CHICAGO – A federal grand jury has subpoenaed the emails of three former top advisers to Gov. Pat Quinn, including a onetime chief of staff, as part of a criminal investigation into the governor’s $54.5 million Chicago anti-violence program.
The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which Quinn shut down when shortcomings arose, was the subject of a scathing state audit this year that found grant money was unaccounted for, mismanagement was “pervasive” and some of Chicago’s most violent areas were not included. Critics have said it amounted to a political slush fund, and the program is now being scrutinized by federal prosecutors in Springfield, a state legislative commission and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
The July 28 federal subpoena sought all communications from the state email accounts of former chief of staff Jack Lavin, former Chief Operating Officer Andrew Ross and Billy Ocasio, a former adviser to Quinn on issues of social justice. A second federal subpoena, also dated July 28, sought any correspondence and documents from the Illinois Department of Human Services that relate to any other anti-violence programs linked to the agencies that ran the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
The subpoenas were first reported Saturday by the Chicago Tribune, which obtained them from the Quinn administration through an open records request.
Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman confirmed the report and released the documents along with a statement saying, “The Governor has zero tolerance for any mismanagement and took decisive action to fix the problems long ago.”
“While this program was launched to combat an epidemic of violence in 2010, the oversight and management issues that developed were unacceptable,” Klinzman said. “The program has been shut down for nearly two years, we enacted legislation that would make Illinois a national leader for grant oversight and the governor has ordered all state agencies to fully support any inquiries.
“If any grantee has done anything wrong, they should be held fully accountable.”
Quinn announced the initiative in October 2010 after Chicago pastors asked him to help combat city violence. The timing prompted critics to argue it was a program to lock up the city’s vote a month before he won election by a thin margin. Quinn has denied that.
Lavin, Ross and Ocasio have been called to testify before Illinois lawmakers on the Legislative Audit Commission looking into the program. That session was put on hold, however, on the request of federal prosecutors so it would not impede their investigation.
Thousands of pages of emails from the three men and those of others called to testify by the commission have already been made public as part of that inquiry.
The three former aides could not be reached for comment Saturday. Their attorneys have declined to comment during earlier legislative commission hearings, citing the pending federal investigation.