The case of ex-volunteer JB Pritzker is a problem in the race for the attorney general

A 2018 JB Pritzker campaign volunteer who was indicted last year for allegedly scamming the Illinois State Police Merit Board is now at the center of a campaign battle over whether she is expected to face additional charges – a matter that troubled the Nov. 8 race for counsel. general.

But it may take a judge to determine the next move.

Republican challenger Thomas DeVore has accused Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul of burying a potential fraud case to keep Pritzker and other fellow Democrats from further political embarrassment. But Raoul insists ‘there was no effort to try to cover up anything’ and that he declared conflicts of interest because other cases his office is handling might be considered. as having an impact on the potential fraud case.

“I have nothing to hide,” said Raoul.

Amid the political wrangle is Jenny Thornley, the former Merit Council finance director who was charged in September 2021 with stuffing her extra $10,513 paycheck into unauthorized overtime. She pleaded not guilty in Sangamon County Court to counts of theft, forgery and official misconduct.

Although Thornley has been charged in the case, DeVore has maintained that there is enough evidence to pursue additional fraud charges for tens of thousands of dollars spent on workers’ compensation and disability benefits that she has received. But DeVore maintained that a case against Thornley was not moving forward because of Raoul’s Democratic ties to Pritzker. The Tribune revealed in December that Thornley had come under intense scrutiny for receiving the benefits and that a memo from the merit board said a senior insurance agency official considered the collecting benefits from Thornley as a “clear case of fraud”.

An insurance agency spokeswoman said the department “does not comment on ongoing workers’ compensation investigations.” Thornley’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Raoul takes issue with DeVore’s position and said the attorney general’s office is fighting Thornley in other civil cases, including a case in federal civil court in which she charges wrongful dismissal from her position on the merit board. Raoul’s office said he recused himself from criminal prosecution because he did not want to be in a position that could even give the appearance of leveraging a criminal case against Thornley to solve a civil case or vice versa.

The payroll case is being prosecuted by the state appellate attorney. It ended there after Sangamon County’s state attorney also recused himself because he is pursuing a case in which a member of Thornley’s family allegedly crashed with hit and run.

The workers’ compensation issues arose because, just as the internal investigation into the payroll allegations against her was wrapping up, Thornley alleged that her boss had sexually assaulted her. Pritzker became entangled after it was revealed that Thornley emailed Pritzker’s top aides and even texted his wife, MK Pritzker, about the allegations. Deputy Pritzker texted Thornley back: “I better not get involved” and advised Thornley to contact the administration and follow proper procedures.

An outside investigation determined Thornley’s sexual assault allegations were unfounded, but the state said last week it paid more than $87,000 for its workers’ compensation case alone – including more than $63,500 in disability benefits and nearly $21,000 to “investigate his claim and determine that it was false.”

Seeking to pressure Raoul into action, DeVore distributed a copy of a July 29 email to the attorney general’s office from David Robinson, the chief deputy appellate prosecutor. DeVore urged more action while noting that the email said the appellate prosecutor needed a court order expanding his authority to include benefits for Thornley. Robinson did not respond to messages left for him.

But soon after the email was sent, Raoul said, his office contacted both the state’s attorney and the appellate prosecutor. Raoul said appellate prosecutor officials have indicated they want to ‘reserve the right’ to use the workers’ compensation issue as an aggravating factor in the payroll padding case or indict Thornley in a separate case.

Raoul called this approach “perfectly appropriate” and logical given that the appellate prosecutor is already dealing with the payroll case. But Raoul said his office will not weigh in on that decision “because we have a conflict. Plain and simple.

How, or if, a potential benefits fraud case might move forward can take a legal roadmap due to differing legal views.

Special Counsel Jonathan Barnard, who is handling Thornley’s payroll padding case for appeals counsel, said his office would need a judge’s approval to take up any matters. additional compensation for workers. This would require a motion in court, for example from a state attorney, because the appellate prosecutor cannot extend the scope of his authority unless a judge agrees, said Barnard.

“That didn’t happen,” said Barnard, a former Adams County state’s attorney, adding, “Our appointments are case specific.”

Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright, a Republican who recused himself from Thornley’s original payroll case, said he saw nothing beyond the January memo on the workers’ compensation allegations, but that he would recuse himself again if a genuine investigation into the allegations of benefits fraud by Thornley were to come before him.

Ty Fahner, a former Republican attorney general, said one way to fix the problem would be to “let the courts figure it out” by asking a judge to determine who should handle or investigate potential benefits fraud.

“Kwame could do it, the local state attorney could do it, a state legislator could come in and say, ‘Do your job'” filing a motion appointing who is not performing the duties they should accomplish, Fahner said.

In turn, Raoul cited a law dealing with the appointment of lawyers and special prosecutors in the event of a conflict, stating that “any interested person may request the appointment of a special prosecutor. Nothing prevents the prosecutor of the Republic of appeal who has a file in progress with this defendant to seize the court “to seize the question of the allowances.

Retired jurist Gino DiVito, a Democrat who served as a judge on the Illinois Court of Appeals, was of a similar view.

“If the appellate prosecutor needs permission to act,” DiVito said, “it’s up to them to make that request to a judge. It seems to me that it’s such a simple request that they should do it.

In January, Pritzker’s Central Management Services Department, which administers state benefits, sent a memorandum to Raoul summarizing Thornley’s case and concluding “it is clear that the sexual assault did not took place,” according to the document obtained by the Tribune.

Most, if not all, of the more than $87,000 spent on the workers’ compensation case does not include the roughly $550,000 the merit board spent on its external investigation that looked into the misconduct allegations. Thornley’s sex and payroll records.

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