A downstate grand jury has issued at least two more subpoenas to government agencies in the criminal investigation into the state’s mishandling of deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at an Illinois veterans’ home, WBEZ has learned.
The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which oversees the Quincy home, and the Adams County Health Department both received criminal subpoenas from the grand jury in August, signaling the probe which began a year ago is not only active, but also may be intensifying.
But Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office, which is investigating the outbreaks, asked a judge to order that the agencies keep the documents secret because their disclosure “would greatly impede the investigation.”
Downstate Adams County is where the state-run Quincy veterans’ home is located. That’s where 14 residents’ deaths and dozens of illnesses have been linked to multiple Legionnaires’ outbreaks since 2015.
Evidence that Raoul’s criminal probe is advancing first came late last month, when WBEZ obtained a subpoena sent to the Illinois Department of Public Health from the grand jury. That was the first indication Raoul is focusing on whether something criminal happened in how the state addressed the outbreaks.
But that subpoena was given to WBEZ as part of an open-records request despite an Adams County judge’s order that subpoenas related to the attorney general’s criminal investigation remain sealed.
“While IDPH was focused on the need to be transparent and provide full disclosure pursuant to the FOIA request, the agency mistakenly overlooked the court order and disclosed the subpoena,” IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said in a statement.
The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs provided WBEZ with a copy of Judge Scott Larson’s Aug. 22 non-disclosure order. That order acknowledges the Adams County grand jury issued a subpoena to the state agency, but that the contents of the subpoena remain sealed. The investigation is “in its initial stages,” the order states.
A Raoul spokeswoman did not elaborate when asked how releasing the subpoenas would impede the office’s investigation.
The criminal probe into the fatal public health crisis began last year, following a WBEZ investigation into the state’s mishandling of the repeated outbreaks. It found state officials under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner waited six days to notify the public about the deadly 2015 outbreak. It also showed the governor's office repeatedly overruled its own top experts in order to control and constrict what information was made public.
The August subpoena to the state’s public health department sought records focusing, in part, on the errant release of stagnant water into the facility’s hot water system.It asked for a series of documents pertaining to the mistaken discharge of what a former state public health official characterized as a “broth of Legionella” – a mistake that may have caused the first deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak in 2015.The public health subpoena also sought information about the state’s delay in installing special faucet filters, which were first recommended in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but were not used until 2018.It’s not yet clear whether the Adams County grand jury subpoenaed anyone else.
A spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is now led by former IDPH director Nirav Shah, did not respond to WBEZ’s questions about whether Shah personally was served a subpoena.
Neither did a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, where former IDVA Director Erica Jeffries went to work went she resigned her position with the state last year.No one has been charged with wrongdoing.Last year, then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan oversaw subpoenas for a broad list of documents from Rauner’s office. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s office says it was not subpoenaed in August.