Dem Senate hopeful Zopp offers support for friend facing grant-fraud sentencing

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Andrea Zopp. | Sun-Times file photo

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrea Zopp was one of 19 character witnesses listed to testify Friday in Springfield for her friend Quinshaunta Golden, who is facing a decade or more in prison for her role in a multimillion-dollar theft and bribery scheme involving government grants and contracts awarded by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But Zopp — who’s seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois — said Wednesday, “I’m not going to be able to testify.

“The sentencing’s been moved countless times,” Zopp said. “I couldn’t make it work to go to Springfield. It’s an all-day trip. I couldn’t rearrange my schedule to make that happen.”

Among the other character witnesses listed by Golden’s lawyer is her uncle, U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, the Chicago Democrat. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Zopp and Davis each has written to U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough seeking leniency for Golden, who pleaded guilty last year to taking more than $400,000 in kickbacks in a series of crimes that began when she was chief of staff to Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, President Barack Obama’s close friend, during Whitaker’s tenure as head of the state health department.

Another former Whitaker aide, Roxanne B. Jackson, pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced to 25 months in prison. Whitaker hasn’t been accused of any crime.

Zopp formerly was a federal prosecutor, Chicago Board of Education member and chief executive officer of the Chicago Urban League. She and Golden served together for three years on the Cook County Health and Hospital Systems Board.

“The crime that Quin is being sentenced for is completely aberrational for the professional and person I know,” Zopp said in her letter to the judge, dated Aug. 20, 2014. “She knows that she violated the trust that she owed the public as a state employee. She is ashamed of her mistakes. . . . I have told her repeatedly that she can get through this very difficult time even though the way does not always seem clear.”

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Quinshaunta Golden. | Sun-Times file photo

Zopp resigned last month from the school board and announced she’s running for the Senate. She’s challenging suburban U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, in the Democratic primary.

She said she doesn’t think her decision to support Golden will hurt her campaign.

“I don’t think that will turn voters off,” Zopp said. “I think people can understand and respect someone who speaks up for a friend who’s in trouble. Quin did something wrong. She’s admitted that, she’s pleaded guilty, she agreed to cooperate, and she did that. I know the other side of her.”

In his letter, Congressman Davis wrote that he has known Golden “up close and personal all her life” and that “she in all probability got off track by trying to help someone else and did not know or have the will power to get off, or out. I am convinced that Quin has truly repented, is remorseful for her transgressions and has much potential for life ahead of her.”

Golden, 46, of Homewood, has pleaded guilty to conspiring with Jackson and Chicago social services provider Leon Dingle Jr., to steer millions of dollars in state health department grants and contracts their way and, in return, get kickbacks.

Prosecutors say that, at Golden’s direction, $772,500 went to Jackson, who — working for Dingle as a consultant after leaving the health department — kicked back half of that to Golden.

Golden also got additional kickbacks from Jackson through a health department contract Golden gave to a security company owned by Jackson’s brother, according to prosecutors and her plea deal.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Golden could face up to 17 and a half years in prison, though prosecutors are recommending a sentence of 11 years.

Golden was a central figure at the trial last year in Springfield of Dingle and his wife, Karin Dingle, even though she didn’t testify. A former health department employee testified that she once walked in to a health department office and found Golden and Dingle partially undressed.

According to court records, Whitaker — who met Obama during their days at Harvard and has often vacationed with him during his presidency —refused to answer federal prosecutors’ questions about whether he had a “sexual relationship” with Golden.

Dingle and his wife were found guilty in December of stealing more than $3 million in health department funds. They await sentencing.

Golden’s husband Victor Golden — who resigned from his job as a $111,432 administrator for the Illinois Lottery last November — alluded to the stress on his family in his own letter to the judge on his wife’s behalf.

“My wife has been plastered all over the newspapers as a sex object,” he wrote. “The embarrassment and shame this has brought to our family is very difficult to deal with every day. . . . I ask for leniency as our family loves her and needs her dearly.”

Andrea Zopp Letter

Dr. Eric Whitaker (left), Quinshaunta Golden, Leon Dingle Jr. and Golden’s uncle, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Illinois in 2007 at a state health department event. | U.S. District Court exhibit


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