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IG: Silverstein didn’t sexually harass, but behaved in ‘unbecoming’ manner

Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, (left) speaks at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield last May. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman, File) Denise Rotheimer testifies before an Illinois House committee in Chicago in November. (File Photo by Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

State Sen. Ira Silverstein did not engage in sexual harassment “or other unlawful conduct,” but “he did behave in a manner unbecoming a legislator in violation of the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act,” the newly seated legislative inspector general has ruled.

Silverstein on Thursday released a statement saying he is “very grateful that we have an independent Inspector General who saw the facts for what they were. “

Denise Rotheimer, a victim rights advocate testified in late October before a House committee that Silverstein, D-Chicago, used “power” and “mind games” with her as she tried to advance legislation to help crime victims pay for legal care. She also accused Silverstein of killing her bill when he thought she had a boyfriend. Rotheimer said she felt like she had no control.

Reached on Thursday, Rotheimer voiced her frustrations with the whole process, saying she wanted it over with. Rotheimer said she spoke with Julie Porter, the legislative inspector general, on Friday to ask her for a status on her case.

“I wanted to know how much longer this mess would be,” Rotheimer said. “I was having nightmares.”

“All I want now is to just get out,” she said.

Rotheimer said she told Porter she wanted a hearing.

“I’m not a person in this case. He gets all the rights,” she said of Silverstein, adding she planned to put out further evidence publicly.

“If she wants to make a no finding, I will show everybody with this evidence that I have that she has but doesn’t know I have,” Rotheimer said. “I’ll make it public and she’ll have to answer to that.”

Reached by phone, Silverstein said he was sent a 26-page report about the case on Thursday.

“I am very grateful that we have an independent Inspector General who saw the facts for what they were,” he said in a statement. “My priorities are now my family and my reelection.”

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 The report shows Porter interviewed 20 people in her investigation, including friends of Rotheimer’s and other legislators. She also reviewed hundreds of Facebook messages the two shared and e-mails supplied by “multiple witnesses.”

Porter writes that Silverstein didn’t engage in sexual harassment in violation of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, which requires there to be “unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature.”

“Silverstein never requested sexual favors from Rotheimer, and there was no conduct of a sexual nature. I also find that Silverstein did not make ‘sexual advances’ to her, welcome or unwelcome,” Porter wrote.

Porter wrote that she reviewed 444 pages of Facebook Messenger exchanges between the two, spanning 17 months.

“The Facebook Messenger exchanges between Silverstein and Rotheimer are more personal in nature,” Porter writes. “The messages … support a finding that Silverstein and Rotheimer regarded each other as friends, sought each other’s approval and continued attention, and developed a more-than-just professional relationship.”

She also noted many of the messages were “flirtatious,” although none were “sexually explicit and there was never any express discussion in the messages about cultivating a romantic relationship.”

And she did not conclude that Silverstein “killed” the bill.

“If anything, it appears that Silverstein — like Rotheimer — was misguided or naive about whether the bill could actually succeed as proposed. He kept going and going because he wanted to help, please and placate Rotheimer,” she wrote.

In explaining why she considered Silverstein’s conduct “unbecoming” of a legislator, Porter writes that “he did not maintain an appropriate professional distance from the proponent of a bill he was sponsoring.”

She writes that Silverstein “should have been much more cautious and conscientious about engaging in these types of teasing and flirtatious communications with someone he knew was depending on him to advance legislation.”

“Legislators are public servants, held to a higher standard,” Porter wrote. “Even the appearance — which Silverstein himself created — that Silverstein felt enamored with a bill proponent and may have used his office to advance or impede legislation as a result is problematic and warrants my finding.”

Porter issued two recommendations: that Silverstein “be counseled by his ethics officer,” and that the report be made public.