200 Years of Illinois: Hodge Dodge

On August 20, 1956, former state auditor Orville Hodge astonished colleagues in the Republican Party and political observers across the state by pleading guilty to embezzlement.

A perennial on listicles involving corruption in politics, Hodge grew up in Granite City. He began his career as an elected official in 1946 when he won a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. A popular people person, Hodge enjoyed the image of a back-slapping pol who came from independent wealth and seemed destined for the governor’s mansion. He did, in a sense, accrue independent wealth. He embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars and put it toward a portfolio of toys that included property in Florida and Chicago, a Springfield mansion, a couple of jets, and a fleet of automobiles.

One might be tempted to say Hodge made crooked politics look easy. But by all accounts it was easy in the Illinois of the 1950s. Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson, for instance, managed to fit Hodge’s methods into a nice, compact paragraph in their UIP book Corrupt Illinois:

He created a false report that his office was insolvent and convinced the legislature to provide a $525,000 emergency appropriation, which he kept for himself. In his position, he was also able to issue state “warrants” for payment to people who had done business with the state. However, they never received the payments, nor were they entitled them. Rather, in a pattern similar to Governor Matteson’s misuse of script a hundred years earlier, Hodge cashed the warrants himself.

An investigative series in the Chicago Daily News brought down Hodge and won the paper a Pulitzer. The now former state auditor, meanwhile, liquidated his ill-gotten possessions in order to repay the state while serving almost six-and-a-half years of his sentence. He returned to Granite City after his release to work as a car salesman and real estate agent, two businesses he had patronized a great deal from the other side in more remunerative times.