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Madigan challenger files suit, claiming election shenanigans

22nd District Democratic State Representative candidate Jason Gonzales outside a polling station on election day in March. Along with his signs are anti-Gonzales signs highlighting his criminal record. The business consultant was pardoned in 2015 for his 1991 conviction in Lake County for unlawful use of a credit card at age 17.
| James Foster/For the Sun-Times

A Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in the March primary vowed to fight against the powerful speaker and the “machine” on Monday, filing a federal lawsuit alleging a series of fraudulent election shenanigans.

Jason Gonzales claims in the suit filed Monday that Madigan and friends staged a dirty election by painting Gonzales as a “convicted felon” in political ads, planted his own supporters at polling places and registered two “fake” candidates to “dilute” the Hispanic vote in the predominantly Hispanic 22nd District.

“The case that we have filed against Speaker Madigan is based on fraudulent conduct — fraud, individual fraud — on Speaker Madigan’s part, fraud in getting others to conspire with him to commit additional acts of fraud to dilute the vote, to hoodwink the voters of the 22nd District, to win an election at all costs,” Gonzales’ attorney, Tony Peraica, a former Cook County commissioner, said.

And as Gonzales and Peraica sought to plead their case before reporters at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, two men began shouting: “Who in the governor’s office’s staff is helping you out on the lawsuit?” and later, “six criminal convictions.”

“Madigan minions are here,” Peraica said. “So I apologize for the disturbances.”

The interruptions — from two men who said they were from an Evanston radio station — prompted Gonzales to publicly distance himself from Rauner once again: “I’ve never met Governor Rauner. I’ve never asked him for anything. I am not a plant of Gov. Rauner.”

Gonzales also reiterated that he received campaign contributions from Rauner supporters who were contributing to Democrats during the primary.

At issue during the campaign was Gonzales’ teen criminal record, which was expunged and pardoned in 2015 by Gov. Pat Quinn. Gonzales spent two months in jail for the unlawful use of credit cards in 1991.

Gonzales, a Democrat who secured the backing of many Republicans and Rauner supporters and raised more than $100,000 for his campaign, drew 27 percent of the vote in the March primary election. Madigan had 65 percent.

But according to the suit, Madigan “tainted the pool of voters with the message that Gonzales was a convicted felon in television commercials, internet commercials, mailers, yard signs, [and with] in-person encounters with potential voters.”

“I knew that this battle was going to be a uphill battle when I started. I knew it was going to be tough. I knew Speaker Madigan was going to play dirty, but I had no idea that he was going to come and use fraudulent, dirty and illegal tactics to win a race,” Gonzales said Monday.

“This stuff has got to stop. These fraudulent illegal tactics have got to stop. We have to stand up. We have to stand united against the machine when they do these kinds of things, and we have to keep fighting,” Gonzales said.

RELATED: Brown: Madigan attacks on Gonzales brutal—i.e., Chicago politics

Throughout the campaign, Gonzales maintained that he and Madigan were the only candidates on the ballot until he submitted his paperwork just minutes ahead of the filing deadline, allegedly prompting a Madigan operative to quickly pull out petitions in Grasiela Rodriguez’ and Joe Barbosa’s names.

“We know a phony ghost candidate when we see one,” Peraica said. “And I’ve seen plenty. These two are it. And Speaker Madigan knew it. He allowed it. He promoted it.”

The suit claims Madigan aides and supporters “interfered with the voting rights of Hispanics including Gonzales by diluting the Hispanic vote by registering two fake candidates with Hispanic surnames minutes after Gonzales filed his nominating petition.”

Gonzales, a high school dropout who went on to receive degrees from Duke, MIT and Harvard, grew up in Carpentersville but moved into the Southwest Side 22nd District two years ago.

The suit also alleges that state Rep. Silvana Tabares, D-Chicago, went to early voting polling places and told voters not to vote for Gonzales because he was a convicted felon.

Madigan, Friends of Michael J. Madigan, the 13th Ward Democratic Organization, Prisoner Review Board, Shaw Decremer, Tabares, Ray Hanania, Joe Barbosa and Grasiela Rodriguez are listed as defendants in the 38-count suit.

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney fees. It also seeks temporary and permanent injunction from “further engaging in the foregoing conduct.”

Madigan issued a statement calling the lawsuit without merit because Gonzales himself discussed his criminal record “many times during the campaign.”

“Gonzales’ losing campaign against me last spring was funded with more than $1 million from supporters and allies of Governor Bruce Rauner,” Madigan’s statement continued. “Voters of my district soundly renominated me based on my strong record of service, giving me more than 65 percent of the vote, and they emphatically rejected Jason Gonzales because they knew he couldn’t be trusted.”