a nonprofit group that critics contend wasted millions in government money.

Chico said he has not had any contact with the defunct nonprofit in more than a decade and that his only involvement was trying to ensure Chicago Public Schools students learned first aid techniques.

"I'm wide open and look forward to a discussion," Chico said.

6/23/11: Gery Chico Save A Life Foundation Connection Delays His Appointment To State Board Of Ed by Will Guzzardi, Huffington Post

An archived copy of the foundation's website also listed (Chico) on the "National Board of Directors" in 2003.

During the campaign, Chico's office repeatedly denied to HuffPost Chicago that he had served with SALF. "That link you sent is wrong. Gery was not on that board," spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said at the time, when presented with a copy of the document.

Chico made a similar statement to the Chicago Tribune Wednesday, saying he hadn't had contact with the foundation in "more than a decade."

If true -- that is, if he didn't serve on the board -- Save A Life could be in some serious trouble. Maura Possley, deputy press secretary for the Illinois Attorney General's office, said in February that misrepresenting the Board of Directors on an annual report amounts to perjury, a Class 3 felony.

The Save A Life Foundation was founded by Carol Spizzirri with the stated purpose of preparing schoolchildren for emergencies. Spizzirri often repeated that her inspiration to form the foundation was her daughter, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident when first responders didn't know the techniques to stem her bleeding. An investigative report in 2006 showed that her story about her daughter was false, she herself wasn't an R.N. as she'd claimed, and her organization had apparently trained far fewer students than it had claimed. That investigation ultimately led to the organization's collapse.

Chico was, by his own admission, a supporter of the organization in 1999: as president of the Chicago school board, he signed a resolution praising SALF and certifying that it had trained thousands of CPS students. But he wasn't the only one to support SALF: politicians as formidable as Barack Obama and Arne Duncan were close to the group.

11/10/11: Bivins scrutinizes questionable uses of state funds by Emily Coleman, Sauk Valley Telegraph

Save-A-Life Foundation is one of a couple organizations (Senator) Bivins is looking at...“Where’s our money going?” Bivins said. “Where’s our tax dollars going? Where did it go?...As taxpayers, we have a right to know where the money’s going.”

The former Lee County sheriff wants investigations and audits of these groups, he said.

(Gery) Chico agreed.

“I think if there’s probable cause for wrongdoing, especially if it involves public money, there ought to be an investigation, sure,” Chico said.

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

Problems with the Illinois Eavesdropping Act have attracted the attention of several different groups and individuals. Peter M. Heimlich is a small business owner in suburban Atlanta who does original reporting on his blog, The Sidebar. His research about the career of his father - the doctor known for “the Heimlich maneuver” - has resulted in dozens of media exposés, including an ABC 20/20 report by Brian Ross. Recently, he became involved in another case that involves a whistleblower and a now-discredited charity.
3/14/13: You Paid For It: Where's the money? by Steve Staeger, WCIA-TV (CBS affiliate), Springfield, IL
Three years after a state-funded not for profit dissolved, there are still questions about the group's finances.

The Save-A-Life Foundation was founded in 1993 with a mission to teach kids and adults more about emergency life saving maneuvers.

The group's founder, Carol Spizzirri, decided to start the group after her daughter died in a car accident. Spizzirri claimed it was a hit-and-run accident and the first responders on the scene didn't know lifesaving procedures.

But published reports in the years to follow would reveal a different story.   Spizzirri's daughter was in a car accident, but it wasn't a hit and run.  It was a single car accident.  Her blood alcohol level was above the legal limit at the time of the crash.  And she didn't die at the scene.  She died later at the hospital.

Reports also questioned Spizzirri's qualifications. She claimed to be a registered nurse, but records couldn't be found in Illinois or Wisconsin, where she attended school.

And though the Save-A-Life Foundation was educating students, records weren't kept to back up the claims of training "hundreds of thousands" of children.

Amid questions about the organization's mission and finances in 2009, the not-for-profit dissolved with the state of Illinois.

In its 16 years of existence, the Save-A-Life Foundation got close to $9 million in funding from both federal and state government.

And as the organization was looking to move its operation statewide in 2003, it got $200,000 in state grants to buy a building on Capitol Ave. in Springfield.

When the foundation dissolved in 2009, it sold the Springfield building for $109,750, according to tax records. But the group did not list the sale in its final filing with the Attorney General's Charitable Trust Bureau. 

WCIA 3 obtained documents revealing correspondence between Save-A-Life officials and the Illinois Attorney General. In the months following the dissolution,  the AG repeatedly asks for documentation on the money obtained thought the sale. Spizzirri never provides any accounting of the money.

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.

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.
6/26/13: Illinois senator seeks answers on possible $9 million misappropriation -- Lawmaker says the state attorney general's office is not responding to his requests for updates on the investigation into a nonprofit's activities by Erin Murphy, Dubuque Telegraph Herald
With nearly $9 million of taxpayer money still unaccounted for four years later, Illinois Sen. Tim Bivins continues to press the state's attorney general for updates on the investigation into a defunct and discredited nonprofit organization.

He isn't getting many answers.

Bivins, a Republican in the Illinois Senate who represents northwest Illinois, including Jo Daviess County, has been pressing the office of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan for information on its investigation into the Illinois-based Save a Life Foundation, a nonprofit that received nearly $9 million in state and federal funding for a program whose services, it appears, were never rendered. Bivins also has inquired about a $25,000 grant that the attorney general's office awarded to Save a Life, also for a program that apparently was never executed.

Since its establishment in 1993, the foundation pledged to teach school children first aid and emergency response practices. Despite receiving nearly $9 million to fund the program, however, very few records of students being taught have been found.

...Bivins became involved in the Save a Life saga in 2011, when Gov. Pat Quinn nominated Gery Chico to be chair of the state education board. Bivins learned Chico had possible ties to the foundation.

So, as his party's spokesperson for the Executive Appointments Committee, which reviews all gubernatorial appointments to state boards and commissions, Bivins blocked Chico's nomination.

...Bivins' last letter to the attorney general's office asks about a $25,000 grant it awarded Save a Life in fiscal year 2003. The grant was intended to fund the teaching of first aid to students in eight school districts, but when asked about the program none of the districts could recall any association with Save a Life or its program.

"Does Attorney General Madigan intend to refer the $25,000 grant your office awarded to SALF to her ongoing investigation of SALF?" Bivins asked in his letter.

Bivins said he has received no response to that letter.

...The Illinois attorney general's office did not respond to multiple 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

1/15/14: 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.
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.
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.
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...."
1/29/15: You Paid for It: Portrait of a con by Matt Porter, WCIA-TV (Springfield, IL CBS affiliate):

Illinois Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero) was listed as a board member and secretary in the early 2000's for the program. Sandoval said Save a Life improperly listed him as an active board member. He said he only attended two meetings before deciding to walk away. He said the foundation had invited him to the board because he had his own personal tragedy. But Sandoval said he never felt comfortable with the organization.

“I felt they just wanted to use me as window dressing,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval wasn't alone. Seven years of annual reports for Save a Life featured almost 200 pictures of elected officials and professionals. Bivins said his colleagues are embarrassed.

"People I've talked to about it, or attempted to talk to, just don't want to talk about it,” he said.

People like Illinois House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who authored a resolution praising the organization and Spizzirri in 2003. He declined repeated requests for comment. State Representative Elgie Sims, Jr. (D) lobbied for Save a Life before being elected to the General Assembly. He declined an on-camera interview, but said Spizzirri ran the organization with impunity.

“I believed the fact sheets Spizzirri gave me,” Sims said.

Another former lobbyist, Bennett Krause, had a similar opinion. He said he only did what Spizzirri told him to do. After watching the first investigative report in 2006, Krause said he couldn’t believe it.

“I felt duped,” Krause said.

Former Palatine mayor, Rita Mullins, was with Save a Life, almost from day one. She denies trying to deceive anyone. She said the organization kept records of its training.

When asked to present some, Mullins said “I don't know where they are now.”