Legislative panel to subpoena key figures in Quinn program

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A legislative panel on Monday voted to issue a series of subpoenas to Gov. Pat Quinn’s inner circle — including his onetime chief of staff and two cabinet members — as an inquiry into a derelict anti-violence program that he launched broadens.

A subcommittee of the Legislative Audit Commission took two votes, both 4-0, in favor of sending subpoenas to a total of seven top-tier Quinn administration associates. Those subpoenas order their testimony in the midst of a high stakes, highly volatile re-election campaign.

It was the first time in 33 years that the commission exercised its subpoena powers, lawmakers said.

“This [subpoena] is an extraordinary tool that should only be used in extraordinary circumstances like this,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, who co-chairs the commission. “This is over a hundred million dollars — taxpayer dollars — for which we do not know yet today whether we even had an effect on preventing violence in the communities that were targeted.”

The proposition of assembling Quinn’s top people and trotting them out to answer questions about a troubled program, which has been the subject of a scathing audit and a series of unflattering headlines, sets the stage for an ugly summer for Quinn as he intensifies his campaign against his well-funded Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner.

Under scrutiny is Quinn’s now-scrapped Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a $54 million anti-violence program he launched just before the 2010 gubernatorial election against Republican Bill Brady. The program is under federal investigation and Cook County prosecutors are looking into an aspect of it as well.

The panel moved to subpoena Barbara Shaw, the former director of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority. Quinn and fellow Democrats have portrayed the Violence Prevention Authority as a now-defunct agency that did a poor job of overseeing the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

The authority was disbanded in late 2012, and its functions were folded into the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Shaw’s attorney, John Theis, said late Monday he had not yet seen the subpoena.

“We’re certainly going to review the subpoena,” he said, adding that her testimony is “the likely result, that’s still true.”

Theis, however, was cautious.

“We’ve got these other investigations going on out there. I have to make sure that whatever happens is the right thing not only for the audit commission but for my client,” he said. “We know that there is an investigation going on because of actions they have taken.” Theis would not comment on whether Shaw had been subpoenaed or had spoken to authorities.

Also on the subpoena list: former Chief of Staff Jack Lavin, who is now a lobbyist; Toni Irving, former deputy chief of staff; Malcolm Weems, head of the Central Management Systems under Quinn; Warren Ribley, former director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; Andy Ross, top aide to Ribley; and senior adviser Bill Ocasio.

The big caveat coming with the subpoenas: Democrats wanted a quick-fire hearing at which the seven would be questioned over two days, July 16 and 17. Republicans reluctantly agreed but warned it was unlikely they would get through seven people in two days. If they run out of time, there will be another vote to issue new subpoenas.

On Monday, a political tug-of-war played out during the Chicago hearing, where lawmakers on the subcommittee, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, accused one another of allowing politics to dictate their actions. Democrats warned they would not allow Republicans to drag out the hearings so they could dominate headlines in the run-up to the November election. Republicans in turn warned they did not want a rush job in which witnesses don’t fully answer their questions.

State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, repeatedly asked Republicans about their “endgame,” saying that the anti-violence program already had been eliminated and a bill mandating greater oversight on state grants had passed both houses.

Rita questioned whether Republicans’ intent was really to get to the truth or are they just “playing politics?”

Quinn said he launched the anti-violence program in 2010 to target high-crime areas in the city. Opponents have likened it to a “political slush fund,” charging it was a way to get out the vote in critical Cook County neighborhoods before the election.

On Monday, Quinn told reporters that combating gun violence remained “a serious cause to me.” After he was pressed about Monday’s vote, Quinn said lawmakers “should do what they think is right” when it comes to whether the subpoena should be issued.

Contributing: Jon Seidel

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