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Sullivan resigns amid email scandalSullivan resigns amid email scandal

An email from an ex-lobbyist forwarded to IDOA Director Sullivan eight years ago caused the Pritzker administration to ask for his resignation.

Austin Keating

January 13, 2020

2 Min Read
JB Pritzker and John Sullivan
RESIGNED: Gov. J.B. Pritzker (left) asked for the resignation of Illinois Director of Agriculture John Sullivan over the weekend.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker asked for Illinois Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan’s resignation over the weekend after learning the director was aware of the contents in a 2012 email when it was sent and didn’t alert the state’s investigator general about its contents.

Sullivan, D-Rushville, was a senator at the time. The email composed and forwarded to Sullivan by ex-lobbyist Michael McClain defends a state worker named Forrest Ashby who lived in his district, asking he be protected from disciplinary action. McClain argued the worker “kept his mouth shut” about an unspecified rape in Champaign and payroll going to “ghost workers” and was loyal to then-Gov. Pat Quinn.

The email resurfaced through a Freedom of Information Act request by NPR Chicago affiliate WBEZ last week. Sullivan tendered his resignation on Pritzker’s request. The former director says 2012 was a stressful time for him between running for reelection and undergoing cancer surgery in Baltimore.

“I was already well aware of McClain’s efforts to keep me informed of his advocacy on behalf of Ashby, and I simply did not read the entire forwarded email,” Sullivan wrote in a statement.

“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.”

Sullivan shared with Pritzker’s general counsel that he found the email in his inbox and that he opened it but didn’t read it fully. He says he takes full responsibility for the “unintentional oversight.” A release from the governor’s office says it shared the information it received from Sullivan with law enforcement in the ongoing investigation of an alleged sexual assault cover-up.

Jeremy Flynn, IDOA chief of staff, is now the acting director for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“The accomplishments over the last year are many, and I know we will continue the mission of the department,” Flynn wrote in a statement. “I appreciate everything you do to serve Illinois’ No. 1 industry.”

About the Author(s)

Austin Keating

Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer

Austin Keating is the newest addition to the Farm Progress editorial team working as an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine. Austin was born and raised in Mattoon and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in journalism. Following graduation in 2016, he worked as a science writer and videographer for the university’s supercomputing center. In June 2018, Austin obtained a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where he was the campus correspondent for Planet Forward and a Comer scholar.

Austin is passionate about distilling agricultural science as a service for readers and creating engaging content for viewers. During his time at UI, he won two best feature story awards from the student organization JAMS — Journalism Advertising and Media Students — as well as a best news story award.

Austin lives in Charleston. He can sometimes be found at his family’s restaurant the Alamo Steakhouse and Saloon in Mattoon, or on the Embarrass River kayaking. Austin is also a 3D printing and modeling hobbyist.

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