Mortgage fraud: 'The new street hustle.'

This series offered a prescient first warning of the patterns of predatory home lending that would spur the 2008 U.S. housing market collapse. Several real estate professionals, investors and attorneys were indicted for allegedly taking part in fraud schemes uncovered here. Illinois lawmakers passed the Mortgage Fraud Rescue Act. Then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Dick Durbin introduced a bill that would ratchet up enforcement, but their STOP FRAUD Act did not pass.

Forbidden friendships

To crack conspiracies of silence between Chicago police brass and organized crime figures, Jackson gathered confidential reports from eight federal and local law enforcement agencies then culled public records from Cook County to the Caribbean island of Curacao. The U.S. Treasury Department's Inspector General sought to uncover Jackson's sources and questioned at least four IRS agents before dropping the probe, Ray Gibson and Jackson reported. No Tribune source was compromised.

The human cost of coal mining

Jackson and reporter Geoff Dougherty linked mine-specific U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration datasets on worker injuries, inspections, fines and production characteristics; they calculated injury rates per ton of coal produced and man-hours worked, among other variables, and synced these results with ownership records. This account of corporate shortfalls was corroborated three months later by a 125-page MSHA investigative report.

Semaj Crosby

After a Joliet toddler was found dead in her home, Jackson, Gary Marx and Duaa Eldeib exposed grievous government management failures in her case and showed she was only part of a pattern of dysfunction at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Then-DCFS Director George Sheldon resigned amid the cascade of articles, state lawmakers convened three legislative hearings, and Sheldon's successor cited the Tribune as she implemented new measures to reduce investigator caseloads, improve data collection on abuse and neglect investigations, and take back the most troubling cases from contracted nonprofits.

School lunches: Illness on menu

A new combination of federal, state and local government records revealed a rising number of U.S. school food illness outbreaks. Shoe-leather and public records reporting named the corporate officials implicated in the largest U.S. food-borne outbreak then known, which sickened more than 1,200 students in at least seven states. The articles led to a joint U.S. Senate-House hearing and a confirming GAO report. Two federal safety bills were introduced, although neither subsequently passed. Incoming Chicago school chief Arne Duncan vowed to overhaul food contracts and serving practices.