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.”