The war of words heated up Wednesday between a Chicago alderman known for his belief in open government and the ex-employee who says she was paid hush money to keep quiet about political work in a city office.
The lawmaker, Ald. Joe Moore (49th), insists he is the victim of a witch hunt conducted by a showboating inspector general who he says never bothered to interview him, depending only on the testimony of a "disgruntled" former employee.
That woman, Anne Sullivan, says she was fired by Moore four years ago after she raised questions about continuing political work being performed in his aldermanic office. She was paid three and a half months salary that she says came with a caveat that she keep quiet about the allegations.
Inspector general Faisal Khan said there is no statute allowing for severance pay, and that Sullivan had effectively been a ghost payroller, with Moore’s blessing.
"I was like, 'Joe, I was watching your back,'" Sullivan said, insisting she was shocked when she was fired after raising the allegations. To prove her point, the former aldermanic employee provided an email she said she sent to Moore at the time, warning him of the political work she saw taking place.
"I just helped our intern with a constituent issue," she wrote Moore in November of 2009. "And found our volunteer at the front desk putting mailing labels on a big flyer for Toni Preckwinkle."
"This really concerns me," she continued. "I fear that one day we’ll have a reporter at that front door, and THEN what? ... You don’t need a scandal over something so completely avoidable!"
Moore insists he fired Sullivan because she was a "toxic influence" in his office.
"I only had four people at the time," he said Wednesday. "She did not play well with others."
Asked why he paid her such a large sum when she left, Moore said he felt he owed her the money, and that it was an act of compassion.
"Despite her failings, she worked very long hours," he said. "I would never do anything intentionally that violated the law."
The Legislative Inspector General’s office declared there was no provision in the city codes for employees to be paid severance.
"[Sullivan] continued to get full time salary and full time benefits," said Kelly Tarrant, Khan’s chief of staff. "That’s ghost payrolling."
The report found that a former chief of staff in Moore’s office had also benefitted from similar largesse two years before Sullivan. Khan demanded that Moore repay the city more than $22,000.
"Heck no," said Moore, asking why the inspector general’s office never allowed him to provide his version of the episode.
"If someone accuses you of wrongdoing, before they reach any conclusion about whether you did anything wrong, you should be given the opportunity to present your side of the case," he said. "We should not be treated as punching bags by an inspector general who is trying to justify his salary."
Tarrant, from the IG’s office, said the matter was turned over to the FBI when they learned that the statute of limitations on the matter had expired. She said the inspector general merely incorporated the FBI’s interview with Moore when they issued their own report.
As for Sullivan, she said she "felt sorry" for Moore, who she said she had considered a friend. But at the same time, she said she had a panic attack when she realized she had effectively been a ghost payroller in his office, and that that was the reason she had contacted authorities.
"I felt trapped, because I felt like I had been set up," she said. "Like I had been involved in something illegal, and given no choice but to take it."