When Gov. Pat Quinn granted a pardon to a politically connected felon named Juan Elias in December 2011, his criminal record was, in effect, wiped clean.
But Quinn’s goodwill may have had another consequence: saving Elias’ $78,828-a-year government job with the City of Chicago.
When Elias applied for a city job back in 1990, he checked “no” on paperwork asking whether he’d been convicted of “any crime,” according to city documents obtained by the Better Government Association under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
However, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported last year, by 1990 Elias already had two felony convictions – one related to a burglary, the other to marijuana possession.
Lying on the city’s application about a criminal past – or otherwise omitting such information – is grounds for firing, city officials confirmed.
However, Quinn’s pardon makes any punishment unlikely, the BGA has learned.
Elias is now 46 and works as a regional communicable disease investigator with the Chicago Department of Public Health. He manages outreach to residents with tuberculosis.
Elias is a close friend and political ally of Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) and runs the 1st Ward First Independent Democratic Organization, which supports the alderman.
Because Quinn’s pardon effectively nullified Elias’ long-ago felonies – and he has since gotten his criminal records formally expunged – Elias’ omission on his city paperwork is basically moot, according to city officials.
“Mr. Elias has been a dedicated employee for 23 years with a limited discipline history throughout his tenure and his conviction record has been expunged through pardon by Governor Quinn,” a spokeswoman for the city’s human resources department, Carolyn Mulaney, wrote in an email.
“Even if the City were inclined to take some sort of disciplinary action, it is improbable that it would be sustained upon challenge given the factors above.”
Elias’ first felony conviction followed an arrest for stealing tires and a radio from a car in 1984. Later he was convicted in a drug case after he was arrested with a large amount of marijuana. At the time, Elias was affiliated with the Latin Lovers street gang, he said.
In 1996, Elias was indicted for mutilation of election materials (for mailing in a neighbor’s absentee ballot) during Elias’ failed run for 26th Ward Democratic committeeman. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
In an interview, Elias said he’s a different person now and is scheduled to graduate from Northeastern Illinois University this year with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
Mulaney said the city’s current administration, run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, did not know about Elias’ criminal background until September’s Sun-Times story.
However, Elias told the BGA that, under the last mayor, Richard M. Daley, city officials did confront him about his criminal past at one point in the 1990s but let the issue drop because they said he’d been a good employee.
Convicted felons are barred from some but not all city jobs; regardless, they are required to disclose any criminal past. (The city doesn’t keep a tally on how many felons it employs, Mulaney said.)
Elias would not go so far as to say he purposely withheld that information on his paperwork, but he acknowledged that disclosing it would have likely hurt his chances of landing a city job.
Elias requested a pardon in 2007 when Quinn’s predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, was in office. A host of political figures including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) wrote letters to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board supporting the move. The board makes confidential recommendations on pardons and the like, and the governor can accept them or ignore them.
Either way, Blagojevich didn’t act before leaving office in disgrace in 2009 after being charged with corruption and impeached. He left behind a large backlog of requests.
Quinn has been quite active on pardons, and his spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, said the governor stands behind the Elias decision, though she wouldn’t go into specifics as to the reasoning, citing office policy.
“Governor Quinn carefully reviews each petition and makes his decisions based on the facts of the case,” Anderson said via email. “To date, the governor has acted on more than 2,000 petitions, and granted 929, while denying more than 1,500.”