Pritzker denies knowing about work comp fraud allegations

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he doesn’t know anything other than what’s been reported by the media in the allegations of worker’s compensation fraud against a former state employee that touches his office.

This, as a lawsuit alleging Pritzker’s administration was complicit continues on appeal.

Documents from early 2020 show former Illinois State Police Merit Board employee Jenny Thornley listed the governor’s office as her employer and Pritzker himself as her supervisor in a worker’s compensation claim, with a separate form listing the governor’s general counsel Ann Spillane as her supervisor.

Despite records alleging Thornley sent First Lady M.K. Pritzker a text message in February 2020 saying “I need JB to know,” the governor Thursday denied knowing anything about it.

“Nothing other than what I read in the newspaper about it,” Pritzker said. “The truth is, if somebody committed workman’s comp fraud, they should be held accountable.”

Thornley was seeking worker’s compensation benefits claiming she was sexually assaulted by her supervisor, allegations that were determined to be unfounded after a $550,000 independent investigation. The merit board didn’t know of Thornley’s benefit claims filed in January 2020 until September 2020.

In April 2021, Emily Fox, an employee of the Illinois State Police Merit Board, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the people of Illinois against Thornley alleging she committed worker’s compensation fraud and the governor’s office was complicit.

In February’s oral arguments over Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s motion to dismiss the case, Fox’s attorney said the lawsuit was the only way to get accountability because Thornley wasn’t prosecuted for the alleged work comp fraud.

“[The attorney general’s office] said if the wheels of justice in the State are not working, the Illinois False Claims Act comes into play, and that’s exactly what’s going on here,” said Fox’s attorney Robert Andalman. “The wheels of justice in Illinois are definitely not working in the case of Jenny Thornley.”

Raoul’s office motioned to dismiss the case, saying during oral arguments “the state has made a decision based on its thorough, robust investigation.”

“The Illinois Department of Insurance, we’ve cited this in our reply, has said that the allegations that Miss Thornley’s Workers Compensation Claim was based on fraud,” said Assistant Attorney General Eileen Boyle Perich. “Those were also disclosed to the Illinois Department of Insurance and that that Department has said that those claims, those allegations of fraud, are in line for investigation.”

A memo obtained by The Center Square that Illinois Central Management Services sent to the attorney general’s office in January put the amount of worker’s compensation fraud alleged at more than $63,500 in benefits, with additional legal, medical and investigative costs bringing the total to $158,700.

The attorney general’s office forwarded the memo to the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office in February, saying the AG’s office didn’t have “original jurisdiction.”

In March, a Sangamon County judge dismissed Fox’s lawsuit against Thornley at the request of Raoul’s office.

Last Friday, Raoul told members of the media that concerns over the handling of the case were a “nothing burger,” and he forwarded the case to the appellate prosecutor, saying there was a “typical” conflict. Those comments came after the appellate prosecutor’s office emailed Raoul’s office that no such appointment by the courts has been made, no law enforcement documents have been shared and the attorney general is the one who typically prosecutes worker’s compensation fraud with a specific unit.

Raoul’s Republican Tom DeVore said the politically-sensitive case is being tossed around like a hot potato.

“So, they’re shuffling it around in circles because nobody wants to touch it, that’s what going on,” DeVore said.

DeVore agreed with Pritzker that if there was fraud, there must be accountability.

“His general counsel, if you take the governor’s word for it, was acting alone,” DeVore said. “Because the documents are clear that she materially participated in procuring those payments to Jenny Thornley, based on a fraudulent worker’s compensation application.”

Attorneys for Fox in the separate lawsuit that was dismissed in March filed an appeal Tuesday with the Fourth Judicial District Appellate Court of Illinois.

The filing “alleges a multi-pronged scheme to defraud the State of Illinois, including with the active complicity of the General Counsel to the Governor, perhaps the Governor himself, and other high-ranking officials.”

It’s expected briefs in the case will be filed through the last quarter of this year. It’s unclear if there’ll be oral arguments in the appeals court.

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