- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - The former head of an Illinois agency that oversaw an anti-violence grant program said ex-Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff decided how money was doled out even after the Democrat made reforms to the program already plagued by mismanagement, according to a newspaper report published Tuesday.

Former Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority Executive Director Jack Cutrone said that instead of following agency rules to use competitive applications, Quinn aides were closely involved with how money was dispersed through the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, according to the Chicago Tribune (https://trib.in/1q3xH4K ).

“We were absolutely directed where that money went,” Cutrone said. “There was a degree of frustration because we weren’t able to use our normal processes.”

Quinn first launched the program in 2010 as a way to address causes of violence with job training, among other things, but a scathing audit in 2014 outlined “pervasive deficiencies” in its implementation and questionable expenditures by service providers. Federal and Cook County authorities have since launched investigations.

The audit and resulting legislative hearings dogged Quinn’s failed 2014 re-election bid against businessman Bruce Rauner. Republicans claimed Quinn spearheaded the program for political motivations and used it as a “slush fund” to secure votes ahead of the 2010 election in which he narrowly defeated Republican state Sen. Bill Brady.

Quinn denied those claims and maintained that changes were made once problems were discovered, including putting the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority in charge.

The newspaper report, which also cites a draft of a new state audit that has yet to be released, says the problems continued, such as not properly vetting groups that received money. One nonprofit group that said it was deep in debt was given $600,000 and declared bankruptcy after receiving state funds.

Cutrone had wanted the authority to use its own rules in giving out grants, but Quinn’s office instead instructed the authority on which groups to fund and how much money to give, according to the audit and Cutrone.

Quinn spokesman Billy Morgan said he hadn’t seen the audit and declined to comment on the specifics. He said the authority was put in charge because of their “more stringent processes and law enforcement expertise” in giving grants and that it was up to the authority to “uphold those standards.” He also noted that Quinn signed legislation putting stronger grant oversight in place.

Rauner’s administration declined comment because the audit hasn’t been made public, but the newspaper reported that in the Rauner administration’s response to auditors, the agency’s new leaders blamed Quinn’s administration.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com

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