The Champaign County State’s Attorney revealed Friday that her office is now working with other state and federal agencies on an investigation into a 2012 email written by a former powerful Springfield lobbyist that referred to an unspecified “rape in Champaign,” WBEZ has learned.
Democratic Champaign State’s Attorney Julia Rietz told WBEZ in an interview Friday afternoon that her office is involved in a “comprehensive investigation” with the Illinois Attorney General, the Illinois State Police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois into the content of the email.
“There are efforts being made to unravel this – again – cryptic, unspecific allegation regarding a sexual assault,” Rietz said.
Rietz would not say whether anyone on the email had been contacted by authorities, and she did not say which agency is taking the lead on the investigation.
“It’s a pending investigation so I don’t really want to go into details about how that’s working or who’s doing what at this point,” Rietz said.
“I’m willing to do what I can with the resources that I have and the support and assistance of the colleagues I’ve contacted to try to address this issue,” she said.
Also Friday, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly acknowledged his agency is working with a state watchdog who’s investigating the email, and said he finds the content of the email “repulsive.”
“As a matter of law and policy, the ISP and Office of the Executive Inspector General (OEIG) coordinate and mutually support investigations and referrals for prosecution. These allegations are no exception,” Kelly wrote in a letter to Senate GOP Leader Bill Brady.
Representatives for the other offices mentioned by Rietz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The email has sent shockwaves through the Illinois political system this week. Its author, Michael McClain, was a longtime statehouse lobbyist who was a close ally and confidante of House Speaker and state Democratic Party boss Michael Madigan.
WBEZ was the first to report this week on the email, which was obtained from Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration in response to an open-records request. In it, McClain writes to then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s aides to seek leniency for a state worker facing discipline. McClain lauded the worker because he “kept his mouth shut” about “ghost workers” and “the rape in Champaign,” though it’s unclear what he was referring to.
Pritzker’s office referred the email to the Office of the Executive Inspector General upon discovering it in response to WBEZ’s open-records request.
News of the multi-agency investigation comes in response to bipartisan calls for criminal probes and legislative hearings. The most recent came early Friday, when Illinois’ GOP Congressional delegation called on Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the content of the email.
“These revelations are extremely troubling and a thorough independent investigation needs to happen immediately,” the statement reads. Congressmen Rodney Davis, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Mike Bost and Darin LaHood wrote the statement to call on Rietz to open a probe hours before she revealed the news to WBEZ.
“If these disturbing allegations, that were revealed this week, are true there’s a victim out there that deserves justice and a criminal that should be prosecuted,” their statement reads.
It’s unclear what McClain is referring to in the email. WBEZ has not been able to verify the facts underlying his statements, including whether a rape occurred, its alleged perpetrator or whether the worker facing discipline – Forrest Ashby – had actual knowledge of the crime, as McClain contended.
In an exclusive interview with WBEZ on Thursday, McClain declined to comment about the email.
No one else on the note has commented to WBEZ. That includes recipients Gary Hannig, Quinn’s legislative affairs liaison, and Jerry Stermer, a top advisor to Quinn. Ashby also has not responded to WBEZ’s requests for comment.
This is a developing story. Check back later for more details.
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.