Lawmakers, activists demand investigation of 2012 'rape in Champaign' email
WBEZ report revealed possible cover-ups of sexual assault, 'ghost workers'
Last updated 1/9/2020 at 1:33pm
Lawmakers from both parties are calling for an investigation of a 2012 email exchange between a government insider and then-Gov. Pat Quinn's staff regarding a possible cover-up of rape and other criminal activity.
The bombshell report was published Tuesday by Chicago National Public Radio affiliate WBEZ-FM detailing emails from former Commonwealth Edison lobbyist Michael McClain and Quinn's staff. WBEZ reported that McClain - a close confidant of Illinois Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan - "sought leniency" for a state worker facing disciplinary action, calling the employee "a good compliance person."
"He has kept his mouth shut on Jones' ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items. He is loyal to the administration," McClain said of the employee, according to an email obtained by WBEZ via an open records request.
No further information about the alleged cover-ups was revealed in the email exchange, and the disciplinary hearing that prompted McClain to email the administration was apparently postponed. McClain responded to the news at the time with an email noting "nothing happens accidentally."
"It's not clear what [the employee] was accused of or if he ever faced disciplinary action by the state," wrote Tony Arnold and Dave McKinney, the authors of the WBEZ report. "The agency he worked for at that time would not say. And officials rejected a request from WBEZ for records of any reprimands he may have received, citing a law blocking the release of such records that are more than four years old."
Lawmakers and advocates responded to the report swiftly.
While former Democratic Gov. Quinn told WBEZ he had not heard of any of the allegations before their report, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office said the matter has been referred to investigators. A spokesperson did not specify which "investigatory authority" would be taking a look at the matter, however.
"The governor was appalled and disgusted by these allegations, and his expectation is that all state employees will meet the highest ethical standards for their conduct, and anyone who does not meet that standard will be disciplined to the full extent of the law," his office said in a statement. "The administration's general counsel referred this email to the appropriate investigatory authority, who will make a determination about what next steps can be taken."
WBEZ reported the employee in question now has a $40-an-hour consulting contract with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board and worked for Pritzker's 2018 campaign as a political consultant. The campaign told WBEZ it had no knowledge of the emails.
The Illinois Senate Women's Caucus, among others, called for a criminal investigation.
"That email is horrifying. If anyone has any information about this crime, please contact authorities," said Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat and co-chair of the caucus. "Sexual assault will not be tolerated. We need to get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable."
Sen. Sue Rezin, a Morris Republican who also co-chairs the caucus, agreed.
"I am stunned and disturbed that keeping quiet about a rape was so casually offered up as proof of loyalty. This needs to be investigated thoroughly, and anyone who helped cover it up needs to face the consequences," she said.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, called the report "one of the most disturbing and shocking set of facts" he's ever seen and called for accountability.
"What society allows that to happen?" he said Wednesday at an unrelated Chicago news conference. "It's extremely disturbing, but it casts a shadow upon Springfield that has been brought upon by the power brokers that have existed down there for the past many decades who have controlled the legislative process and the passage of bills."
WBEZ has also reported that a wide-ranging federal probe, one that has led to FBI raids of several Statehouse insiders, is investigating allegations that ComEd hired politically-connected consultants in exchange for favorable actions in Springfield. McClain's home in Quincy was raided by investigators in July.
Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, asserted on Twitter that McClain still holds sway over Madigan, who has been Illinois House speaker for all but two years since 1983. WBEZ and the Better Government Association reported that McClain continued to collect a paycheck from ComEd years after his "official" retirement from registered lobbying.
"And let's stop pretending (McClain is) a "former" anything. This is the guy who for decades has been seen as the most powerful lobbyist in the state and remains incredibly close to the Speaker," she posted to Twitter.
Cassidy, as well as Alaina Hampton and Sherri Garrett - both of whom made allegations of sexual harassment against top Madigan lieutenants which led to the staffers' ouster - issued a joint statement regarding the report Wednesday.
"This isn't the first disgusting, dangerous and brazen display of misogyny we've seen from Mr. McClain, but that doesn't make it any less outrageous. If the reports are even partially true, this represents a conspiracy to conceal a criminal sexual assault at the highest levels of state government," they said. "We call upon law enforcement leaders, including Champaign County State's Attorney Julie Rietz and the U.S. Attorney's Office, if appropriate, to immediately open an investigation into these allegations, and, if necessary, to impanel a grand jury."
Hampton recently reached a settlement agreement with Madigan's political campaign and three other Democratic Party organizations in the state regarding allegations of sexual harassment from one of Madigan's top aides at the time. Madigan and the campaign committees did not admit liability or wrongdoing in the settlement with Hampton.
Garrett's harassment complaints against Tim Mapes, Madigan's chief of staff at the time, eventually led to his ouster from the position as well as his role as Illinois House clerk and Democratic Party of Illinois' executive director.
Madigan has remained largely silent on accusations pertaining to McClain, but he released a statement on the "cover-up" emails Wednesday.
"These are extremely serious and troubling allegations. I had no knowledge of the incident referenced in the story and only learned of this today. I encourage those with any information to come forward," Madigan said in the statement.