Streator man says Mautino probes began with his decision to speak out

By Karen Kidd | Sep 14, 2016

Despite a federal criminal investigation and state lawmakers continually calling on Illinois's embattled Auditor General Frank Mautino to answer questions about prior campaign expenditures, the only person who has filed a complaint said he feels alone.

David Cooke  

Despite a federal criminal investigation and state lawmakers continually calling on Illinois's embattled Auditor General Frank Mautino to answer questions about prior campaign expenditures, the only person who has filed a complaint said he feels alone.

"People need to know that I'm it," Streator resident and former Streator High School board member David Cooke said. "I'm the guy."

Documents filed in the case indicate there is a federal criminal investigation underway, an investigation that has Mautino considering whether to assert his rights under the Fifth Amendment. However, Cooke said other than his complaint, he sees no evidence of filings before the state election board or any other relevant body.

"I don't understand why. I don't know why," Cooke said. "I don't really get it. I just feel -- I just know -- I'm the only one doing anything about this."

Cooke said he was traveling this year when he noticed stories about Mautino's previous campaign expenditures that began to be reported. Cooke said his motivation was that Mautino wouldn't answer questions and that, from his perspective, nothing was being done.

"I didn't see anyone filing a complaint about it," Cooke said. "So I did."

Cooke said he gleaned information from news stories and documents as they became available, enough to file his complaint this past winter with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Cooke's complaint questions Mautino's expenditure of almost $200,000 in campaign contributions for gas and car repairs at Happy's Super Service in Spring Valley and also more than $200,000 in payments to Spring Valley City Bank.

Many documents and other information about the case have been posted online by the accountability group Edgar County Watchdogs, which was one of the first media sources to announce Cooke's complaint. The group has been following the case and also has called for Mautino to resign.

It was after Cooke filed his complaint, coupled with an ever-mounting number of calls for an investigation, that Mautino retained Hinshaw & Culbertson and then went largely silent about the case. For months, Mautino has not responded to most news media requests for comment.

The storm around the state's auditor general seems a long time from less than a year ago, in October, when he was appointed to replace Auditor General William Holland, who had retired in the third year of his 10-year term. Mautino then received overwhelming appointment approval from the state's General Assembly, with a vote of 55-0 in the Senate and 102-10 in the House. Mautino was sworn in during a ceremony the following December and became the state's third auditor general, a post established by the 1970 State Constitution.

The position of auditor general is a 10-year term with a salary of about $152,000 a year. Mautino officially took office Jan. 1.

Prior to his appointment, Mautino served in the House since 1991 and became a deputy majority leader since 2011. Mautino served 18 years on the Legislative Audit Commission before resigning from that panel last summer to apply for the auditor post. Mautino's father, the late state Rep. Richard “Dick” Mautino, served in the House from 1975 until his death in 1991.

Very soon after his appointment, questions began to surface about Frank Mautino's campaign and other spending, leading to calls for him to answer the questions or step down.

State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has been especially vocal, as has been state Rep. Jeanne Ives, (R-Wheaton).

Ives, in an interview with a Springfield radio station and on her own website, called for Mautino to answer questions or resign. Ives was one of the 10 Republicans in the House who voted in October against Mautino's appointment. The others were Grant Wehrli, Naperville; Sheri Jesiel, Winthrop Harbor; Keith Wheeler, Oswego; Tom Morrison, Palatine; Steve Andersson, Geneva; Mark Batinick, Plainfield; Randy Frese, Paloma; Margo McDermed, Mokena; and Reginald Phillips, Charleston.

In May, the Illinois State Board of Elections ordered Mautino to provide more details about his campaign expenditures during his time as a state legislator. That same month, the board also discussed Cooke's complaint during a closed session, permissible under state law, and then announced that the complaint was found to be justifiable.

In June, Mautino's legal counsel filed a motion to stay, stating that Mautino otherwise would be forced to choose between waiving and claiming his rights under the Fifth Amendment because of a pending, parallel federal criminal investigation.

"Mautino is currently subject to a federal investigation at the same time as the board's pending proceeding, and he could assert a Fifth Amendment privilege as to any information or discovery in connection with the complaint or other proceedings of the board," the motion said. "If Mautino was to waive his Fifth Amendment privilege in connection with the filing of amendments to the committee's campaign reports or any discovery in this case, he would also be waiving his privilege in the federal investigative matter."

In addition to the motion, Mautino also declined to comply with the election board's deadline to amend his campaign reports and clarify expenditures, prompting more calls for answers or his resignation

In August, some state representatives renewed their calls for Mautino to resign for ignoring their repeated inquiries.

Cooke said he believes the only thing keeping the case going is his complaint before the election board. While the going has been slow, as litigation often does, Cooke said his complaint is making progress. At a status hearing on Monday, Cooke said he was told to expect discussion about defense motions to stay and also a defense motion to dismiss the complaint. Another status hearing is scheduled for Sept. 26, Cooke said.

"We're into hearings; this is moving forward," Cooke said.

Cooke said this endeavor is no small task. "I get fed up driving to Chicago, and all the resources to keep it all going, that's coming from me," Cooke said.

Cooke said he is paying all of the required fees and is representing himself.

"What happens if I stop doing this?" Cooke said. "What happens if I just walk away? Well, I know what will happen. It will all go away, and nothing will be done about it."

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