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One year ago, as Covid cases spread like wildfire and hospitalizations increased dramatically, Illinois and other states opened make-shift hospitals to handle the potential overflow of people needing care. 

Illinois has spent $3.8 billion in the last year on everything from iPhones to chartered jets to fly in personal protective equipment from overseas. 

While most of the money was reimbursed by the federal government, it’s still taxpayer dollars that were spent. And WGN Investigates found $4 million was given to a developer with a colorful and controversial past.

That developer was John Thomas.

“They call me a con man, but how many people come out of prison with $20 and rebuild their whole lives in three years,” Thomas said.   

Thomas bought the former Sherman Hospital facility in Elgin in late 2019.

He said his partners called him “crazy.” 

Then Covid hit and the state was desperate to find space that could be easily converted into makeshift hospitals. Governor J.B. Pritzker used the emergency powers he wielded to essentially take over the property. 

Taxpayers didn’t buy the Elgin site. They leased it for $4 million. And that doesn’t include the cost of upgrades contractors made to the building that never saw a single patient.

“I only have a few regrets in my life. This isn’t one of them,”  Thomas said.

How did the Pritzker administration get around state procurement laws that forbid doing business with convicted felons? And why didn’t get taxpayers get more for their investment. Ben Bradley investigates.