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Metra chairman pushes for former federal prosecutor to investigate Clifford’s allegations

Former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins | Sun-Times file photo

Former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: August 21, 2013 6:11AM



Under-fire Metra Chairman Brad O’Halloran wants to hire the former federal prosecutor who helped put away Gov. George Ryan to investigate Metra’s growing patronage scandal.

O’Halloran — who’s in the hot seat for his handling of the controversial $718,000 golden parachute handed to ousted Metra executive director Alex Clifford — says former Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins is the man to get to the bottom of the mess.

Metra’s board will be asked to approve hiring Collins at a meeting Monday. Collins has agreed that he won’t charge taxpayers more than $150,000, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

Collins would investigate Clifford’s allegations that he lost his job after he refused to cave in to pressure from Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to give raises and promotions to employees Madigan favored. Collins would also make “findings and recommendations to enhance the agency’s hiring and contract policies” and report back to the board within 90 days, according to a Metra news release.

“Patrick Collins has an unquestioned reputation for integrity, honesty and fighting corruption,” O’Halloran said in the release. “I look forward to an unflinching report which makes recommendations that help the agency restore confidence with riders, taxpayers and the communities we serve.”

The move may buy board members time to ride out the political storm that has engulfed them since the Sun-Times revealed Clifford’s allegations against Madigan last week.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said soon after that it was investigating whether it could fire the Metra board, and at an RTA board meeting this week, Clifford expanded his patronage accusations to include Democratic Reps. Luis Arroyo and Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez. He even took a shot at the late Metra chief Phil Pagano, claiming his predecessor steered a no-bid contract to a firm owned by a business partner of Metra board member Larry Huggins.

Collins — a partner at Perkins Coie since 2007 — is best known for leading the successful prosecution of Ryan, but in 2002 he also led a prosecution of Metra procurement fraud.

Appointed by Quinn in 2009 to lead the Illinois Reform Commission, he clashed with Madigan when only a heavily watered down versions of the campaign finance changes Collins had advocated were passed into law.

Madigan’s office did not respond Friday to the plan to hire Collins. Madigan instead released a letter he sent to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which does not have a history of conducting aggressive investigations, denying any wrongdoing and calling on it to “investigate the circumstances surrounding this incident.”



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