Feds looking at Quinn anti-violence program

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Heat surrounding Gov. Pat Quinn’s embattled $54 million anti-violence initiative intensified on Thursday after the disclosure that federal authorities have shown interest in how money flowed in and out of the program.

Sources with knowledge of the inquiry said investigators asked for vendor information, copies of contracts and copies of signed checks tied to the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office out of the Central District of Illinois asked the Illinois State Comptroller’s office to turn over payment information from the NRI, which Quinn launched in 2010.

“I can’t disclose the nature of the request from law enforcement, it’s a legal issue,” Comptroller spokesman Brad Hahn said. “In keeping with the attorney general’s interpretation of FOIA, I can confirm we’ve been contacted by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Hahn added: “The information was provided.”

News of the federal inquiry was first reported on the Chicago Sun-Times political portal Early & Often. It comes on the heels of the revelation earlier this month that a criminal grand jury subpoena was looking into part of the same program.

The request was made on March 27 by phone, Hahn said. Hahn would not specify who made the call, but sources say the inquiry stems from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of Illinois.

Quinn’s office on Thursday welcomed the scrutiny.

“If there is an inquiry, we fully support it,” said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. “We have zero tolerance for any mismanagement at any state agency. That’s why the governor abolished this agency nearly two years ago.”

The U.S. Central District of Illinois is the same office that Republicans had asked to look at the program, which they dubbed a “political slush fund.” It’s also the same office that has charged other grant fraud cases, including that of Regina Evans, who was sentenced to five years on Thursday.

The Quinn administration has pointed to the audit that says no money was paid out before the 2010 election and questions how it could be political if no money had been dispensed before then.

Quinn’s embattled anti-violence program has been under attack since scathing audit slammed it in February. The Sun-Times has since reported some incidents in which those with political connections received some of the money.

Under a separate request, the Quinn administration on Tuesday turned over 1,000 documents pertaining to the program to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez following a subpoena from her office. 

The request was issued to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity on March 19 and sought records tied to the program — including those for the Chicago Area Project, a program with ties to Benton Cook III, the husband of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown. 

In a written response to the Sun-Times this week, a Brown spokeswoman said: “Clerk Brown believes that neither she nor her husband were involved in any wrongdoing.”

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