Quincy lobbyist Mike McClain once sought leniency for a West Central Illinois state worker in a disciplinary case arguing that worker had remained silent about a rape incident.
In emails obtained by Chicago’s WBEZ through open records request, the August 2012 email reveals that Forrest Ashby, former assistant warden at the Western Illinois Correctional Facility in Mt. Sterling and a former administrative assistant at the Illinois Department of Human Services Treatment and Detention Facility in Rushville, had been given a disciplinary hearing on what McClain’s email detailed as a “minor infraction.” McClain went on to say that Ashby was “a good compliance person” and “had kept his mouth shut about Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items.” The email was sent from McClain to then-Governor Pat Quinn’s legislative affairs liaison, Gary Hannig, and the then-governor’s chief-of-staff, Jerry Stermer, to safeguard Ashby’s job. Quinn told WBEZ that he had no knowledge of the email, the disciplinary case against Ashby, or any of the contents of the email. It’s also unclear if Ashby had any knowledge about McClain’s call for leniency. After lobbying for Ashby’s leniency, a follow-up email was sent to Quinn’s office by McClain: “I do not know what happened but I know nothing happens accidentally. Ashby’s disciplinary meeting was postponed,” McClain wrote to top Quinn aides on Aug. 1, 2012. “I thank you.”
WBEZ reports that the “Jones” that the email was referring to was Lorrie Rickman-Jones, the former chief of the Division of Mental Health within the Illinois Department of Human Services. Rickman-Jones is married to former Democratic Senate President Emil Jones of Chicago, who was a staunch proponent of ComEd during his time in Springfield. Ghost payrollers are a common term used for political hires that do not show up to their government jobs. Recently, the federal dragnet into ComEd showed that McClain, former Michael Madigan aide Kevin Quinn, and a host of others were allegedly “ghost workers” for the Chicago energy corporation.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz told WBEZ that she had no knowledge of the people or the incident in question in the emails dating from 2012.
Ashby retired in 2018 at the Department of Human Services. After leaving the department, Ashby obtained employment with Governor J.B. Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign as a $5,000-a-month political consultant for “faith-based outreach” in Central and Southern Illinois. McClain had recommended Ashby for the job to the Pritzker campaign, according to Pritzker’s staff this week, WBEZ reports. Ashby currently works on a $40-an-hour consulting contract with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.
Pritzker’s office told WBEZ that it learned about the information while processing the open records request and has begun an immediate investigation into the contents and claims it contained.