CHICAGO (CBS) — A former employee of Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford — a Republican candidate for governor — has leveled explosive allegations against his old boss, accusing him of sexual harassment and forcing employees to do campaign work on state time.
Edmund Michalowski, who left Rutherford’s office earlier this month and took a job with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, claimed in a federal lawsuit that the treasurer has made unwanted sexual advances toward him since 2011.
The allegations come just five weeks before Rutherford faces three other Republicans in the GOP primary race for governor.
“Treasurer Rutherford, are there any more allegations of sexual harassment coming at you from anyone else?” one of his GOP opponents, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, asked at a Monday candidates’ forum. Gasps could be heard in the audience.
Dillard later told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine he was sorry to have to ask the question, but added Republicans should know about a candidate’s potential baggage in the upcoming elections.
Rutherford held a news conference to deny the allegations, and his state office released a lengthy rebuttal to the lawsuit with some documents.
For instance, Rutherford tried to discredit claims by Michalowski that the state treasurer made a pass at him during an April 2011 “retreat” at Rutherford’s downstate home. The lawsuit suggests the incident occurred at night, but travel vouchers indicate Michalowski left at 2 p.m. and was in Chicago two hours later, the treasurer’s office said.
Rutherford previously has alleged a Republican opponent for governor, Bruce Rauner, is behind the bombshell accusations. The treasurer’s office also says Michalowski is in the midst of bankruptcy and divorce proceedings.
“I’m telling you it’s wrong, it is false,” Rutherford told reporters.
In one instance, Michalowski alleges Rutherford invited him to the treasurer’s home in Chenoa for what was purported to be an “office retreat,” but no other employees showed up, and after dinner, while Michalowski was in the guest bedroom, Rutherford came in and grabbed Michalowski’s genitals.
Michalowski alleged he confronted Rutherford’s chief of staff, Kyle Ham – who also is named as a defendant – about the encounter, and Ham told him “’it had happened to him as well,” and said, “at least we have job security,” according to a copy of the lawsuit.
Rutherford held an impromptu preemptive strike against Michalowski’s allegations on Jan. 31, vehemently denying any wrongdoing, and claiming Rauner – the frontrunner in the Republican race for governor – was behind an alleged $300,000 shakedown attempt by Michalowski’s lawyer.
“Let me just make this perfectly clear. There’s absolutely no truth to the allegations, no factual support or merit,” Rutherford said at the time. “No one, no one including Bruce Rauner is going to destroy me.”
Rauner’s campaign has denied any involvement in the allegations.
Michalowski’s lawsuit also alleges other instances of unwanted sexual advances from Rutherford, including an encounter at D.H. Brown’s, a Springfield bar, during Republican Day of the Illinois State Fair in 2011. He claimed, as he was leaving the bar with a group of women, Rutherford grabbed his arm and said, “if you go home with me, you can have anything you want in the office.”
He also claimed, after a reception at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Rutherford asked him to go up to his hotel room, and when Michalowski refused, Rutherford told him, “you just said no to the Treasurer.”
Michalowski claimed, when he informed Ham of that incident, Ham told him “he was ‘not a team player,’” according to a copy of the lawsuit.
He also claimed Rutherford demanded Michalowski do campaign work for him while on state time, including requests to organize volunteers, parades, and petition drives for Mitt Romney’s 2012 run for president; demands to ask Michalowski’s “well-heeled contacts” for contributions to Rutherford’s campaign; and to contact other Republican officials in Illinois to promote the I-Cash program at the treasurer’s office to benefit Rutherford’s campaign.
Michalowski said Rutherford made such requests on more than 100 occasions via text messages, emails, phone calls, and in person.
He further claimed he has suffered stress and anxiety that caused severe headaches, and led to more than $100,000 in medical bills.
“After numerous hospitalizations and tests, Plaintiff was diagnosed with leakage of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain for which he has undergone four blood patches and one occipital nerve block as a result of Defendants’ conduct,” the lawsuit alleges.