Illinois governor candidate Bruce Rauner kept his lips zipped as a federal trial involving his former private equity firm and allegations of nursing home neglect launched in Florida.
The trial, if it makes an impact on voters in this state, could threaten Rauner's bid to defeat Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn at the ballot box Nov. 4. Its seedy origins and disturbing nature have haunted the Republican multi-millionaire venture capitalist for the past several months, though he has denied having a major role in business decisions linked to a scandal-drenched nursing home chain co-founded by GTCR, the Chicago-based firm from which Rauner retired in 2012.
Back in May, a Tampa federal bankruptcy judge, accusing GTCR of orchestrating a Mafia-style "bust out" scheme to let the business die and evade culpability for a series of patient fatalities, ruled in favor of continuing litigation into a $1 billion case that involves alleged incidents of wrongful death and abuse by the offending chain, Trans Healthcare Inc., which has been in receivership—a form of corporate bankruptcy—since 2009.
"I hope if there is any wrongdoing, that it gets punished," Rauner said at the time, adding: "I'm very comfortable letting that play out in the court, the fact that the judge said they're going to let a little bit go forward. That's all fine, part of the process."
Rauner has stated that he sat atop Trans Healthcare's board for just a year after founding it in 1998, but the Chicago Tribune reports that was not the case, citing court documents as revealing the veteran businessman-turned-political candidate had been a board member for four years, not one. In addition, the paper cites prosecutors in the case as referencing information held in sealed documents which allege Rauner was part of a group within GTCR that managed Trans Healthcare until its 2006 sale to Barry Saacks, an aging graphic artist who testified that he had no recollection of signing papers to buy the ailing company.
"I don't know that company," Saacks said in video testimony was played in court Monday. "Somebody must believe me."
Rauner is not named as a defendant in the case, but GTCR and Edgar Jannotta Jr., an ex-partner at the firm, are both defendants. Defense lawyers argue that their clients did nothing wrong and accuse attorneys for the other side of using the case to get more cash for victims' families.
Declining to answer the Trib's questions on revelations that he may be more intricately involved with Trans Healthcare than previously thought, Rauner demurred: "I hope and believe that there was no wrongdoing, no bad behavior. The courts will sort out all the facts. I'm confident that no one at GTCR engaged in any inappropriate behavior."
Rauner is locked in a neck-and-neck race against Quinn for Springfield's highest office, and for campaign Quinn, the nursing home trial is extra ammo in its effort to cast the GOP candidate as an out-of-touch gazillionaire for whom money trumps moral character. In response to the courtroom drama, an escalating PR headache for Team Rauner, a Quinn spokesperson said: "Bruce Rauner has said that he's a businessman who wants to run Illinois like a business, yet he's taken no responsibility for this business."