CHICAGO – A vocal Republican lawmaker called Wednesday for Gov. Pat Quinn to testify before a legislative commission over a scandal-plagued anti-violence program the same day a published report showed the Quinn initiative gave money to a nonexistent program that claimed to help former inmates.
The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, already under federal and Cook County inquiries, was the subject of a scathing state audit earlier this year outlining “pervasive” problems with management and spending. More questions have arisen on the 2014 campaign trail as Quinn seeks re-election and recently in legislative hearings, where former state officials have been subpoenaed to testify.
“Stop ducking. Stop dodging,” Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy, a frequent critic of Quinn, said of the governor. “Level with the people, it is their money. You misspent it. Level with them. And show them where the money went and answer their questions once and for all.”
It is unlikely Quinn would ever testify before the Legislative Audit Commission, a bipartisan group that reviews and approves state audits. Commission members said they had no plans to subpoena Quinn or invite him more informally, as the aim is to get information not offered in a state audit.
Seven former state officials, including Quinn’s former chief of staff, have been subpoenaed to testify in July; two people, both former Quinn administration officials, were added Wednesday.
“There is no investigation of the governor,” Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman said in a statement. “He has made clear that those who are asked to participate by the commission should participate. Employees who were involved with now-defunct program no longer work for the state.”
The Chicago Democrat has said he addressed problems, including shutting down the overseeing Violence Prevention Authority. But the issue has dogged Quinn’s re-election, with Republican challenger Bruce Rauner deeming the program Illinois politics as usual.
Quinn campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Murphy’s call was “nothing but a smear tactic by the Republicans.”
Quinn started the anti-violence program shortly before the 2010 election to provide job training and other services in Chicago neighborhoods plagued by violence. Republicans have alleged it was a political slush fund meant to secure Chicago vote ahead of a contest where Quinn narrowly won; the governor has dismissed that allegation.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday that a nonprofit claiming to help former inmates reintegrate into society received $15,770 through Quinn’s program. But state records obtained by the newspaper showed the Project Hope, Inc., project appeared to have never existed and was run out of a suburban Chicago day care center.
Quinn officials put the nonprofit Healthcare Consortium of Illinois in charge of spending in Thornton Township, where Project Hope was based. The project’s name also appeared on a December 2010 list of groups awaiting approval for the anti-violence program.
In 2011, the consortium found Project Hope wasn’t meeting the terms of its contract. Emails in the following year to state officials indicated that no re-entry program existed and attempts to audit the program were unsuccessful, according to the newspaper.
“None of the monies provided to enhance their reentry program occurred due to the reentry program not existing at their Dixmoor location as stated in their application, which in itself is fraud in the execution,” Jaclin Davis, an administer with the consortium, wrote in a January 2012 email.
Healthcare Consortium of Illinois officials have told the state they intend to recoup the money through legal action.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Frank Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat, said he signed two more subpoenas Wednesday for former Quinn officials to testify. An audit commission subcommittee approved seven this week and needed his signature, but Mautino initially signed only five. He said he changed his mind after speaking with his Republican co-chair of the commission, state Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington.
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