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Rutherford’s investigator found no evidence of sex harassment

Then-state treasurer, Dan Rutherford speaks during a press conference in 2014. Rutherford denied allegations that he sexually harassed a former state employee. File Photo. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media

SPRINGFIELD — An investigator hired by then-state Treasurer Dan Rutherford to review a former employee’s allegations of sexual harassment by the one-time gubernatorial hopeful reported that he found no evidence of harassment or retaliation.

The Associated Press on Thursday obtained a copy of the report on the investigation, which Rutherford insisted was an independent review. It was conducted by a Chicago-based firm that concluded interviews, travel vouchers and text messages didn’t corroborate Edmund Michalowski’s claims that he endured Rutherford’s unwanted sexual advances from 2011 to 2013, and that he was passed over for promotions or raises as a result.

Michalowski filed a federal lawsuit outlining his allegations in February 2014, two weeks after Rutherford publicly said that a former employee had demanded $300,000 to stymie legal action for his alleged “misconduct.” Rutherford ordered the review to clear his name, but the lawsuit dashed his hopes of winning the Republican nomination for governor that March.

Michalowski’s attorney, Dana Kurtz, condemned the report Thursday, saying it “leaves out substantial information.” She said her client sued because he and other young men were being harassed by Rutherford, and he wanted it to stop.

“The idea that Michalowski initiated this to try to derail or extort money out of Rutherford is absurd,” she said.

Compiled by Ron Braver & Associates, the report concluded that “Michalowski was not retaliated against for not acquiescing to alleged sexual or political pressures.” It also said that based on the evidence reviewed, “rumors that Mr. Michalowski may be let go from the treasurer’s office after the primary elections play a role in coming forward with these serious allegations and the allegations appear to be released to influence his current election.”

Although taxpayers paid $27,000 for the investigation and an earlier inquiry commissioned by Rutherford, the results weren’t released. Attorney General Lisa Madigan cited the ongoing lawsuit when she advised Rutherford and his successor, Democratic Treasurer Michael Frerichs, not to release the report. Frerichs — who made a campaign promise to reveal the report — denied an AP request under the Freedom of Information Act last year.

Frerichs released the report later Thursday, saying he and Madigan had come to an agreement.

“Mr. Rutherford is pleased that the report is now public, and we look forward to addressing these fabricated allegations in court,” said his attorney, Daniel T. Fahner, noting that the report “suggests that the allegations were driven by political agendas and personal desperation.”

Kurtz said the report falls short on facts.

“We believe numerous witnesses will come forward to support the allegations of Michalowski,” Kurtz said. “The report leaves out substantial information and it’s unclear who he [Braver] actually interviewed.”

Michalowski’s lawsuit is pending in federal court in Chicago. After the judge dismissed other claims, including the allegation of coercion to do political work on the state time clock, Michalowski filed a fresh complaint last month alleging sexual harassment against Rutherford and four others.

Michalowski cites six instances in which he alleges Rutherford made unwanted sexual advances or comments from 2011 to 2013, including an overnight stay at the treasurer’s Chenoa home in which Michalowski claims his host entered his bedroom and touched him sexually. When he complained to his superiors, Michalowski claims he was labeled a troublemaker and passed over for promotions and salary raises.

But Braver found that travel vouchers Michalowski submitted for the April 2011 Chenoa incident show that Michalowski drove from his Chicago home to pick Rutherford up in Pontiac, went back to Chicago, returned the treasurer to Pontiac in mid-afternoon and was back in Chicago by 4 p.m.

Kurtz said that was because that night, Michalowski was doing political work for Rutherford, which a state travel voucher wouldn’t reflect.

Braver interviewed 16 Rutherford staffers — none of whom is named in the report — and found that while some reported Rutherford occasionally made “uncomfortable” but unspecified remarks or gestures, none saw Rutherford act inappropriately toward Michalowski.

Kurtz’s law firm also represents three other alleged Rutherford victims in a separate lawsuit who allege Rutherford fired them in July 2014, in retaliation for cooperating with Braver investigators.

— John O’Connor