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Ex-federal prosecutor withdraws from probe

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CHICAGO – A former federal prosecutor has backed out of a job investigating allegations that one of the state’s most powerful politicians and others pressured Metra staff in hiring and contract decisions, the commuter rail agency said Monday.

In a news release, Metra said it would search for someone else after Patrick Collins, a former assistant U.S. attorney, informed the agency he wanted to withdraw from consideration for the job, which he previously agreed to take. The Metra board canceled a Monday meeting during which it was expected to approve Collins’ hiring.

Collins, who led a team of prosecutors that won a 2006 conviction of former Gov. George Ryan in a corruption case, cited a potential conflict of interest at the law firm where he is a partner.

Metra said in the release that it is “fully committed to moving the organization forward and restoring public confidence” and would move quickly to find a replacement.

“I remain committed to interviewing other lawyers with outstanding reputations and investigative skills, and to once again ask the board for its approval,” Metra board Chairman Brad O’Halloran said in the release.

An initial investigation by the law firm, Perkins Coie, found there were no potential problems with his involvement in the case, but Collins said a subsequent one revealed “conflict issues” that made it impossible for him to take the job. He declined to elaborate.

Collins did not immediately return a call for comment Monday from The Associated Press.

His office said he was unavailable.

Metra said it was considering hiring Collins after former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who received a lucrative buyout, alleged during a hearing last week that he was forced out of the agency for resisting pressure from House Speaker Michael Madigan and others over jobs and construction contracts.

Madigan has said that he asked senior staff at Metra to consider a pay raise for an associate who was employed there but withdrew the recommendation after Clifford expressed discomfort with it. Clifford said Madigan and a member of the Legislature’s Latino caucus made inappropriate requests for hiring favors. A Madigan spokesman says the speaker did nothing improper and has no record of making a job request.

Madigan last week wrote a letter to the state’s Legislative Ethics Commission inviting it to investigate his involvement in the Metra dealings described by Clifford, saying he doesn’t believe his actions violated any law or ethical rule. He said he would cooperate with the investigation.

In the statement announcing Collins’ withdrawal, Metra released an email from Collins that informed the agency of his decision.

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