"Ask not what your country can do for you . . ."
By Bill Clutter
For more information email: InvestigatingInnocenceMedia@gmail.com
Excerpted from the prologue and edited from chapter 46 “The Aftermath of the CIPS case”, from his book COAL TAR: How Corrupt Politics and Corporate Greed are Killing US with Cancer
After the Illinois Supreme court upheld the Christian County jury verdict, most of the $3.2 million that was awarded was eaten away by costs and legal fees, with little left for the families.
Tom Londrigan, who single-handily defeated Goliath, the coal utility company CIPS, called me to his office. Tom sat at his desk, with its nautical décor, like a sailor on the bow of the deck of a boat. I took a seat next to his partner, Bud Potter, who worked long days, into the night, to generate billable hours to feed the beast of the CIPS case. They both thanked me for my work as their investigator. Tom handed me a check for $3,000, while apologizing that it wasn’t more.
It wasn’t as big as the $2.5 million bonus Erin Brockovich received, and that case against utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), settled for $133.6 million, and never entered the Circus Maximus of a courtroom. The movie bearing her name made her famous; she was played by Julia Roberts, who won an Oscar for her performance.
The case Brokovich investigated as a paralegal for a small law firm, Masry & Vititoe, with her boss, Edward L. Masry. PG&E contaminated Hinkley, California, in the Mojave Desert, where they open-dumped 370 million gallons of hexavalent chromium, a genotoxic carcinogen, making the people there sick with cancer.
CIPS had callously and criminally defied the warnings of its own scientists that they would cause an increase in cancers without a containment dome, but they ignored the warnings; to save money they conducted an open excavation of coal tar.
I was one of six people nominated in 2001 for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Community Champion Award. The award was given to Erin Brockovich the previous year. Although I did not win the award, it was an honor to be among those considered. The award was deservedly given to Jeffrey S. Wingard, a biochemist and former vice-president of research and development for Louisville-based tobacco company Brown & Williamson, in recognition of his decision to become a whistleblower in 1996 against the tobacco industry. He would later be portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 1999 film The Insider.
Wingard cooperated with the class-action lawsuit filed by the Mississippi attorney general against Brown & Williamson and other tobacco companies. Along with the FDA, the plaintiffs sought to ban the practice of tobacco companies marketing cigarettes to children, using cartoon figures like Joe Camel. Wingard exposed the tobacco industry’s devious secret of adding ammonia to enhance the addictive effect of nicotine. This hooked children to a deadly consumer product that delivered carcinogens to the lungs and bloodstreams of its victims.
I used my bonus to take my four boys on a road trip to Dallas, Texas, where we spent Year’s Eve, 2002. We visited the School Book Depository, overlooking Dealey Plaza, where John F. Kennedy gasped his last breath. On the way, we stopped in Oklahoma City to visit the memorial for the victims of Timothy McVeigh, the white supremacist who drove a Ryder truck loaded with explosive ammonium nitrate in front of the Murrah Federal Building, parked it, and callously walked away, intolerant of the people who worked within. In the empty field where the building had stood, there are 168 empty chairs made of bronze to symbolize the lives lost. The children from the daycare who were killed by the blast were not victims of greed or political corruption, but a different type of cancer that infects the American body politic.
When we are gone from this earth, it is our children who will continue working to keep our legacy alive. The parents who lost their children to cancer had their legacy taken from them by coal tar, which was spewed into the air of Taylorville by CIPS and caused the rare cancer in the seven children of Christian County. And it was coal tar that claimed the lives of all five children in Morgan City, Louisiana, where Governor Edwin Edwards allowed Jack Kent, owner of Marine Shale Processor, to burn coal tar as a fuel in its boilers, incinerating hazardous waste, violating every sense of decency, and in defiance of the laws protecting the beauty of nature.
The children from Taylorville who survived neuroblastoma are young adults now. Erika May and Zachary Donaldson lead normal lives, but beneath their clothing are the scars that they bear from having survived cancer. Disabled, Chad Hryhorysak spends his days paralyzed from the waist down, a result of the surgery, when he was an infant, to remove the tumor that had wrapped around his spine.
Sadly, the year after the jury verdict, two weeks before Christmas, Chad’s father locked the door of his bedroom, held a .44 caliber gun to his heart, and pulled the trigger, leaving Chad fatherless. A reporter broke the news to me. It brought back memories as a child of the melancholy my father felt after losing his job with the railroad. He retreated to his bedroom, spending days without coming out, debilitated by depression following the death of his dream, after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
Despite the frailty of his body, Chad Hryhorysak had strength of mind, that enable to him to endure the hardship that followed.
When President Trump attacked San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police shootings of African American men, Chad reacted with anger when the media reported, as news, players who stood for the national anthem. On Facebook Chad posted, “Congratulations, Society, you have officially done it. You have finally done something to just make me . . . utterly exasperated at just how stupidly arrogant we have all become. There is a news article out there that says ‘Packers, Bears stand during anthem before NFL game’ . . . This is news? Standing? Yeah, it’s news when Christopher Reeve, or if I, one day stand . . . discuss important issues, like health care,” he wrote.
After Hurricane Irma devastated Florida and Puerto Rico, Chad wrote, “Due to excessive lobbying by Florida Power & Light (FPL), those without power due to Hurricane Irma are not permitted to use their own solar panels.” He is rightfully angered by a political system that allows corporate utility companies like FLP and CIPS to control the decisions of government in order to enrich themselves.
Steve and Tina Brannan, who lost their six-year-old son, Scotty, to cancer, continue to live in the same house on Nokomis Road. Daisy wasn’t the only dog to die of cancer, as other pets also contracted cancer, including the pets of neighbors. Steve and Tina now give their pets bottled water.
Jan Steele, the mother of Brandon Steele, speaks about how her son’s death affected his little brother Nicholas, who was just three-years-old when his big brother received the fatal diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer.
With all the attention Brandon was getting, little Nicholas came up to Jan and said, “Mommy, when I grow up, I want cancer just like Brandon.”
When they visited Brandon’s grave at the cemetery, Nicholas told his parents, “When you go to Jesus’ grave, he’s not there, and neither is Brandon. They are both in heaven with God.”
As he got older, his mother explained, “Nicholas self-medicated.” Since the age of 16, Nicholas has been in and out of trouble with the law, since becoming addicted to crack cocaine. He underwent treatment for drug addiction, but the therapist told his parents that drug treatment would not address the root of his problems, which was lingering grief from losing his brother.
“They have to cure that first,” said Jan. She was told, “It will take a long time and a lot of money. People think we are rich because of the lawsuit, but we’re barely making ends meet,” said Jan. The insurance company subrogated a claim against the lawsuit, filing a lien to repay Brandon’s medical expenses, and took nearly all the money the jury awarded to the Steeles.
After Brandon died, Jan found out she was no longer able to bear children, so, she and Steve adopted a newborn girl, which they named Michaela Martine Steele. Her middle name honors Martine Schiff, who had arranged for Brandon to meet Michael Jordan. When they brought Michaela back to Taylorville, Cheryl Williams, the mother of Brandon’s best friend, Jason, exclaimed, “Oh my God, she looks just like Brandon.” Michaela was sleeping. On her hand was a birthmark, just like the birthmark Brandon had on his hand.
For a while, Nicholas appeared to straighten out his life. He married his therapist. But when his back injury required surgery in 2015, Jan warned the hospital staff not to prescribe opiates for her son, explaining that he was a recovering addict. His doctor disregarded the warning and prescribed Dilaudid, an opioid narcotic painkiller. His life spiraled out of control. “It was all downhill from there,” said Jan. “He was buying street drugs within 24 hours.”
The pharmaceutical industry grows rich at the expense of Americans like Nicholas Steele. He is another victim of corporate greed, like his brother Brandon. The pharmaceutical industry fraudulently promoted opioids as “less addictive than morphine.” Pharmaceutical reps induced doctors to prescribe these pills by treating them to expensive dinners where marketing presentations were given, and by way of speaking fees, at lectures to other doctors, and on getaway vacations to exotic places, like Hawaii, under the guise of “educational conferences.” The drug manufacturers, the energy industry, have tremendous influence in Congress and within the FDA, which is why this country experienced the opioid epidemic for more than a decade, with devastating effect on families like the Steeles.
In 2012, lawmakers, in states like Kentucky, clamped down on “pill mills” that were—analogous to tobacco product companies—dispensing prescription pills like candy to addicts, devastating communities throughout America. But the one area hit hardest was Eastern Kentucky, where Bobby Kennedy had visited and given hope for a brighter future to the people there. The Attorney General of Kentucky was the first to file a civil lawsuit against an opioid manufacturer, representing the impoverished Appalachian coal mining community of Pike County. That case, decided on January 9, 2013, alleged that pharmaceutical companies “violated Kentucky law by misleading health care providers, consumers, and government officials regarding the risks of addiction associated with the prescription drug OxyContin, which Purdue manufactures, markets and sells.” Those who became addicted turned to street drugs like heroin after pills got harder to find. In 2017, overdose deaths from opioid addiction alone killed more Americans than automobile accidents, gunshot wounds, and HIV combined.
When Nicholas could no longer afford drugs from his dealer, he started using bath salts, which drastically altered his state of mind. While high on bath salts, Nicholas set fire to his own home by burning an artificial Christmas tree stored away in the garage. Although the damage was superficial, Nicholas was arrested, convicted of arson, and sent to an Illinois Department of Corrections prison.
Jan said to me, “You can see how Brandon’s death affected Nicholas from the tattoos he has.” On his right upper forearm is tattooed: “IN LOVING MEMORY BRANDON STEELE.” Clearly, criminals aren’t all bad people; many are good people who find themselves in bad situations. The truly evil criminals, with no regard for the people they hurt, are the ones who profit from the misery they inflict on others.
Left: Brandon and Nick, before cancer.
John “Doc” Davidson, my opponent in the campaign for the Illinois Senate, died of old age on August 21, 2012. He was 87. Five years after he died, his former secretary called me. “Doc Davidson told me if you need a good investigator, call Bill Clutter,” she said. Doc knew the truth: CIPS had afflicted those children with cancer.
Doc fell asleep watching TV on a chilly night, with a fire crackling in the woodstove in the cabin in Sequim, Washington. A neighbor found him sitting there a few days later, on October 21, 2004, with the remote control still balanced on his knee. A broken flue from the chimney filled the room with clear, odorless carbon monoxide.
Mike Metnick, the attorney who filed the CIPS case on behalf of the families, before turning over the case to Tom Londrigan, retired from his law practice after multiple sclerosis severely limited his mobility. Tom’s wife, Carol Londrigan died on March 29, 2016, at age 77. For ten years, her husband Tom watched over her, as her memory, and the very person she had been, faded away from Alzheimer’s. They were married 52 years.
The last time I saw Tom had been many years ago. I was now living in Louisville, Kentucky, working on death penalty cases. When Illinois abolished the death penalty in March of 2011, Chicago Times columnist Eric Zorn credited Mike Metnick and myself among a handful of others, for our work in helping free Randy Steidl, Alejandro Hernandez, and his co-defendant Rolando Cruz, three of the 20 innocent men who were freed from death row. On April 14, 2018 I came back to Springfield to attend the annual dinner of the Illinois Innocence Project, the organization I founded at the University of Illinois at Springfield in 2001.
At the banquet, I sat with Curt Lovelace, a former prosecutor from Quincy, Illinois. He was the second person I had helped free from prison after starting a national organization of private investigators called Investigating Innocence. Lovelace had been the team captain for the Fighting Illini football team that defeated Virginia on New Year’s Day in the 1990 Citrus Bowl. Lovelace’s dream of playing pro football was shattered by a knee injury, so he became a prosecutor in his hometown of Quincy, after reading Scott Turow’s best-selling book Presumed Innocent. Ironically, the plot, a prosecutor falsely accused of murder, played out in real life for Lovelace.
The program ended with all of the exonerees being called up onto the stage. Curt was joined by David Camm, a former Indiana state police officer who had been wrongfully convicted in New Albany, Indiana. I worked on his case after leaving the Illinois Innocence Project in 2011.
Tom Londrigan was living in the house on Lake Springfield where he and Carol raised their four children. Margaret Casey was there to check in on Tom. Margaret had recently lost her husband, John Casey, an attorney of Irish descent who was one of Tom’s best friends. As couples, John and Margaret Casey spent many years together socializing with Tom and Carol Londrigan. Margaret had brought Tom a home-cooked meal for dinner. She was also helping Tom edit Tales of Tomas, a novel Tom wrote about an Irish sailor who explored the seas off Nova Scotia well before Christopher Columbus sailed to America.
At age 81, Tom’s short-term memory was not as clear as it once was, but his memory of the CIPS case was vivid when I visited more than two decades after the CIPS trial ended. It felt like old times being back by his side. Tom had become a father figure in my life during the many hours, days, months, and years we spent together working on the CIPS case.
While I was in Springfield, I ran into Donna Hodge, Tom’s legal secretary when we worked on the CIPS case. She was now working for Gates, Wise, and Schlossor. I told her I had recently visited with Tom. During this conversation, she informed me that Tom had waived his legal fees, so that more would be distributed to the families who needed it. I was not aware of this.
I visited Tom more often that year, and during one of the trips, Margaret shared with me memories of her own father, Ralph Bradley. Raised on a small family farm in Anna, Illinois in Union County at the far southern tip of the state, Margaret’s father was the founder and first president of the Illinois Farm Union. He became a critic of farm policies, beginning with the Eisenhower administration, that benefitted large corporate farm operations through a corporate welfare system that threatened to drive small family farms into bankruptcy. She said her father would often deliver speeches telling his members, “Ask not what your country can do for farmers—ask what you can do for your country.”
Margaret Casey, daughter of Ralph Bradley, getting John F. Kennedy's autograph.
Margaret’s father was lobbying in Washington, D.C. when U.S. Senator Paul Douglas, from Illinois, introduced him to Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. “He doesn’t know a thing about agriculture,” said Douglas.
Margaret granted permission to print excerpts of the oral history recorded by Sangamon State University Professor Cullom Davis before Ralph Bradley died. The following untold story is how John F. Kennedy came to deliver the most famous inaugural address ever delivered by an American president.
Bradley met Senator John F. Kennedy in his Capitol Hill office just before he announced his run for president.
Ralph Bradley, President of the Illinois Farm Union and his wife meeting with JFK in the White House.
Bradley recalls telling Kennedy, “There’s a bill before the House that’s quite important to us.”
“Well, you know Ralph, Massachusetts is not a farm producing state, as such. It’s not a big part of our economy. Most of our constituents buy grain instead of sell grain,” said Kennedy.
Bradley shot back, “Yes, that’s true. But you’ll never be president of Massachusetts.”
At about that time, Jacqueline Kennedy arrived.
Jackie announced, “Jack, come on. Get in the car. I’ve got the car right outside. Dinner’s on the table and you’re going to go home and eat.”
Jack replied, “Jacqueline, come here, I want you to meet somebody.”
She said, “That’s fine but we better go home and eat.”
Their home was known as Hickory Hill, a 5.6-acre estate in nearby McLean, Virginia, that later became the home of Bobby Kennedy and his wife Ethel.
Bradley recalled, “She was an impetuous little thing, cute as she could be.”
Jack introduced him, “This is Ralph Bradley.”
“Hi, Ralph. How are you?” she said. “Jack are you ready now? Let’s go.”
“No. Ralph and I are going back in my office and have about an hour’s visit,” said Jack.
“No. You’re not!” Jackie protested.
“And she beat us through the door and got in Jack’s chair and dared him to sit down. So, Jack just turned to another office, which he had a suite there of three or four offices, and he said, ‘Ralph, we’ll go in there. We’ll let Jackie sit in my chair for a while.’ So, she did. She waited very graciously and came in, as a matter of fact, and visited a little,” Bradley recalled.
Bradley spent the next two hours in Senator Kennedy’s office educating him on farm policy. After the meeting, Kennedy introduced Bradley to two of his key aides, Mike Feldman, and Ted Sorenson.
Kennedy turned to Feldman and Sorenson and announced, “Now Ralph tells me that we probably have been voting a little wrong on some of these farm bills, that he feels is wrong. I’m not sure what position we’ve been taking because I’ve been taking the advice from both of you. I do know on the price support bill when we voted last year on it, I was severely criticized by the Democratic Party for voting with the Republicans on that bill.”
Kennedy admonished his aides, “I don’t want your recommendations on how I should vote on agricultural bills as it comes before the Senate until you have first checked with Ralph Bradley. I want him to be my unofficial consultant on agriculture,” said Kennedy. Ralph Bradley became a key advisor to Kennedy, heading his national campaign Farmers for Kennedy. When Kennedy campaigned in the Illinois Democratic Primary, it was Ralph Bradley who introduced Jack Kennedy to Illinois farmers in 1959 and persuaded them to support his candidacy over presidential contenders Hubert Humphrey and Adlai E. Stevenson II. Kennedy walloped them, and Lyndon Johnson, and Missouri’s Stuart Symington in the primary, taking 64.6 percent of the vote in the April 12, 1960 primary election.
After defeating Vice President Nixon, Kennedy borrowed that line of Bradley’s speech to farmers, and substituted the word “you” in place of “farmers” when he delivered the most famous line ever spoken during an inaugural address to the nation on January 20, 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
It was a call to put aside self-interest and greed for the common national interest, an idea that has even more meaning today as it did then.
"This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right. A wonderful read.”
FREE TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: The author will make a digital version available free of charge to any teacher or student who wants to use the story for classroom use. Those interested should send an email with the word TEACHER in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org
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To pre-order copies of the book go to: www.coaltarandneuroblastoma.com Release date scheduled for Earth Day April 22, 2021. Copyright © 2021 by Bill Clutter Published by Investigating Innocence Media | Springfield, Illinois. Cover and book design by Polly Danforth | Morning Star Design
About The Author
Louisville Private investigator Bill Clutter started his career in Springfield, Illinois. By the time the lawsuit went to trial, seven children from Taylorville were diagnosed with neuroblastoma, four would die. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the families against CIPS. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld that verdict in 2002. After Clutter narrowly lost the senate race, his investigation helped free three innocent men from death row and he went on to start in 2001 what is now the Illinois Innocence Project. He was credited, among others, by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn when Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011. He moved to Louisville in 2013 to continue work on capital cases and started a national organization called Investigating Innocence, which help free three people, David Camm, from Indiana; Curt Lovelace, a former state prosecutor from Illinois, who was team captain of the Fighting Illini football team that won the Citrus Bowl in 1990; and Rodney Lincoln from Missouri, who spent 36 years in prison.
HOW TO GET A COPY OF THE BOOK: A free digital version of the book will be provided by the author to those who make a tax-deductible donation of $25 or more to help Investigating Innocence free more people from prison. Go to www.InvestigatingInnocence.org