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Federal probe of Quinn's anti-violence program

Published: Thursday, May 1, 2014 4:58 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) — Federal prosecutors have asked for information related to Gov. Pat Quinn's troubled anti-violence program which has also been the subject of a scathing state auditor's report and a probe by the Cook County state's attorney.

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's spokesman Brad Hahn confirmed Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice called the office in March to ask for details related to the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative Program and information was turned over. He declined to give further details.

"It's a legal matter," he said. "We can't comment."

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Quinn's office hadn't been contacted by federal officials.

"If there is an inquiry, we fully support it," she said in an emailed statement. "We have zero tolerance for any mismanagement at any state agency."

Word of the new probe comes as Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, is facing a tough re-election challenge from Republican Bruce Rauner. The businessman has blasted Quinn over the allegations of mismanagement along with a recent federal complaint's claims of improper hiring at Quinn's Department of Transportation. Quinn has said he moved swiftly to correct the transportation department problems.

The details of what federal officials were seeking about the program haven't been made public. The comptroller's office pays the bills for the state.

Despite Illinois' history of state officeholders under federal investigation — both of Quinn's predecessors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich were sentenced to prison on corruption charges — experts warned of jumping to conclusions with the federal involvement.

"It's certainly not routine, but you also can't assume that an indictment is forthcoming," said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor and head of the Chicago office of the investigation firm Kroll. "In this state there's a heightened sensitivity anytime the governor's office or any state agency is receiving subpoenas or requests from prosecutors."

A message left Thursday for the U.S. attorney's office in Springfield wasn't immediately returned. A spokesman for the Chicago office declined comment.

The anti-violence program — which Quinn started in October 2010 to offer community-based job training among other things — had issues from the start.

Quinn launched it shortly before the November election after local pastors asked him to help fight street violence in Chicago, though critics called it an attempt to shore up votes ahead of a competitive race where he won by a slim margin.

Earlier this year, a state auditor's report this year outlined "pervasive deficiencies" in implementing the $55 million anti-violence program and questioned expenditures by service providers. This week Quinn's administration confirmed that the Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office subpoenaed records from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which oversees community grants.

Spokesman Dave Roeder said more than 1,000 pages were turned over. He said Thursday that the office hadn't been contacted by federal officials.

Quinn has defended his motives in starting the program, saying that no money was given for it until after the election and that it was an effort to address one of Chicago's most difficult problems. He said issues in the program were addressed ahead of the auditor's report, including disbanding the agency that oversaw it.

Quinn didn't take questions Thursday after an unrelated event in Springfield.

"I identified problems myself," he told reporters Wednesday when asked about the Cook County probe. "Our government saw that that particular program needed fundamental overhaul, we abolished the agency."

Rauner has tried to connect Quinn to his predecessors.

"This is a sad event that the people of Illinois have seen too many times," Rauner said in an emailed statement. "The people deserve better than to have yet another governor under federal investigation."

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Associated Press writer Kerry Lester contributed to this report from Springfield, Illinois.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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