Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he hasn’t talked to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, about a 2012 email a lobbyist sent to a former governor's aides referencing a covered-up rape and ghost payroll practices, but Madigan said they have talked.

The email unearthed by WBEZ from former lobbyist Mike McClain to staffers of then-Gov. Pat Quinn advocated for state worker Forrest Ashby, who “kept his mouth shut” about a rape and ghost payroll practices. McClain is a longtime associate of Madigan. Ashby, a longtime state worker, also worked for Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s political campaign. Pritzker addressed questions about Ashby's political work at an event Thursday.

“We had 200 people doing fieldwork in our campaign and they were hired by our field staff to do fieldwork around the state, so no,” Pritzker said. “What I want to know is what is the rape that’s being alleged here. What exactly are the circumstances around that? Is there a cover-up that was done around that and secondly what is this ghost payrolling referencing to?”

A message seeking Ashby’s status with Pritzker’s political campaign was not immediately returned.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, asked Madigan to convene a committee with subpoena power to investigate the claims in the email.

Pritzker said Thursday that he hadn't talked with Quinn about it. He also said he had not talked with Madigan about it.

“No, it’s not his email,” Pritzker said. “What I’m telling you is that immediately upon understanding that this needed to go to an investigatory body, it went to the [Office of the Executive Inspector General] and that is in fact exactly where it ought to go.”

Pritzker said an inspector general will determine if law enforcement needed to get involved.

In a response to Durkin's request for a special House investigation, Madigan said he had talked with Pritzker, who confirmed the issue had been sent to the appropriate authorities. 

“I spoke with the Governor and he confirmed the matter was referred to the appropriate authorities,” Madigan wrote in a letter. “Recognizing the sensitivity of the matter for any potential survivors, any investigation should be handled by the appropriate investigative entities without interference by the General Assembly.”

“We did not realize that ghost payrolling was too sensitive of a topic for the committee to investigate on behalf of Illinois taxpayers,” Durkin spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said.

Durkin sent an email to all Republican House members that said Madigan’s response was “disappointing but not surprising.”

“We live in a world of 'firsts' and this is the first time I have seen Speaker Madigan abdicate his position and hide behind any Governor,” Durkin said. “Please know that we will continue to fight to investigate this disturbing revelation and will do everything we can to restore pride in State government.”

On Wednesday, Madigan issued a statement that said he didn’t know anything about the email until it was reported.

“It should come as no surprise that he didn’t know,” State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, wrote on Twitter.

“Every single thing that’s been revealed has gotten the same response,” Cassidy said. “Not knowing is foundational and fundamental to the entire design of the organization.”

In addition to serving as House Speaker, Madigan is the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Later in the day Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, released a letter he sent to Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly. 

"The emails allege serious criminal offenses including 'the rape in Champaign,' ghost payrolling and a conspiracy to cover up the crimes," the letter says. "You are the lead law enforcement officer in the state of Illinois and I believe the people of Illinois, the victim and the seriousness of this issue demands that your agency conduct a full and thorough investigation. Illinois residents deserve to know that justice will prevail no matter how connected or powerful the wrongdoers." 

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.