ISBE Executive Director Steve Sandvoss

Illinois State Board of Elections Executive Director Steve Sandvoss in August 2018. 

(The Center Square) – Illinois State Police are investigating after the State Board of Elections put its executive director on paid leave when he revealed he was the target of an attempted extortion scheme, but the agency said it can't release any information about its investigation.

On April 5, the Illinois State Board of Elections announced it had put Executive Director Steve Sandvoss on paid leave "after he reported being the victim of an online extortion attempt last week," the board said in a statement.

The Center Square filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Illinois State Police seeking records related to the reported extortion attempt. The agency denied the request and declined to release any documents related to the case, including basic information such as who reported the extortion attempt. 

Police officials said releasing information about the case could interfere with the agency's investigation. 

In response to the records request, ISP Division of Criminal Investigation Lt. Jason Garthaus said that release of any information would be premature.

"The Illinois State Police investigation was initiated on 03/30/21 after the case was referred to the ISP," Garthaus wrote. "Witnesses are still being interviewed, evidence is still being collected and evaluated, and reports are still being completed. It is anticipated there may be additional evidence that needs to be gathered as the case progresses. ... Releasing the information now could allow involved parties to destroy potential evidence before it is collected, thereby obstructing the ongoing criminal investigation."

Garthaus also said releasing information about the matter could affect the victim, hamper further evidence collection, make it impossible for a fair trial and be an invasion of privacy.  

"Since this case has received statewide media attention, the premature release of documents and evidence would deprive potential defendant(s) of a fair trial as the jury pool may be tainted by viewing evidence ahead of court proceedings," he wrote. "Due to the nature of the crime committed, the release of case information would cause an invasion of the victim's privacy and taint a jury pool, thus preventing future defendants, if any, from receiving a fair trial."

Assistant Executive Director Bernadette Matthew assumed the top job at the agency after Sandvoss was put on leave. The board said it ordered the agency’s chief information security officer to fully cooperate with law enforcement investigating the matter and to assess all devices Sandvoss may have used.

On Monday afternoon, the Illinois State Board of Elections held a special board meeting that included an executive session. Public Information Officer Matt Dietrich said the board had taken no action as of 4:30 p.m. Monday.

ISBE oversees elections in Illinois, although each election jurisdiction runs its own operations.

Regional Editor

Brett Rowland has worked as a reporter in newsrooms in Illinois and Wisconsin. He most recently served as news editor of the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Illinois. He previously held the same position at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb.