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Who paid Joe Tirio's lawyer bills?

Complaint shows check, invoice that Tirio may have perjured himself

McHenry County Board member Chuck Wheeler (left) and McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio look up at a TV broadcasting election results Nov. 6 inside a packed room at Bulldog Ale House in McHenry.
McHenry County Board member Chuck Wheeler (left) and McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio look up at a TV broadcasting election results Nov. 6 inside a packed room at Bulldog Ale House in McHenry.

Last year, McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio testified in front of the Illinois Board of Elections that he would pay his own legal fees in a defamation suit against a dark money group known as the Illinois Integrity Fund.

But a complaint recently filed with the elections board alleges that Tirio's campaign committee didn't disclose that a $1,200 payment to his attorney for the lawsuit actually was paid for by the Republican Central Committee of McHenry County.

Because of Tirio's prior testimony, the new complaint could mean the county clerk committed perjury.

The complaint was filed by Rachael Lawrence, former treasurer of the Republican Central Committee of McHenry County and current trustee on the Algonquin Township Board, who said the situation was too important for her look the other way.

“The notion that the elected official responsible for the integrity of our elections in McHenry County may have perjured himself to the State Board of Elections is especially concerning to me,” Lawrence said. “I still wonder how many other people know and still sit in silence even today.”

Initial complaints

The $1,200 payment to Phil Prossnitz, Tirio’s attorney, was listed on a committee finance report the RCCMC filed with the elections board. The committee was listed as the beneficiary.

Last year, Ronald Eck Jr. filed two complaints, one against Citizens to Elect Joe Tirio and one against the RCCMC stating that the payment should have been reported as an in-kind contribution to Tirio’s campaign.

Robert Hanlon, the attorney representing Tirio’s election committee, had said the money was used by the Republic Central Committee of McHenry County to confer with Prossnitz about whether it would be prudent to join Tirio’s suit against the Illinois Integrity Fund.

Tirio had testified that he was paying for his own legal fees in the lawsuit and it was his understanding that the RCCMC reached out to Prossnitz about whether it should join the suit and that his attorney would have billed the committee for the counsel.

On Thursday morning, Tirio provided the Northwest Herald with a redacted cashier's check showing a payment of $2,000 from his personal account to Prossnitz.

However, Lawrence said in the complaint that she had no documentation that the money paid to Prossnitz was for the benefit of the RCCMC.

Because Eck’s allegations were based upon things told to him by unidentified people, the board of elections’ hearing officer could not assign such statements any credibility. Therefore, the allegations were found not to have been filed upon justifiable grounds, which prevented the case from proceeding to a public hearing.

Lawrence complaint

Despite the hearing officer’s ruling, Lawrence’s complaint introduced new evidence she claims will show that Tirio knew Eck’s statements were true.

“Without any documentation in hand at the time to prove otherwise, I couldn't prove that the $1,200 wasn't for the benefit of RCCMC,” Lawrence said. “We went to the closed hearing, where Joe Tirio testified under oath and penalty of perjury that he was ‘paying his own legal fees,’ even though it's clear to me now that was not completely truthful, because later I found the receipt from Prossnitz which claims otherwise.”

An invoice from Prossnitz, which was included as an exhibit in Lawrence’s complaint, stated that the $1,200 was to be used as a retainer for his law office to represent Tirio in a potential lawsuit against those responsible for “defaming, libeling and slandering” Tirio’s name during the March 2018 primary.

The check from the McHenry County Republicans Central Committee – dated April 10, 2018, and also included as an exhibit – names Prossnitz as the recipient with “Illinois Integrity Fund” written in the memo line.

After discovering what the complaint referred to as "fraud," Lawrence stepped down from the board in December.

In an email sent Jan. 20 to Diane Evertsen, RCCMC chairwoman; Chuck Wheeler, former RCCMC treasurer and current McHenry County Board member; and Karen Tirio, committee secretary, Lawrence said she wished to return some committee documents, which showed that the $1,200 payments should be an in-kind contribution.

“Also, something I had not realized, this document appears to specifically denote a payment for legal representation of Joe Tirio and not the RCCMC,” Lawrence wrote. “Perhaps an amended quarterly report of the transaction to reflect an in-kind donation is in order but I was not treasurer at the time of the transaction or its entrance into IDIS.”

Evertsen replied “no problem” and asked Lawrence to mail the documents in.

“I found the receipt seemingly stating that it was, in fact, for the benefit of Joe Tirio and not the RCCMC. ... I brought it to their attention; they had more than adequate chance to correct it, and they chose not to,” Lawrence said.

Response

Once a complaint is filed, the complainant and respondent, their attorneys and a hearing officer from the elections board will hold a closed hearing to determine whether the allegations are made on justifiable grounds. If they are, the matter will be discussed during a public hearing.

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks commended Lawrence for stepping forward and said the charges are deeply troubling.

If true, Franks said it means that Tirio deliberately misled the election authority when he is responsible for overseeing elections in McHenry County.

Kristina Zahorik, chairwoman of the McHenry County Democratic Party, questioned Tirio’s ability to remain trustworthy if the complaint is true.

“[Tirio’s] repeated willingness to engage in conspiracy with the McHenry County Republican Party, where his wife serves on the executive board as the secretary, along with McHenry County Board member Chuck Wheeler, calls into question his ability to oversee the elections in McHenry County with any measure of fairness or bipartisanship,” Zahorik said. “The initial false statement was a fairly small and easily correctable matter. If he is willing to go to such lengths to cover it up, how we can trust him?”

Tirio said the 2018 allegation was adjudicated and he’ll deal with any other complaints with his lawyer.

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