CHICAGO (CBS) — The co-chairman of a legislative panel investigating Gov. Pat Quinn’s scandal-plagued anti-violence program said Thursday members of the commission will vote next week whether to comply with a request from federal prosecutors to hold off their probe for 90 days.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department asked the state’s Legislative Audit Commission — a bipartisan panel of lawmakers — to conduct no interviews of staffers who worked for or ran the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative for 90 days, while federal prosecutors conduct their own inquiry.
On Thursday, Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington), who co-chairs the commission, said the panel would move forward with a July 16 hearing, at which seven subpoenaed witnesses had been scheduled to testify, in order to consider the request.
“We certainly do not want to impede their criminal investigation of the NRI program. However, we also have legislative duties and obligations that we must fulfill to the people of Illinois and our constituents,” Barickman said in a statement. “Each member of the Audit Commission – myself included – will have to weigh those competing interests to determine whether we change course on a public review of how more than $55 million in taxpayers’ money was spent.”
Barickman said the commission had already taken legal action by voting to issue the subpoenas, and said that “cannot – and should not – be undone with the sweep of a hand or a backdoor meeting. Only legislative action can rescind those efforts.”
If the Legislative Audit Commission agrees to hold off on its probe for 90 days, that window would end three weeks before the November election pitting Quinn against Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.
For his part, the governor seemed unfazed Wednesday by news federal prosecutors want lawmakers to delay their probe.
Quinn didn’t express any opinion about the reports the Feds are telling legislators to stop calling for members of his inner circle to testify about the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative before a legislative audit commission. He responded the same as he has done since suspicions of questionable spending and fraud came out.
“I want anyone in our government to provide any and all information to whoever needs that information to fully investigate what has to be investigated,” said Quinn. “Having said that, I ended that program, I abolished that program. When it was going in the wrong direction, we stopped it, we defunded it, we ended it.”
Political opponents have called the defunct program a political slush fund.
Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, announced the initiative shortly before the 2010 election. It was later the subject of a scathing audit by Illinois Auditor General William Holland, who found were pervasive problems, including mismanagement of program funds.
Holland issued a report in February, revealing NRI was so hastily organized and sloppily executed that auditors questioned 40 percent of the $55 million in total expenditures claimed by service providers.
The governor’s office has said it supports any inquiry of NRI, and has no tolerance for mismanagement at any state agency.