The Governor’s bungled “anti-violence” program continues to draw scrutiny, as media reports revealed this week that a federal grand jury in Chicago has issued a subpoena requesting records relating to Pat Quinn’s $54.5 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI).
A federal grand jury in Springfield has already requested NRI-related records; but this is the first subpoena issued by a federal grand jury based out of Chicago. At this time it is unknown whether the grand juries are working together or if federal authorities have undertaken different investigations.
The subpoena was dated August 27, and is seeking copies of original and electronic documents, records, notes, correspondence, memos, invoices, recorded payments, and budget and personnel information relating to the program. However, it was confirmed that the requested records had already been received, or were in the process of being received, from Cook County and the subpoena was primarily a notification that the records were being requested for review by the grand jury. The Cook County State’s Attorney is conducting her own probe into the program and had possession of the records.
The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative is also being reviewed by lawmakers on the state’s Legislative Audit Commission. Legislators undertook a review of the program following a scathing audit issued by Auditor General William Holland. However, public testimony from seven subpoenaed top Quinn aides involved in the program has been delayed at the request of federal authorities, who asked the Commission to wait until a federal grand jury completes its work. That could be as early as mid-October.
Recently, the co-chairman of the Audit Commission, Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) asked the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to help enforce a previously issued subpoena of emails from a former top Quinn administration official. The governor’s office has claimed attorney-client privilege and refused to release a large bloc of 108,000 emails belonging to former Quinn deputy chief of staff Toni Irving, who was one of the anti-violence program’s main gatekeepers in the governor’s office.
Barickman asked for Madigan’s help in freeing up those documents that were originally subpoenaed by the panel two months ago. Although federal prosecutors requested that the Audit Commission refrain from compelling former Quinn administration officials to testify, they gave a green light to the Commission seeking documents related to the botched program.
Republican lawmakers have also taken Quinn to task for evidence that his administration has simply rebranded the failed NRI program and continues to dish out taxpayer dollars in a manner that looks suspiciously similar to how NRI dollars were first distributed.
At issue is a $20 million lump sum Quinn hid in the current state budget, with only a vague description that the money would be used by the agency for purposes almost identical to those that described the original NRI program. In July – just weeks after the budget was approved -- $5 million was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and $6.5 million to the Department of Human Services.