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Historic IL home of Paul Powell, the ‘Shoebox Scandal’ politician, faces sale

  • Southern Illinois political mogul Paul Powell was left with $800,000 in cash in the “shoebox scandal.”
  • Mr. Powell established a $250,000 trust that maintained his estate for more than half a century.
  • The trust that maintains Powell’s birthplace as a museum in Vienna is running dry and the house is likely to be sold.

Paul Powell, the southern Illinois political powerhouse who died with $800,000 in cash in the infamous “shoebox scandal,” often said, “The only thing worse than a defeated politician is a bankrupt politician.” Ta.

For more than half a century, a $250,000 trust set up by Mr. Powell has supported his legacy, for better or for worse. However, the records that have kept his birthplace as a museum will soon be exhausted. The fate of the house in Vienna, a town of 1,300 people about 240 miles southeast of St. Louis, is unclear, but it will likely be sold.

In keeping with President Powell’s wishes, it has been the home of the Johnson County Genealogical and Historical Society for decades, and the mansion remains as it did during the political giant’s tenure, with memorabilia littering the walls. ing.

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Maintenance costs are about $5,000 a year, but the association brought in $4,300 last year, said board member Gary Hacker, 85. Her parents were schoolmates of Powell’s, and she said she mowed lawns as a teenager in the early 1950s.

A sign for the Paul Powell House and Museum in Vienna, Illinois. The birthplace of Powell, one of Illinois’ most notorious politicians, may soon be up for sale. (AP Photo/John O’Connor, File)

“Maybe we’ll bring it to market,” Hacker said. The historical society will be relocated.

Southern Illinois was Powell’s territory for much of the mid-1900s. He brought jobs by expanding the state’s prison infrastructure to the region, funneled money and status to Southern Illinois University, and promoted pari-mutuel betting on county fairs and horse racing, which led to an increase in stakes in racetracks. It served the dual purpose of enriching Powell’s holdings.

In later years, Mr. Powell spent more time in Springfield and Chicago, but when he was home he was constantly inundated with people seeking favors. Hacker said he spent Sunday afternoons in a 1950s solarium addition where three televisions were tuned to different sports networks.

“He was very skilled at watching football, smoking cigars, and doing political business on the phone and with visitors,” Hacker said.

Democrats won the House seat in 1934 and were once elected speaker in 1949, 1959, and 1961, even though Republicans claimed a one-seat majority. His reward was a deal with Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley that secured projects in both areas, often punctuated by another of Powell’s maxims. “I can smell the burning meat!”

Mr. Powell’s influence increased even further with his election as Secretary of State in 1964.

“When Paul Powell was an influential figure, people knew where Johnson County was,” said Carbondale attorney John Rendleman III.

Mr. Rendleman’s father, a friend of Mr. Powell and executor of his estate, has exposed one of the most outlandish political scandals in a state known for its flamboyant corruption scandals.

After Mr. Powell’s sudden death in October 1970 at the age of 68, old Rendleman was found in his suite at Springfield’s St. Nicholas Hotel, mostly stuffed in an attaché case, but at least one Marshall Field gift box. They also found $750,000 in cash stuffed inside. Another $50,000 was hidden in a Capitol office about five blocks away.

A federal investigation concluded that Mr. Powell skimmed off most of the money by giving contracts to friends with kickback terms. His estate, which was settled in 1978, was worth $4.6 million, the equivalent of $21.8 million today. He had his $1 million worth of stock in the racetrack that determined the most favorable racing days.

The IRS claimed $1.7 million and the state of Illinois claimed $230,000. Reports about other politicians holding horse racing stocks led to former Gov. Otto Kellner, then a federal appeals judge, being sent to federal prison. Future politicians were required by law to begin preparing annual reports on their economic interests.

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Hacker said the number of curious people once drawn to Powell House by the strange legend has dwindled. Even in Vienna, few people remember Mr. Powell.

“Memories last about a generation,” Rendleman said.

Hacker said about $80,000 remains in the trust. After deducting attorney fees and the value of the house, which is appraised at about $60,000, the account is empty. A court date for the trust closure has not yet been scheduled.

Phone and email messages seeking comment were left with the trustees of First Mid Bank & Trust in Mattoon.

Hacker said there’s no chance the house will remain open. One prospective buyer suggested turning his three-bedroom, approximately 1,700 square foot (160 square meter) home into a bed and breakfast.

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