The more we learn about the Jenny Thornley affair, the more it appears that senior members of the Pritzker administration, including potentially the governor and his wife, may have facilitated a fraud on the state by a now-indicted former campaign aide to enrich her and then obstructed efforts to bring her to justice.
This is a tangled web, so stay with me as I set forth a timeline of events and characters, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The former executive director of the Illinois State Police Merit Board, Jack Garcia, discovered evidence that one of the employees under his direction, Jenny Thornley, was stealing money from the people of the state
Garcia is a well-known, skilled investigator who previously supervised the divisions of internal investigations and forensic services, before becoming the first deputy director of the Illinois State Police. Thornley was a campaign aide for Gov. J.B. Pritzker (her husband, Jared, was also a senior political appointee at the Illinois comptroller’s office) and close enough to Pritzker and his wife, M.K., that she had their personal telephone numbers.
After assembling the evidence and building the case, Garcia scheduled meetings to fire Thornley and refer her for prosecution on the morning of Feb. 3, 2020. However, on the eve of that day, Thornley contacted (at least) the governor's wife (pictured, at left) and asked her to intervene, alleging that Garcia had assaulted her sexually a week or so earlier.
The governor’s chief counsel promptly called the merit board (which is an independent agency created “to remove political influence” from State Police hiring, promotion and discipline) to “advise” it to: (a) cancel her firing and the referral for prosecution, (b) suspend Garcia (the experienced investigator who uncovered the Thornley fraud) and (c) retain an outside counsel proposed by the governor’s office. The merit board went along, but also suspended Thornley, and Garcia voluntarily took and passed a lie detector test.
Then Thornley sued to stop the investigation of her own claim of sexual harassment.
The outside counsel, Christina Egan, nonetheless completed an investigation by July 2020 (at the cost of $500,000 paid by the people of Illinois), confirming the evidence Garcia assembled that Thornley had stolen money and committed forgery, and finding no evidence of Thornley’s sexual assault allegation. The State Police Merit Board then reinstated Garcia, fired Thornley, referred her for prosecution. She has now been indicted for theft and forgery.
However, after Thornley was fired, someone with clout in the Pritzker administration somehow granted her disability payments reserved for people that are actually state employees. These payments (amounting to some $71,000) went on for more than a year, ending days before she was indicted for theft and fraud. These extensive payments were for “injuries'' sustained from an “assault” that Egan determined had not occurred.
From the Tribune: “The merit board unsuccessfully called on the executive inspector general to investigate Thornley’s workers’ comp claim and then turned to anti-fraud investigators at the Illinois Department of Insurance. Brad Lucchini, assistant deputy director of the agency’s fraud unit, called the Thornley matter a ‘clear case of fraud,’ according to a July 27 memo to Garcia written by Emily Fox, the merit board’s program director.” But, apparently the investigators did nothing.
Indeed, no one did anything about Thornley’s disability payments until days before another agency (outside the Pritzker Administration’s control) indicted her in September 2021.
In the meantime, someone in the Pritzker administration worked with Democrat members in the legislature to insert — in the middle of the night, moments before it was passed – a provision into legislation to fire Jack Garcia. He was actually fired by the Democrat-controlled Illinois legislature!
Then, just a few weeks ago after Thornley was indicted, the administration removed two members of the five-member merit board, including the chairman who oversaw much of this investigation and who had been appointed by Pritzker himself in 2019.
This fact pattern raises numerous questions with respect to theft and fraud perpetrated on the people of Illinois and an apparent pattern of obstruction of justice.
1) Who effectuated Thornley’s enrollment in the disability program over the objections of the merit board — and on whose orders did that person or persons act?
2) Why did the inspector general refuse to look into this blatant abuse? What role has the attorney general played — what were his or his staff’s communications with the governor and his staff?
3) What did the governor, Mrs. Pritzker and their staff do, and when did they do it, to help Jenny Thornley? Did they continue to protect her even after Egan's independent investigation affirmed the evidence of her theft and forgery?
4) What did the administration know about the evidence assembled by Garcia that has led to Thornley’s indictment before it intervened on her behalf over Super Bowl weekend in 2020? Was any of this information considered, along with the timing of the claim, before intervening to stop her from being fired and being immediately referred for prosecution?
The Tribune story also puts a further gloss on the curious late-night insertion of language in a legislative bill to cause the dismissal of the distinguished Jack Garcia from his position at the merit board, as well as the dismissal in October of the merit board chairman who oversaw the investigation into these matters. Is this a campaign of retribution against fraud fighters?
This smells like another episode in Illinois' unfortunately long history of political corruption and shenanigans.
Did high government officials actively facilitate and participate in obstruction of justice and fraud by and with Thornley, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars? Did Democrat legislators participate, wittingly or unwittingly, in a Pritzker campaign to “get” fraud fighters because they uncovered and pursued fraud by someone close to the first family?
The people have a right to know.
Don Tracy is a lawyer in Springfield, IL., and chairman of the Illinois Republican Party.