A former top aide to then-Secretary of State George Ryan acknowledged Thursday that he took a briefcase full of cash and campaign fundraising tickets from the office of an employee targeted in an investigation of alleged driver's license-selling in 1993, but he denied that he covered up any wrongdoing.
Dean Bauer, former secretary of state inspector general under Ryan, said he removed the briefcase for safekeeping during a raid of the Libertyville licensing facility because it contained so much money, not to hide potentially damaging evidence that could have linked politics to alleged corruption.
"It was an unusual amount of money lying loose in an office, and we felt that should not be," he said.
Bauer said he stored the briefcase in a secretary of state inspector general's office in Joliet and listed it on an internal department inventory. Three or four years later, Bauer said, he turned over the money to the state's general fund. Attempts to corroborate his account were unsuccessful.
Dave Urbanek, spokesman for Ryan, now the Illinois governor, said Thursday he had no knowledge about the briefcase's whereabouts or whether the cash in it was turned over to the state.
Bauer, a longtime friend of Ryan's from Kankakee, said that during his seven years as inspector general he worked hard to uncover wrongdoing and never blocked any investigations that could have embarrassed his former boss.
"I never told anybody to stop any investigation," he said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he is on vacation from his job in the state Transportation Department.
Bauer declined to say whether he has testified before a federal grand jury in Chicago hearing evidence in an ongoing investigation into alleged license-selling or whether he has been questioned by federal authorities.
"I would rather not discuss any of that," Bauer said. "Anything I talk (about) with other police authorities I don't want to discuss."
Randall Samborn, a spokesman for U.S. Atty. Scott Lassar, refused to comment on whether Bauer is under investigation as part of the current bribes-for-licenses probe. The federal investigation, known as Operation Safe Road, so far has resulted in 17 indictments and 13 convictions.
Last year, a former secretary of state investigator, Russell Sonneveld, alleged that Bauer did not allow him to look into whether secretary of state employees at the McCook facility had issued a truck driving license to an unqualified applicant later linked to a crash in Wisconsin that killed six children.
Sonneveld said in an affidavit filed in Cook County Circuit Court that Bauer had prevented him from looking into whether the truck driver had obtained his license illegally. According to the affidavit, Bauer "told me to leave it alone and let the Wisconsin authorities handle it."
Bauer on Thursday denied he tried to block Sonneveld's investigation. Bauer said Sonneveld wanted to make a trip to Wisconsin to talk to authorities there, and "at the time, I said it's a Wisconsin case. The accident was in Wisconsin."
Sonneveld was subpoenaed last year to appear before the federal grand jury investigating alleged license-selling. Since then, former secretary of state investigator Mark Lipe and other former inspector general employees have alleged in interviews that Bauer was more concerned about protecting Ryan's political interests than in rooting out corruption.
Bauer, 71, who served as Kankakee's police chief when Ryan's brother Thomas was mayor, stepped down as inspector general in January to take a job as a local government liaison in Ottawa for the Illinois Department of Transportation. He is suffering from bladder cancer and said he plans to retire soon.
In 1993, five years before Operation Safe Road became public, an investigation headed by Bauer's office and the Lake County state's attorney's office uncovered information that scores of personal driver's licenses were sold in exchange for campaign contributions at the Libertyville licensing facility and perhaps as many as three other offices in northeastern Illinois, the Tribune reported Sunday.
At the time, Ryan's office and local prosecutors portrayed the Libertyville case as a simple instance of greed among corrupt employees, and no links to political fundraising were ever mentioned in public court documents related to the case.
Seven people, including one license facility employee, were convicted of bribery-related offenses.
On March 9, 1993, the morning authorities raided the Libertyville facility, Bauer took a briefcase belonging to a regional manager targeted in the investigation.
The briefcase contained tickets to campaign fundraisers, sales records and $2,400 cash, according to investigative reports and documents quoting the targeted official, James Quinn.
In addition, a framed photograph of Quinn and Ryan at a political golf outing disappeared from Quinn's office.
Neither the briefcase nor the photograph were entered into evidence in the criminal case. Quinn, who was fired for misconduct but not prosecuted criminally, said in a recent interview that he never got them back.
On Thursday, Bauer said he did not recall how much money or how many political fundraising tickets were in Quinn's briefcase, nor whether it contained a ledger recording ticket sales and campaign donors.
"If there was any ledger or anything else, it's all in the briefcase," he said, adding that the briefcase may still be at the inspector general's office in Joliet.
Bauer said he removed the briefcase from Quinn's office because it contained a large amount of cash and Quinn, who faced disciplinary charges, would not be returning to claim it.
Moreover, Bauer said Lake County prosecutors did not need the briefcase to make their criminal case, which centered on cash bribes in exchange for driver's licenses.
Bauer said he never investigated whether political fundraising might have played a role in the abuses in Libertyville.
"At the time we ran across that, we were not really interested in looking into any wrongdoing of political tickets or anything else," he said. "We were primarily interested in the sale of (driver's licenses) and that's what we were pursuing."
No one claimed the cash in the briefcase, Bauer said, so in 1996 or 1997, he deposited the money in the state's general revenue fund.
Bauer said he did not recall whether a photograph was taken from Quinn's office but said that if it was, it was unlikely that he removed it.
"What the heck would I want with a photograph of Quinn?" he said. "You can go into every driver's license facility in the state of Illinois and see a photograph of the manager and George Ryan."
In a news story Nov. 5, and in an editorial Nov. 2, it was reported that the Lake County State's Attorney's office had uncovered information that scores of drivers' licenses were sold for campaign contributions at the Illinois secretary of state's Libertyville site in 1993, but that prosecutors made no mention of the political connection to the bribes in public court documents. In fact, Lake County prosecutors mentioned in court during the sentencing hearing of at least one defendant that the licenses were granted illegally in exchange for the purchase of political fundraising tickets. The Tribune regrets the errors.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun