Earlier this week the Illinois Policy Institute began looking into the alleged felony record of Illinois State Representative Robert Rita.
Rita (D-28th) was allegedly convicted in 1991 of DUI and bribery in Nevada, according to documents recieved by the IPI through an unnamed whistle-blower (.pdf). (Ward Room has not vetted the original documents out of Nevada. The IPI provided Ward Room with a copy of a police report from Rita's alleged arrest which it claims to be authentic.)
The five-term Blue Island Democrat has declined to speak on the record about the incident or his eligibility for office. When Ward Room called his office, Rita's secretary directed us to Steve Brown, the spokesman for Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.
Brown said the IPI is way off the mark on its investigation.
"They're wrong on the facts and they're wrong on Illinois law," Brown said.
Brown, citing Illinois statutes, said an legislator's eligibility can be restored under the law once he has completed his sentence for the felony conviction. Furthermore, he said Rita's conviction was for a misdemeanor and that his file was sealed.
"I believe the file is a sealed file," said Brown. "This group could be at risk for circulating these documents."
Ward Room asked Brown to provide a copy of the misdemeanor report.
"I have not gotten the authorization to forward you that document," he responded.
IPI CEO John Tillman said his organization stands by the documents and their investigation.
"They should look at the contemporaneous reporting at the time Rita first ran for office," Tillman said. "It makes it crystal clear that the charge was a felony for bribery. Second, the documents we have posted on our website say felony."
Tillman went on to suggest there may be political motivation behind Madigan throwing up a defense for Rita.
"I think it's interesting that Speaker Madigan, who has invested $60,000 in campaign money in Rita over the years is making threats and acts of intimidation on a whistle-blower who provided documents that Rita served time for felony," Tillman said.
When asked why we were directed to a Madigan spokesman to answer our questions about Rita, Brown said he gets called in when "there's muck flying."
The Illinois Attorney general's office, run by Lisa Madigan, declined to comment on whether it was investigating Rita's eligibility for office.