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Metra Wants Former Federal Prosecutor To Probe Clifford’s Patronage Claims

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Metra has asked former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to conduct an independent investigation of former CEO Alex Clifford’s patronage hiring allegations.

Chairman Brad O’Halloran has called for a special meeting of the Metra board on Monday, to approve hiring Collins to look into allegations Clifford raised in an April 3 memo, and at Wednesday’s Regional Transportation Authority Board meeting.

“Patrick Collins has an unquestioned reputation for integrity, honesty and fighting corruption,” O’Halloran said in a news release. “I look forward to an unflinching report which makes recommendations that help the agency restore confidence with riders, taxpayers and the communities we serve.”

If the board approves hiring Collins – who led the successful prosecution of former Gov. George Ryan on corruption charges – he would not only investigate Clifford’s claims, he would be tasked with recommending changes to Metra’s hiring and contracting policies.

Clifford has claimed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan last year sought a raise for a campaign worker who worked for Metra at a time when the agency had imposed a freeze on non-union employee pay. However, Clifford has said he doesn’t believe any laws were broken, because he denied the request.

He claimed O’Halloran considered that a bad business decision, and feared Madigan would withhold state funding for Metra as a result.

Madigan has acknowledged asking Clifford about the raise, but said he withdrew the request when Clifford expressed reservations.

Clifford also has said State Rep. Luis Arroyo asked if Metra would hire someone recommended by the Latino caucus for an open position at Metra, and that Metra board member Larry Huggins brokered a deal with Congressman Bobby Rush to write a $50,000 check for oversight services to a contractor of Rush’s choosing.

Huggins and Arroyo have denied those allegations.

Collins left the U.S. Attorney’s office for private practice after he led the conviction of George Ryan, and has been a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm since 2007.