Federal prosecutor renews request to delay NRI testimony

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SPRINGFIELD —The U.S. attorney overseeing a probe of Gov. Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program ramped up the pressure Tuesday on a legislative panel to steer clear of calling any potential criminal witnesses to testify.

U.S. Attorney James A. Lewis wrote the co-chairs of the Legislative Audit Commission to reiterate a request made last week of the panel from an aide to Attorney General Eric Holder not to seek testimony for 90 days from any of seven subpoenaed witnesses involved in the rollout and implementation of the $54.5 million program. The witnesses are all former members of Quinn’s inner circle.

The bi-partisan, 12-member panel is scheduled to start a two-day hearing Wednesday in Chicago.

“The assistant attorney general made that request to the commission on behalf of the Department of Justice and our office because we are conducting an ongoing criminal investigation as to conduct associated with NRI,” Lewis said.

RELATED: LIVE BLOG: Commission debates hearing witness testimony on NRI Five things to know about the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative

The request was made, he said, “because we are genuinely concerned that interviews and testimony about the matter during this 90-day time period would pose several substantial risks to our ongoing criminal investigation.

“We recognize and appreciate the importance of the commission’s work. For that reason, we have asked only for the deference that we believe is necessary to avoid interference with our investigation,” Lewis said.

Even on the eve of the hearing, it’s still unclear exactly how the audit commission intends to proceed.

Neither Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, nor Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, the co-chairs of the panel, returned phone calls Tuesday.

But a joint statement from the six Republican members of the audit commission made clear they expect all of the subpoenaed witnesses to show up, even if it’s still uncertain whether the commission will honor Lewis’ request.

“The bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Audit Commission will consider the U.S. attorney and Department of Justice request at the public hearing,” according to a joint statement issued by the GOP members. “The Legislative Audit Commission will convene as planned. All witnesses – including those subpoenaed — are expected to attend as scheduled.”

An attorney for one of the star witnesses, former Illinois Violence Prevention Authority executive director Barbara Shaw, said he and his client have not been given any indication of what to expect Wednesday.

Shaw’s lawyer, John Theis, would not say whether she would answer questions before the committee or assert her 5th Amendment rights.

“At this point, we’re not going to comment because we’re speculating as to whether they’ll go ahead,” Theis said. “I’m not going to assume anything on the part of the commission.”

U.S Attorney letter to lawmakers

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