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.