A former state employee who’s suing Treasurer Dan Rutherford for political wrongdoing and sexual harassment added Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign to the case Thursday.
The Romney addition came as Edmund Michalowski refiled his lawsuit after a federal judge threw out his initial case on a technicality and gave him a chance to try it again. The new complaint is much broader, focusing less on the allegations of sexual harassment that all but derailed Rutherford’s Republican governor bid earlier this year than what Michalowski’s attorneys contend is a racketeering conspiracy to get Rutherford elected to higher office.
The lawsuit names as a defendant Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, for which Rutherford served as Illinois chairman, as well as Rutherford aides Kyle Ham, the chief of staff, and Curt Conrad, deputy chief of staff.
Michalowski’s attorneys said that he was forced to organize events and raise money on behalf of Rutherford and Romney’s campaigns and contended that if he did not cooperate he would be fired. According to the lawsuit, Michalowski said he repeatedly complained to Ham and Conrad about the political work but was dismissed as a “troublemaker.”
Rutherford repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing. He has said the timing of the allegations, which surfaced weeks before the March primary, were politically motivated. Rutherford also questioned if the lawsuit was the result of Michalowski’s personal financial problems. Rutherford received about 8 percent of the vote in an election won by businessman Bruce Rauner, who faces Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in November.
A spokeswoman for the treasurer’s office said Rutherford, Ham and Conrad would not comment on the updated lawsuit. Ham was named in the previous suit, and has been represented by Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. Spokeswoman Maura Possley said the office also expects to represent Conrad.
“As we stated in our motion to dismiss the previous complaint, we believe there is no basis for these allegations,” Possley said. “We will continue to defend against these claims in court.”
Michalowski worked as Rutherford’s director of community affairs and marketing, but resigned in February to take a job with the Cook County recorder of deeds. He previously worked for the city of Chicago as an assistant building commissioner, held a top post under Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and ran unsuccessfully for Cook County judge as a Democrat in 2010.
Michalowski filed for divorce last fall. The case, which details the couple’s financial troubles, is ongoing. The couple filed for bankruptcy in 2010, listing more than $600,000 in debts and less than $300,000 in assets.
In the latest lawsuit, Michalowski alleges Rutherford hired him because he was a Democrat. Michalowski said Rutherford wanted to appear as a centrist Republican candidate and tap into Michalowski’s connections to have “fresh” campaign donors.
Michalowski said Rutherford gave him a spreadsheet of potential donors and alleged that the treasurer hired interns based solely on their political connections and whether they could benefit Rutherford’s campaign.
The lawsuit also claims that Michalowski was “ordered to donate money to non-office government functions that would benefit both Rutherford and Romney Campaigns and was threatened if he did not do so.” He also alleges that he was forced to organize nominating petition drives for the Romney campaign, including coordinating groups of college students Rutherford paid to collect signatures on behalf of Romney.
If the students did not gather enough signatures, Rutherford refused to pay them, according to the complaint. Michalowski’s attorneys said he was forced to cover “several thousand dollars’ worth of costs for the signature drive out of his own pocket.” He also alleges that Rutherford used state vehicles to travel to campaign events and the government postage rate to send out related materials.
Speaking at the Dirksen Federal Building after the suit was refiled, Michalowski's attorney Dana Kurtz said the alleged racketeering conspiracy includes the Romney campaign because Rutherford was the chairman of Romney's Illinois operation and Michalowski says Rutherford forced him to do political work for Romney. Michalowski is not alleging Romney or anyone from Romney's campaign above Rutherford knew what was going on, Kurtz said.
“The allegations are that Rutherford used not only state resources, but as part of the criminal enterprise, the Rutherford campaign and the Mitt Romney campaign,” Kurtz said.
Evidence will include witness statements, Michalowski's testimony and documents including emails and spreadsheets, Kurtz said.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow dismissed Michalowski's lawsuit in a procedural move to give Michalowski’s attorneys the ability to add the new allegations.
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