SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The director of a state board that in early 2020 was forced to end a contract with a Democratic activist after his name surfaced in purported government coverups involving a rape and illegal state hiring has been removed from his job.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board voted to fire Executive Director Brent Fischer on Sept. 8, Fischer's interim replacement, Keith Calloway, said Wednesday.
State records indicate Fischer, 54, who made $156,780, had been on paid administrative leave since June. Calloway and the standards board's chairman said they could not comment on the reason for Fischer's dismissal because it is a personnel matter. It is unclear if it was connected to his leadership of the agency in January 2020 when an incendiary email surfaced naming contract worker Forrest Ashby, prompting the board to cancel Ashby’s employment.
Ashby's connection to the board entangled it in the scandal in which a 2012 email was uncovered urging top staff members to then-Gov. Pat Quinn to be lenient with Ashby, then a state employee facing discipline. Written by Michael McClain, a retired lobbyist from Quincy and confidante of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, it said of Ashby: "He has kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items. He is loyal to the administration.”
At the time that WBEZ radio uncovered the email through a public records request, McClain and Madigan were under federal investigation involving utility giant ComEd and an alleged bribery scheme.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the email “horrific," noting that it referred to two crimes — a purported sexual assault and the alleged hiring of no-work employees by “Jones,” an apparent reference to former Senate President Emil Jones Jr., a Chicago Democrat.
Pritzker referred the matter to the Office of the Executive Inspector General for investigation. The office did not return a phone call seeking comment on the status of the investigation. His spokeswoman did not respond to questions on the matter.
Fischer, a Quincy resident who was Adams County sheriff for 17 years, was appointed in December 2015 as executive director of the Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, which authorizes training specifics for police and other law enforcement agencies statewide. Attempts to contact him on numbers listed in his name were unsuccessful.
Fischer was in charge when the agency hired Ashby, who also is from Quincy, on contract. After retiring from state government in 2018, Ashby worked on Pritzker's campaign. The standards board paid him $14,400 from October 2019 until January 2020.
Calloway, who was deputy director under Fischer during his 2 1/2 years with the standards board, has served as interim executive director since July 1. He said he did not know the details of the decision surrounding Fischer.
“I'm not familiar with the reason," Calloway said. “It's a personnel matter. You'd have to ask the board.”
The chairman of the board is Mitchell Davis III, chief of police in the south Chicago suburb of Hazel Crest, who said in an email that Calloway “is the contact person on this matter and the response that he provided represents the response of the ILETSB Board.”
After the email came to light and Ashby's contract was canceled, a standards board spokesman told The Associated Press that the board had referred the matter for an “independent investigation,” but refused to elaborate or release any documents related to ordering the review. Calloway said Wednesday he is unaware of any such investigation.
In July 2020, ComEd acknowledged in a deferred prosecution agreement that it engaged in a decade-long bribery scheme with Madigan and others, including McClain, who was indicted in November. Madigan, who as a result of the scandal lost his bid for a 19th term as House speaker has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing. Madigan was the longest-serving legislative leader in U.S. history.
Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor