SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A report Tuesday by a state inspector general found that an Illinois prison system administrator improperly ordered the hiring of a family member for a Department of Corrections position that was never authorized.
Larry Sims, the agency’s southern region investigations commander, received a 30-day suspension after the Office of the Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor. It found he had designated a relative be hired as an intelligence officer even though that person hadn’t applied and someone else had already been chosen.
The review also found that Corrections has for years manipulated hiring for the post of intelligence officer — there are 80 currently on staff and historically, 268 have had the job. Officials deemed the position an extension of the position of prison guard.
But the inspector’s report found that most appointments weren’t temporary. And its duties differ substantially from that of correctional officer, qualifying it as a separate position improperly created. Openings were not advertised and candidates were typically recruited.
“No official position description exists and the position has never been posted centrally or available to the public,” the report said. “It has been suggested that it is a ‘detail’ or ‘assignment’ … even though no employee interviewed was informed that the intelligence position was limited in duration, most employees interviewed remained in the Intelligence Unit for years.”
The finding follows a sordid history of hiring shenanigans in Illinois government dating back decades. A 1955 personnel code first attempted to nip wide-open political hiring and the U.S. Supreme Court curtailed it in 1990 in the so-called Rutan case initiated in Illinois. The so-called Rutan principles require choosing qualified job candidates to interview from eligibility lists that don’t include identifying information.
When hiring irregularities continued under the later-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his successor, Pat Quinn, Illinois was slapped with a court monitor tasked with reviewing hiring through the lens of the landmark 1972 Shakman decree that initially targeted Chicago City Hall.
The Department of Corrections’ Investigations and Intelligence Division has two sections. Internal affairs investigates allegations of misconduct against Corrections employees and inmates. The Intelligence Unit monitors individuals or groups who pose a safety threat to the public, employees or inmates.
The inspector’s investigation began with a complaint about Sims’ intervention in ordering that his family member be hired as an intelligence officer.
“Commander Sims was clearly in a position to exercise influence over the transfer of his (family member) to the Intel Unit. As such, he should have disqualified himself from any decisionmaking … but he failed to do so,” the report said.
Further, Sims, who covered the northern region as well because of a vacancy at the time, did not make the required report to his superiors about the conflict arising from the fact that a family member would indirectly report to him.
Sims, who made $116,988, could not be reached for comment. State records indicate he was last paid in July and a colleague at his office said he had retired. He has no listed personal number.
Scott Lerner, deputy general counsel for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said in response to the report that the administration had made several changes to the process, including ensuring that investigations openings are publicized, selection criteria is established and required conflicts of interest are reported.
Lerner also said the administration sought a “new direction” for chief of investigations — the position over Sims’ post — and the former chief left the job in November 2021. As of June, however, the position had not been filled. Neither Corrections nor Pritzker’s office responded Tuesday to questions about its status.
By JOHN O’CONNOR, AP Political Writer