Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford contended Friday that his opponent, millionaire businessman Bruce Rauner, paid an attorney who demanded $300,000 from him on behalf of a Rutherford employee making allegations against him. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Updated: March 15, 2014 6:41AM
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford ordered a taxpayer-funded investigation, vowing it would clear him of sexual harassment charges. Now, in a monumental about-face, Rutherford won’t release the results.
The office’s decision could mean the issue will continue to dog Rutherford for the remainder of his bid for the GOP gubernatorial primary nod.
Rutherford’s spokeswoman cited pending litigation and the “advice of counsel” as driving the decision, which was first reported Thursday by the Sun-Times.
Rutherford was served with the lawsuit on Thursday, his lawyer said.
“It’s a big distinction now that he’s been served, now the lawsuit is in effect. Now he’s served, he has to now follow the rules,” attorney Peter Andjelkovich said of the decision not to release the report.
“Nothing’s being hidden and no negative inference should be taken. It’s the process. There is a federal lawsuit that has been filed. Under federal rules, we are not supposed to be talking to the whole world about the case; we are supposed to be talking about it in the courtroom.”
Rutherford has already held two news conferences about the allegations and has given multiple media interviews on them — including rebutting portions of the allegations by providing the media with additional text messages and travel vouchers of the accusing employee.
On Thursday, the treasurer’s office said questions should be directed to a private attorney. Andjelkovich would not say whether he was being publicly or privately paid due to “attorney client privilege.”
Rutherford’s decision to keep the report out of public view fails to put to rest questions over whether there was any merit to the harassment allegations or to accusations of political pressure in the state office.
“If the report wasn’t damaging, why wouldn’t he release it?” said former employee Ed Michalowski in an interview with the Sun-Times on Thursday. Michalowski has filed a federal lawsuit charging political intimidation and sexual harassment by Rutherford.
In a Jan. 31 news conference, Rutherford announced he was innocent of allegations lodged by the then-unnamed employee — but he wouldn’t describe the allegations. Instead, he charged that the employee’s attorney called him with a $300,000 demand to settle the matter quietly.
Rutherford said then that he couldn’t wait to detail the allegations and prove his innocence. He authorized the state to pay Ron Braver & Associates $250 an hour for an independent investigation into sexual harassment claims. The probe has included interviewing treasurer employees. The contract has a defined end date of Aug. 4, 2014, according to a copy the Sun-Times obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Rutherford is in a four-way primary race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. He has accused front-runner Bruce Rauner of orchestrating the allegations, however, could not offer proof beyond Rauner’s campaign having once paid Christine Svenson, the attorney representing the ex-employee.
On Monday, Michalowski filed a federal lawsuit leveling explosive charges of sexual harassment. Michalowski said Rutherford made sexual advances, including in April of 2011, charging that Rutherford grabbed the employee’s genitals.
Rutherford rebutted the allegations, saying the man’s timeline didn’t match up to his own accounting for the day in travel receipts.
When pressed on whether the public should be able to vet the results since taxpayers covered the cost, Andjelkovich said the report would become public — in court.
When asked whether that could take years, he said: “I can’t change the process, I wish I could,” Andjelkovich said.
He then suggested there were political overtones to the timing of the sexual harassment allegations against Rutherford since they happened within five weeks of the March 18 primary.
“That seems to be quite suspect. With all due respect … that is suspect. This lawsuit could have been filed six months ago or six months from now,” Andjelkovich told the Sun-Times. Asked if he believed the lawsuit has merit, he answered: “No. I’ve examined the lawsuit carefully.”
Even as Rutherford raised questions about the timing, Michalowski said it was the treasurer who outed the allegations, including singling out his attorney in a news conference. Michalowski said he planned to keep the matter confidential.
“Dan Rutherford thrust us in the public eye,” Michalowski said. “Dan used this opportunity to politick. He took a victim’s statement to politick for himself.”
Meanwhile, one Illinois treasurer employee who gave a statement to the independent investigator is complaining that the office would not release copies of his own statement.
“Even the Warren Commission made copies of witness statements available to witnesses when investigating the assassination of President Kennedy,” the employee wrote to the treasurer’s in-house counsel, according to a letter obtained by the Sun-Times.
“This hardly rises to the level of a grand jury investigation or the Warren Commission. This is also a very stressful time for many of our colleagues in the office. I have no desire to add to that stress by being forced to litigate or make a public request simply for access to a copy of my own statement for my records.”
The treasurer’s office would not comment, referring it to the attorney.
Andjelkovich said he wasn’t aware of that matter but said regardless, all evidence pertaining to the case will no longer be released.
“I’m not aware of any statement,” Andjelkovich said. “Whatever is out there, any evidence whatsoever has to be produced in federal court.”
Contributing: Mitch Dudek