A former Illinois State Police Merit Board employee who was fired by the small state agency in July 2020 for alleged felony theft, forgery and official misconduct has been awarded $71,400 in compensation awards. industrial accident and invalidity after his dismissal.
It is unclear why Jenny Thornley, 41, received the benefits for more than a year on the basis of her sexual assault complaint, even after an independent review by a Chicago consulting firm at the request of the board said the assault likely did not take place.
The case of Thornley, a former Gov. JB Pritzker campaign volunteer who says she was sexually assaulted by her boss, became political in an election year when Pritzker is seeking a second four-year term.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly suggested in a Jan. 4 letter to the Democratic governor and Democratic-led House and Senate leaders that the Pritzker administration had engaged in an “apparent pattern of obstruction to justice” in handling Thornley’s case.
Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, say they received no response to the letter, which asked “all documents” provided to the media by the Merit Board, Governor’s Office and any other agencies involved in the case.
The governor’s press secretary did not respond to Illinois Times’ comment requests for this story.
Thornley’s sexual harassment lawsuit against the board, the state, and former board executive director Jack Garcia is still pending in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Thornley alleged in the lawsuit that she was in Garcia’s office in Springfield reviewing documents on January 23, 2020, when Garcia approached her from behind and “groped” her right breast.
Garcia, 60, of Orland Park, and the merit commission denied Thornely’s allegation. The former state police officer joined the agency in 2017 but left in September 2021 to become director of public safety for the Chicago suburb of Burbank.
Garcia’s lawyers said in court papers that when Thornley learned that Garcia was gathering information about the alleged overtime scam, she “fabricated the most explosive allegations she could come up with, allegations that could spread. throughout state government for the purpose of discrediting, hurting and incapacitating Garcia.”
Thornley was fired July 21, 2020 by the five-member board, which oversees an agency that certifies state police candidates for appointment, certifies soldiers eligible for promotion and disciplines ISP officers.
Thornley was indicted by a Sangamon County grand jury in September for allegedly deceiving the agency in 2019 out of between $10,000 and $100,000 in overtime she never worked. She had an annual salary of $86,556.
A $450,000 internal investigation conducted by the firm McGuireWoods at the request of the Merit Board and completed in July 2020 cast doubt on Thornley’s credibility. The company’s report says that at the time she claimed she was sexually harassed, she was “extremely upset” that the governor’s office had not selected her for similar work at the Washington Emergency Management Agency. Illinois.
McGuireWoods said there was not enough evidence that Garcia sexually assaulted Thornley, but there was enough evidence that she arranged fraudulent overtime payments.
thornley said The state journal register last year she was innocent of criminal charges and formally pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a potential sentence of four to 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Neither she nor her attorney, Carl Draper, would comment. Illinois Time after a January 18 status hearing in the court case, and Draper would not comment on an apparently ongoing state investigation into whether she defrauded workers’ compensation and disability programs. the state.
A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for April 11 while Thornley remains free of his own recognizance.
Former Merit Board program director Emily Fox, who has since replaced Garcia as executive director, complained to the Illinois Governor’s Office of the Executive Inspector General of Agencies in September 2020 that the agency The Governor’s Central Management Services had granted Thornley’s workers’ compensation claim without allowing the Merit Commission to challenge the decision. Thornley first filed the request in February 2020.
In a Dec. 15, 2020, letter, Deputy Inspector General Antoinette Kwateng told Fox that the Merit Board complaint should be handled by the Merit Board rather than the Inspector General, documents show. Illinois Time obtained through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Fox told Garcia in a September 21, 2020 email that CMS head Kevin Richey told Fox that he “has the authority to overturn any case, which he has done in this particular case, because under workers’ compensation laws, the Merit Board wrongfully fired Jenny Thorley.”
Fox told Richey that the board fired Thornley “for cause,” so Thornley did not deserve any workers’ compensation or related disability compensation.
After being dismissed by the Inspector General’s Office, the Merit Board filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Insurance’s Workers’ Compensation Fraud Unit on July 23, 2021. According to an e Fox’s email to Garcia later that month, Insurance Department manager Brad Lucchini called workers’ compensation payments to Thornley a “clear case of fraud.”
The department has opened a criminal investigation, Fox said. A spokeswoman for the Department of Insurance did not respond to questions about the status of the investigation.
The outcome of the CMS ruling meant that Thornley received $63,261 in workers’ compensation from July 21, 2020 to September 7, 2021. The end date was shortly before the grand jury indictment.
Thornley also received $8,140 for the period ‘as a result of a disabling condition related to working with the State Police Merit Board,’ according to a state employee retirement system official responding to an access request. to information.
CMS spokeswoman Cathy Kwiatkowski did not respond to an email asking why it took so long to cut Thornley’s benefits.
SERS paid the $8,140 disability benefit to Thorney under a state-mandated formula that allows state employees with legitimate claims to receive benefits totaling 75% of their regular salary. , said SERS director Tim Blair.
Systems continued to pay the disability portion of the benefit and deferred any investigation into the legitimacy of Thornley’s claim to CMS, he said. Within CMS, “there was some belief that his story was accurate,” Blair said.
The Merit Board told SERS in October 2020 that Thornley’s alleged sexual assault did not take place, but no one sent SERS the full McGuireWoods report, Blair said. The 129-page report “could have influenced our decision”, he said.
Thornley’s benefits were cut as the criminal charge for overtime fraud was imminent as “it became clear there was more to it,” Blair said.
If it is determined that Thornley lied to state officials to obtain his benefits, SERS could reimburse itself for the $8,140 loss by withholding a portion of his future retirement benefits, he said.
Thornley worked for the Merit Board for over seven years. She was a volunteer for the Democratic governor’s first campaign. In 2019, Thornley unsuccessfully presented to the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority Board.
Her relationship with Pritzker raised questions about whether political patronage influenced the involvement of the governor’s office in handling her case.
Former Illinois State Deputy Police Director Jack Garcia is a member of Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s Law Enforcement Advisory Council as part of Irvin’s campaign for the Republican nomination against Pritzker in November.
Garcia’s attorneys, in their written response to Thornley’s federal lawsuit, said Thornley “made thinly veiled threats of political retaliation on behalf of the governor.”
Dean Olsen is senior writer for Illinois Time. He can be contacted at [email protected]