All posts by taylorhall

Venmo’s social mobile payments win the day with Millennials

By Taylor Hall

On a recent weekend, South Loop resident Christina Rojas and a handful of her closest friends flew from Chicago to Las Vegas for a weekend trip.

“Between all the cabs and food and drinks, I think I Venmo’d every ten minutes,” the 25-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago medical student said. “I actually don’t know anyone who doesn’t have Venmo,” Rojas added.

Venmo is a mobile payment app that combines the pay-sharing features of PayPal with the social aspects of Twitter. In the competitive mobile payments industry, it appears to be sweeping the country, one Millennial and smartphone at a time. Continue reading

Hastert pleads not guilty; lawyers given deadline to waive judge on impartiality

By Taylor Hall

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges that he evaded bank regulations and lied to the FBI after withdrawing money to pay someone to compensate for and to conceal his alleged past misconduct.

His first appearance since the indictment was brought against him on May 28, Hastert stood silently and clasped his hands as his lead attorney Thomas Green, who has covered scandals from Watergate to Whitewater, entered a plea of not guilty on both counts.

Dressed in a dark suit and his body slumped, the only words Hastert spoke during the 15-minute arraignment were “yes” and “yes, sir” when Judge Thomas M. Durkin  asked him to identify his signature.

According to last month’s indictment, Hastert agreed in 2010 to pay Individual A $3.5 million to “compensate for and conceal  prior misconduct” against that person; it says he paid $1.7 million before federal agents began scrutinizing the transactions.

Hastert allegedly started by withdrawing $50,000 at a time and changed course when banks flagged those withdrawals. The indictment says he then began taking cash out in increments of less than $10,000 to skirt reporting rules primarily meant to thwart money laundering.

While the indictment does not say what Hastert was allegedly trying to hide, reports have suggested he was allegedly using the money to conceal claims he sexually molested someone decades ago during his time as a teacher and wresting coach at Yorkville High School.


Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert is surrounded by officers as he leaves federal court after pleading not guilty to federal charges of trying to hide large cash transactions and lying to the FBI in Chicago
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, released on $4,500 bond, is surrounded by officers as he leaves federal court Tuesday. (Jim Young/REUTERS)

Hastert was released on $4,500 bond, and ordered to cooperate with a DNA sample, surrender his passport, restrict travel to the continental U.S., and remove all weapons from his property by June 23. Hastert’s lawyers negotiated additional time for the “non-standard” specification of removal of these weapons, which they said were stored in safes on Hastert’s property by his sons, who had the only access to them.

After reading the conditions of the bond,  Durkin of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois announced that he had some disclosures to make, saying he was “not so naïve as to believe a reasonable person would not question my impartiality.”

Durkin disclosed contributions to Hastert’s political campaigns in 2002 and 2004, and a “friendly business colleague” relationship with Hastert’s son, Ethan, whom he worked with during his time at Chicago law firm Mayer Brown. Judge Durkin’s brother, Jim Durkin, is the Illinois House minority leader, and in the same political party as Hastert.

For these reasons, Durkin said he would recuse himself from the case unless both parties waived these grounds of disqualification by Thursday at 4 p.m. in light of his full disclosure.

Chicago lawyer Richard Kling said after the arraignment he would be surprised if the parties opted out. “He’s been here a long time, he’s been a fair judge. I don’t see why he wouldn’t be fair here,” Kling said.

Photo at top: Media gather in the lobby of the federal courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday awaiting the arrival for former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert for his arraignment on federal charges related to bank withdrawals. (Taylor Hall/Medill)

PETRO PERIL: Three months after train derailment in Galena, volatile crude still fuels concerns

By Taylor Hall

GALENA, Ill.– It was a slow day at the Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort when bartender Hannah Davidson glanced out the dining room’s wraparound window and watched the afternoon sky turn completely black.

“We actually saw the explosion,” Davidson said. “We’re at a 475-foot vertical here, and we could see the flames above the trees. The smoke was coming up, and it reached all the way to Rockford. The sky was completely black. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before. And it didn’t look like fire smoke, the kind that dissipates. I just remember seeing crazy flames.”

At about 1:50 p.m. on March 5, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe, or BNSF, freight train derailed 3.5 miles south of Galena, Illinois, a charming, historic tourist town of just more than 3,000 residents located 170 miles northwest of Chicago. The train was carrying approximately 3 million gallons of crude oil in 103 enhanced CPC-1232 tanker cars at about 23 mph when 21 of its tank cars derailed, rupturing seven and setting fire to five.
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April durable goods report shows business investment on the rise

By Taylor Hall

Despite a drop in volatile aircraft orders that sent durable goods down slightly in April, economists said a strong rise in business investment was a positive sign for the economy.

The U.S. Department of Commerce report Tuesday showed new orders for manufactured durable goods, including items like dishwashers, computers and machinery, fell 0.5 percent, compared with an upwardly revised 5.1 percent gain in March. Continue reading

Handling of NFL Draft sparks student outrage, protest

By Taylor Hall
Video by Beth Werge

As the world watched the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft on Thursday live from inside Roosevelt University’s historic Auditorium Theatre, students outside protested the university’s facilitation of resources for the draft.

“People are putting corporate greed before student need,” said Lupita Carrasquillo, organizer for Roosevelt University’s RISE organization focusing on social justice issues. “The NFL is a $9 billion corporation. They have a lot of money, and they asked for free access of our facility, of our venue. They’ve taken a floor in each of our university buildings–the fourth floor of the Wabash building, and the second floor of the auditorium building. They’ve blocked off an entire entrance.”
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Twitter’s leaked earnings disappoint investors

By Taylor Hall

Twitter shares plummeted more than 6 percent after investors grew concerned over declining engagement and ad and user growth following the release of the company’s first quarter earnings late Tuesday.

The company’s net loss widened 22 percent to $162.4 million, or 25 cents per diluted share, from $132.4 million or 23 cents in the year ago period. Analysts had expected a net loss of 24 cents per diluted share.

Twitter advised investors to reduce expectations for the rest of the year, and warned that user and engagement growth would continue to decline.
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2015 NFL Draft: What you need to know

By Taylor Hall

The 2015 NFL Draft is scheduled to be held at Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre with an adjacent fan festival, Draft Town presented by Oikos Triple Zero, expanding to Grant Park and Congress Plaza.

Within the Auditorium Theatre, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce player selections for each of the 32 NFL teams, introducing the players on stage (sans Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota). On Saturday, the NFL draft will be held entirely in Draft Town and Selection Square in Grant Park, and fans will have the opportunity to take photos onstage at the Auditorium Theatre. Continue reading

Drop it like it’s hot? Chipotle shares sink on disappointing sales

By Taylor Hall

Chipotle shares sank more than 7 percent Wednesday, despite reporting earnings that topped expectations. The company reported its smallest sales growth among year-old restaurants in the first quarter since 2013.

So-called comparable restaurant sales among stores open at least 13 calendar months rose just 10.4 percent, falling below consensus expectations of 11.5 percent growth. The company also lowered its revenue outlook for 2015.

Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells blamed pork supply shortages and adverse weather for the sales slump during the company’s earnings conference call Tuesday. Continue reading