- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - An Illinois legislative panel is considering temporarily suspending a key part of its investigation into Gov. Pat Quinn’s troubled anti-violence program after it received a request to do so from the U.S. Department of Justice.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, co-chair of the Legislative Audit Commission, released a statement Wednesday evening detailing a Justice Department request made earlier in the day by two Washington, D.C.-based staff attorneys and an intern requesting that interviews of those connected to Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative program be suspended for 90 days.

“We do not want to impede their efforts or compromise the integrity of their criminal investigation,” Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, said of the commission’s work.

The request comes after it was revealed last week that federal subpoenas were issued in May for emails of top officials involved in the program. Some of those same officials were also subpoenaed by the audit commission - an exceedingly rare step for the panel that reviews and approves state audits. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office has also requested information about the program.

Quinn began the $54.5 million program shortly before the 2010 election as a way to reduce violence in dozens of Chicago neighborhoods by offering job training and help to former inmates. In February, auditors criticized it for both mismanagement and misspending, questioning expenditures claimed by service providers.

The NRI has become a major campaign issue for Quinn, a Chicago Democrat who has built an image as a reformer during his decades in politics. His Republican challenger, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, has pointed to the program as an example of what he calls a culture of corruption that Quinn commands.

Quinn has disputed Republicans’ characterization of the initiative as a slush fund to shore up city votes ahead of a close election and has said he’s addressed problems with the program - including abolishing the agency that ran it.

The eight-member commission is scheduled to meet about the probe July 16-17. Some members Wednesday questioned how their work would affect a criminal investigation.

“I’m continuing to look at the responsibilities of the audit commission,” said GOP state Sen. Bill Brady, who, like Barickman, hails from Bloomington.

“I don’t see why the feds would interfere or why we would be interfering with what they’re doing,” Brady said.