Ethics panel raps state fair directors for beer ticket freebies

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SPRINGFIELD — Accepting free beer and being the one ultimately in charge of the beer tent at either of Illinois’ two state fairs don’t mix.

That was the conclusion of the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, which Monday announced fines against the current and former managers of the Illinois State Fair and DuQuoin State Fair for breaching the Illinois gift ban.

A probe by state Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza’s office found that State Fair Director Amy Bliefnick sought and accepted at least $540 in free beer tickets during the 2012 State Fair from the vendor in charge of selling beer to fairgoers.

Bliefnick accepted at least 120 beer tickets from the vendor and disbursed them to “senior [Illinois Department of Agriculture] officers, members of her own staff, State Fair volunteers and fair patrons,” according to the report released Monday by the ethics commission.

The commission found that Bliefnick, by accepting the free tickets, violated the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and was suspended without pay for two days by Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration. Besides the loss of $754 in pay, the commission imposed a $1,000 fine on her.

Following the release of Meza’s findings, Bliefnick said she had “learned a valuable lesson.”

“As is noted in the report, as State Fair manager, I accepted the tickets for distribution only to promote the fair,” she said in a prepared statement. This practice will no longer continue at the fair. I learned a valuable lesson and look forward to a great State Fair this year.”

The fine levied against Bliefnick’s one-time counterpart in far Downstate DuQuoin was harsher.

Former DuQuoin State Fair director John Rednour, Jr., was hit with a $5,000 fine after the commission found that in 2012 he had asked the beer vendor at his event for a ‘free ‘roll or two’ of DuQuoin fair beer tickets” valued at between $4,000 and $8,000.

Rednour left his state job running the DuQuoin fair earlier this year and agreed not to seek or accept state employment for five years.

He is the son of the late John Rednour, Sr., a longtime mayor of DuQuoin, banker and political powerbroker in far southern Illinois who donated $45,000 to the political fund of impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Rednour Sr. died last December.

John Rednour Jr. could not be reached Monday.

“The Ethics Act sets clear standards for what state employees may solicit and what they may not solicit or accept,” said Laura Bautista, a deputy of Meza who oversees the executive inspector general’s Springfield division.

“It is illegal to solicit or accept gifts of a certain value from a vendor, and our investigation revealed that both state employees violated the law in this regard,” she said in a prepared statement.

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