Former County Board candidates accused of violating anti-SLAPP law as Brettman grand jury testimony revealed

Attorney rebuffs defamation claims tied to 2018 campaign flyers

A former McHenry County Board candidate and village president said Tuesday that a group of unknown socialists fabricated a transcript of his 1975 grand jury testimony that detailed his involvement with a right-wing extremist paramilitary group.

Rather than going after the people he believes are responsible for falsifying a grand jury transcript, however, former Carpentersville president and ex-police officer Orville Brettman has joined another former County Board candidate in a defamation lawsuit against an anonymous dark money group that distributed a series of contentious campaign flyers last year.

Now the Chicago attorney representing the faceless organization known as the Illinois Integrity Fund is accusing Brettman of perjury, which is punishable by a felony. According to the Integrity Fund’s attorney, Natalie Harris, Brettman lied when he verified the allegations spelled out in his lawsuit. Although an immunity grant protected Brettman against prosecution for his grand jury testimony, he could be charged with lying about it in the defamation lawsuit he filed earlier this year, according to Harris’ motion.

In 1975, Brettman admitted to a Cook County grand jury that he was part of an organization known as the Legion of Justice. The group publicly took credit for a number of attacks and burglaries that targeted socialist political organizations, including the bombing of an Elgin church that lent its facilities to peace groups and draft counseling during the Vietnam War. Although the transcripts were sealed, they re-entered the public record years later as attachments to appeal filings in related cases.

Brettman claims to be a victim of defamation after a series of campaign flyers were mailed in advance of the 2018 primary election in McHenry County and drew attention to news clippings about his testimony. Brettman and a fellow former County Board candidate, Ersel Schuster, filed a joint defamation lawsuit in February against the unknown person or people behind the Illinois Integrity Fund.

Harris has asked the Kane County judge presiding over the case to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it violates Illinois’ anti-SLAPP law, intended to protect citizens’ First Amendment rights. She also is seeking to punish Brettman and Schuster for “abusing the judicial system” and asking that they repay the Illinois Integrity Fund’s attorneys’ fees and costs. County Board Chairman Jack Franks, who is named as a defendant in Brettman and Schuster’s suit, helped write the state’s law opposing strategic lawsuits against public participation. The defamation lawsuit in which he’s accused of spreading lies about political candidates is exactly the kind of case anti-SLAPP laws aim to prevent, he said.

“This litigation is a textbook example of SLAPP ...” Franks said. “They’re just trying to threaten people by making them pay exorbitant legal fees.”

Defamation allegations

In a nearly 300-page court filing, Harris wrote that Brettman’s testimony and a police report linking Schuster’s husband to an apparent online death threat are proof that the defamation suit only served a retaliatory purpose.

For the past several months, Harris has represented the unknown people or person behind the Illinois Integrity Fund as politicians attempted to unmask the group’s leader.

To date, the flyers have resulted in four separate defamation suits, all of which name Franks as either a defendant or respondent.

Brettman was unimpressed Tuesday by Harris’ motion to dismiss his case, and didn’t think it would get far in court.

“Basically the motion in my opinion is garbage,” he said. “It’s something that a person would file to stall the inevitable outcome.”

In his complaint, Brettman claimed the flyers printed false, defamatory information about his alleged involvement with a right-wing extremist group that publicly took credit for bombing an Elgin church in the early 1970s.

Brettman has said that Franks and other parties alleged to be involved with the dark money mailers knew the accusations laid out in the news reports were false and defamatory. Harris, however, has argued that the flyers’ claims are true and supported by court records and decades of news articles.

The grand jury testimony

Depicted on the flyers were news article clippings from Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Elgin Daily Courier News and Northwest Herald reports. The news outlets cited their findings as having derived from Brettman’s 1975 testimony before a Cook County grand jury that was assembled to determine whether Chicago police helped plan burglaries of left-wing groups in cooperation with the Legion of Justice.

A copy of that testimony filed in court Monday detailed, in Brettman’s own words, his involvement in the planning of execution of break-ins and attacks on left-wing political groups.

“I was involved in the entry and also in the planning for the entry and all the activities that the Legion participated in and took credit for publicly in the papers up to 1971 – I’d have to say through 1971 because I couldn’t put an exact date on when I stopped.” Brettman testified.

Approached after court Tuesday, Brettman said the testimony attached to Harris’ motion was fabricated, but by whom, he didn’t know. He added that he didn’t sue the newspapers that printed articles about his grand jury testimony at the time, because he never saw them.

“I’m very, very busy,” Brettman said, noting that he doesn’t have time to read the newspaper every day.

Brettman doesn’t deny that he spoke before the grand jury. Rather, he’s maintained that the transcripts filed with Harris’ motion must have been falsified to reflect a different testimony.

“Did I testify? Yes,” Brettman said. “Did I testify as what was in the newspaper back in 1979 ... It’s 45 years ago. I don’t remember saying any of that in the way that it’s put forward.”

In 2018 web post titled, “Lies, Damn Lies, Innuendos,” Brettman claimed that he was one of many witnesses called to testify before a grand jury in connection to what he called a “very widely cast dragnet instigated at the behest of the communist left.”

According to the transcript, however, Brettman recognized the group by name and testified there were only eight to 15 members.

He also acknowledged the illegality of the Legion’s actions. Brettman claimed, however, that the federal government relayed instructions to the group’s leader, Thomas Sutton.

At one point during Brettman’s testimony, he told investigators that he believed the group’s leader, Sutton, had ties to G. Gordon Liddy – a former FBI employee who helped orchestrate the Watergate break-in.

The ‘death threat’

Schuster, whom the flyers also accused of having a “history of hate,” joined Brettman in the February complaint against the Integrity Fund.

Last year, an apparent online threat against Franks’ life led police to Schuster’s home, where officials say the IP addresses associated with the comment originated.

Schuster previously declined to comment personally on the suit, and referred questions to her attorney, who did not return a phone call seeking comment.

On July 17, officers told Franks that McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally would forgo criminal charges because the post didn’t constitute a “true threat,” Kenneally said at the time.

Months earlier, a mysterious back-page blogger with the screen name “Klaatu Barada Nikto” commented “I know a fellow who specializes in terminating weasels of all kinds. His prices are very reasonable. $5,000 each. If you need it to look like an accident[,] $10,000 each. Let me know on this blog…” 

Franks interpreted the comment as an anti-Semitic threat against his life, and notified Lakewood police.

“Franks was familiar with fascist regimes’ calling Jews vermin as a precursor to extermination,” Harris wrote. “His own family was murdered by the Nazi regime in Poland during World War II. Accordingly, Franks took the threat seriously.”

‘Intentional and
malicious scheme’

McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio was the first to seek civil action in relation to the 2018 campaign flyers. With the assistance of his attorney, Woodstock-based Philip Prossnitz, the pair tried to use a Supreme Court ruling to force Janice Dalton – Tirio’s former opponent for the clerk seat – and the president of Breaker Press Co. Inc. – the Chicago printing company that produced the flyers – to reveal who was behind the campaign ads.

In December, after months of back and forth between attorneys, Breaker Press President Richard Lewandowski gave up several names in favor of going to jail on a contempt charge. Lewandowski named Michael Noonan, Franks’ former campaign director; Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; and Sean Tenner, a former aide of Barack Obama and owner of KNI Communications, as the people behind the Illinois Integrity Fund.

Tirio followed through in January with a civil lawsuit that named Franks as a respondent. Quick to follow suit were Brettman and Schuster, County Board member Chuck Wheeler and former board member Michael Rein – each of whom were depicted in campaign flyers. As of Tuesday, Franks was the only named person served with Brettman and Schuster’s lawsuit, public records show.

“Collectively, the flyers represent the product of an intentional and malicious scheme, orchestrated by the defendants herein, to humiliate, intimidate, embarrass and deprecate private citizens running for political office …” attorney James Bishop stated in a Feb. 19 complaint.

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