Madigan won’t punish ex-parole agents accused of leak embarrassing Quinn
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfield Bureau Chief email@example.com June 22, 2012 8:46PM
Gov. Pat Quinn
Updated: July 24, 2012 9:53AM
SPRINGFIELD — The state’s top ethics czar Friday recommended sanctions against two former parole agents for allegedly leaking information to a journalist about violent inmates set free under Gov. Pat Quinn’s politically embarrassing early-release program, but Attorney General Lisa Madigan is refusing to punish the men.
Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza, a Quinn appointee, accused Daniel Reardon and James Crane of having “impermissibly accessed and disclosed confidential parolee data” about seven released inmates to an Associated Press reporter sometime in late 2009 or early 2010.
That’s when the questions began surfacing about a secret Department of Corrections policy shift that led to the release of inmates — including some who were violent — weeks or even days after being imprisoned.
Quinn pulled the plug on the program entirely when it mushroomed into a politically damaging issue that threatened to derail his primary campaign for governor against Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes in the spring of 2010.
In an odd bit of political timing Friday, Quinn signed a bill reinstating a revamped version of the early-release program he scrapped. The law would still permit inmates to leave prison early for good conduct. But it would give wardens new authority to keep violent prisoners from gaining early release while preserving a 60-day minimum sentence. Supporters said it will help reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons.
Meza’s heavily redacted report also accused Reardon and Crane of being “non-cooperative” with the inspector general’s probe and for engaging “in conduct that reflected unfavorably upon” the Illinois Department of Corrections. Meza turned the matter over to Madigan’s office to potentially pursue fines of up to $5,000 against the pair.
But Madigan’s top deputy, chief of staff Ann Spillane, told the Sun-Times Friday that the ethics inquiry at her office is closed.
“The allegations of failure to cooperate with the Office of Executive Inspector General, which is a [state] Ethics Act violation, are based on the allegation these gentlemen weren’t truthful,” Spillane said. “We didn’t find evidence to support that allegation.”
Reardon reacted angrily to Meza’s findings, which he attributed to a “political witch hunt” from within the governor’s office aimed at punishing the now-retired parole agents. Crane could not be reached.
“I think Quinn put out the order to do this. That would be my guess,” Reardon told the Sun-Times. “I have no way of proving what goes on in the governor’s office, but he received a black eye in the press with this, and by golly somebody had to pay for it. I guess I’m the one.”
Reardon, a former union steward for AFSCME Council 31, had been critical of the governor’s early-release program from its onset.
A spokeswoman for Quinn denied Reardon’s charge of a vendetta and said state law forbids anyone from revealing who initiated the ethics complaint against Reardon and Crane. A Meza spokesman declined to identify the complainant.
“Such allegations are completely false,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. “The independent OEIG report speaks for itself.”
A First Amendment lawyer described Meza’s investigation as an assault on whistleblowers that could have a chilling effect.
“It’s amazing to me that this is the worst they can find to investigate. This has the smell of, ‘Let’s make sure nobody else opens up and talks,’” said Springfield attorney Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Press Association.
He added: “God forbid, we’d have people actually telling the truth about bad programs in state government in this open, honest, transparent Quinn administration.”