Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration violated state law by awarding property leases to unqualified vendors and possibly shutting out other, lower bidders, a state audit released Wednesday found.
One month later, a lease document was drafted and the moving process had begun. At the time, DoIT staff expected they might be moving into the former Barney’s Furniture warehouse at 2410 South Grand Avenue East in Springfield. Instead, they wound up in separate building at 719 W. Jefferson Street in Springfield. Their would-be home had found new tenants: filing cabinets loaded with paper records from the Department of Human Services.
In 2014, the state paid $265,457 to move those same papers into a vacated prison facility in Dwight, Illinois. Two years later, the papers were reshuffled to sit under a far more expensive roof. CMS argued the prison facility was moldy, leaking and needed costly repairs. The audit found “CMS did not consider renovating space at the Dwight Correctional Center” and that the agency failed to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for completing the move — or for digitizing the records.
When the lease got to the Procurement Policy Board, Chairman Frank Vala opted not to vote up or down, allowing it to pass. Vala is next door neighbors and life long friends with Bill Cellini, a convicted felon who is barred from doing business with the state. Cellini’s son-in-law owns one of three shell companies who won the lease. Last year, Vala confessed that he knew it was Cellini’s son-in-law who had signed onto the lease before it came to his desk, but still did not recuse himself from the panel. The audit scolded him for the ethical lapse, warning the board that it did not have proper conflict of interest policies in place. In a written response, the board agreed, and said they would fix it in the future.
In an interview with Capitol Connection last spring, Rauner said: “Certainly, if ever we saw any evidence at all of any unethical or inappropriate behavior or action, we would take very aggressive action and remove those people involved.” Vala — appointed by the governor — still has his job.
“These were illegal deals,” Senator Cullerton said in response to the audit. “He gave it to one of his buddies. They did not follow procedures and it was a corrupt inside deal.”
Vala and Cellini had a third friend, Art Smith, the former chair of the Sangamon County Republican Party. His son, Chip Smith, signed the lease. The audit says Smith violated the procurement code when he shared confidential bid information with the two vendors, helping them adjust their rates.