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Illinois ag director resigns over response to rape email

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) — Illinois Governor JB Pritzker asked for the resignation of his Agriculture Director, John Sullivan, after learning from investigators that Sullivan knew about an alleged rape cover-up and never reported it, according to a spokesperson for the governor.

Pritzker's spokesperson, Emily Bittner, said the Governor's general counsel discovered the link, and shared all the information she learned from Sullivan with the Office of the Executive Inspector General, and offered to share that information with all law enforcement agencies looking into the situation.

Bittner said the Governor requested Sullivan's resignation because the then-senator became aware of the 2012 email, and did not handle it appropriately.

That email, revealed last week by WBEZ Radio in Chicago, was sent to the then-Governor Pat Quinn administration in 2012, asking for a political favor for state employee and Quincy resident, Forrest Ashby.

Former lawmaker and lobbyist, Mike McClain, requested in the email that Quinn's administration do something about an upcoming disciplinary hearing for Ashby, alleging that Ashby helped cover up a rape in Champaign and ghost payrolling.

"Director Sullivan put together an outstanding team at the Department of Agriculture, and as a result, the Department’s work thrived. However, the Governor holds all state employees to the highest ethical standards." Bittner said.

Sullivan released the following statement Monday afternoon.

This past weekend, Governor Pritzker's General Counsel notified me that an August 2012 email from Mike McClain to Governor Quinn’s staff referenced my name as state senator and McClain’s advocacy on behalf of my constituent, Forrest Ashby.

That information led me to conduct a review of my own personal emails from that same period of time. My search discovered a forwarded copy of McClain’s July 31, 2012 email reported by WBEZ. I shared this information with Governor Pritzker's General Counsel.

The summer of 2012 was a stressful time for me. I was in the middle of a state senate reelection campaign, as well as preparing for and undergoing cancer surgery in Baltimore, Md. I was already well aware of McClain’s efforts to keep me informed of his advocacy on behalf of Ashby, and l simply did not read the entire forwarded email.

Had I read the email thoroughly, my reaction would have been disgust and I would have immediately notified proper authorities. Nevertheless, the email was in my inbox and not reading the entire email led to my failure to immediately respond as I would have.

Bottom Line: I accept responsibility for what was truly an unintentional oversight and the subsequent inaction.

In light of these circumstances, Governor Pritzker asked for and I submitted my resignation as Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture effective immediately.

It has been an honor to serve Illinois and the agriculture industry. I cannot say enough about the outstanding and dedicated employees at the Illinois Department of Agriculture and all they accomplished this last year.

John Sullivan

Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider also released a statement on Monday in response to the news of Sullivan's resignation.

"If a random state legislator like John Sullivan knew about McClain’s email at the time, surely there were others who knew about it and also ‘kept their mouths shut.’ It defies belief that John Sullivan knew of the email and its contents, but Speaker Mike Madigan, a close confidant of the email’s author, knew nothing," Schneider said.

Prior to being sworn in, JB Pritzker announced in December of 2018 that Sullivan would serve as Agriculture Director for his upcoming administration.

Sullivan served as state senator of the 47th district from 2003 to 2016 and as chair of the Senate’s Agriculture and Conservation committee.

Before elected office, Sullivan managed his family-owned auction business that specialized in farm real estate and machinery.

He is a Rushville, Illinois, resident and received his Bachelor of Arts in history from Quincy College, now Quincy University.

Sullivan replaced Raymond Poe.

WGEM

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