CHICAGO (AP) — A former employee in Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford's office filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging the Republican gubernatorial candidate made inappropriate sexual advances and regularly forced him to do political work on state time.
Ed Michalowski, a former lawyer and director in Rutherford's office, alleged in the lawsuit that Rutherford's sexual advances began in April 2011, shortly after Michalowski began working in the office. The lawsuit also alleged Rutherford asked Michalowski to set up meetings with potential donors for campaign contributions while he was working for the state.
Rutherford has denied any wrongdoing, holding a Jan. 31 news conference to announce that an unnamed employee had raised "allegations of misconduct" against him. Initially, Rutherford said he couldn't detail the allegations because they were a personnel matter, but he later confirmed they involved harassment and political coercion.
"I know the accusations are completely false," Rutherford told The Associated Press last week.
He said an independent investigation would clear his name and accused a Republican gubernatorial rival, businessman Bruce Rauner, of being behind the accusations in an attempt to undermine Rutherford's governor campaign. Rauner has denied the allegation. Michalowski also has said his motivation is not political.
Michalowski submitted a letter of resignation to Rutherford's office last week. The lawsuit names both the treasurer and his chief of staff, Kyle Ham, who didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
In the lawsuit, Michalowski alleged that during an April 2011 overnight retreat at Rutherford's Chenoa home, Rutherford entered the bedroom where Michalowski was staying and grabbed his genital area. Michalowski alleged he pushed Rutherford away, and later told Rutherford's chief of staff about the incident, but the aide told him he would have "job security."
The suit also claims Rutherford made Michalowski do work for his own campaign as well as for 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Rutherford was the Illinois chairman for the Romney campaign.
Rutherford, a former state lawmaker, was elected to the office in 2010. He's among four candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor in the March primary. The others are Rauner and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard.
Rutherford said his office conducted an internal investigation into the allegations and they showed no merit, but because he's treasurer, he was launching an outside investigation with independent attorneys and consultants. Rutherford has said he would tell his side once the investigation was complete.
"What I have asked is 'Please do it as expeditiously as possible,'" Rutherford told AP last week. "I absolutely want this thing out there as soon as possible and as public as possible."
Meanwhile, Rutherford has focused on linking the matter to Rauner and questioning the timing of the employee's allegations weeks ahead of a competitive primary. Rutherford claimed the employee's attorney was linked to Rauner's campaign and offered $300,000 to "walk away and keep it under wraps."
Rauner has said the attorney was paid a one-time fee for a lease agreement but the allegations are untrue and "ridiculous."
Rutherford has said he has a 22-year record in public office without a single previous complaint against him.
"When that was presented to me, I said 'That is unacceptable ... We're going to go public with this,'" he told AP last week. "This is something I want to have total transparency on."
Lester reported from Springfield, Ill.