A state ethics panel has ordered a former village trustee and one-time candidate for mayor of Bensenville to pay a fine for allegedly using his job in the Illinois Secretary of State’s office to snoop on the driving records of a political opponent.
On March 21, the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission granted a request for summary judgment from the Executive Inspector General for the Secretary of State’s Office in the case against respondent Henry Wesseler, who was accused of engaging in “political activity” prohibited by Illinois law while on the clock in his job as a public service representative at the Lombard Illinois Secretary of State driver’s services facility.
Bensenville Village President Frank DeSimone
The Ethics Commission ordered Wesseler to pay a $1,250 fine for the alleged misdeeds.
According to the complaint, Wesseler worked at the Lombard state facility from October 2013 to August 2017, when he was terminated.
His time working for the Secretary of State somewhat overlapped with his service on the Bensenville Village Board. According to the Ethics Commission decision, Wesseler served on the village board from May 2009-May 2017.
According to the panel’s decision, Wesseler’s troubles appear to have begun in early 2017, as Wesseler sought to run for village president of Bensenville. He lost that race in April 2017, when voters narrowly preferred fellow village trustee Frank DeSimone to replace outgoing mayor Frank Soto, a lawyer who resigned from his elected office for a job as an arbitrator in the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission in late 2016.
While not identifying DeSimone by name, the Ethics Commission’s decision said the Inspector General’s office received a complaint in February 2017 “from another Bensenville Village Trustee and Village President candidate running against (Wesseler) in the April 2017 election,” accusing Wesseler of accessing DeSimone’s “driver’s license records without his permission.”
“More particularly, the Competing Candidate explained that he had become concerned, based on conversations with prospective voters, that Respondent (Wesseler) had looked up and disclosed confidential Secretary of State residency information in an attempt to prejudice the electorate’s views of his compliance with residency requirements for Village office election,” the commission said in its decision.
The commission said the Inspector General’s office then searched and reviewed records, finding DeSimone’s records had been accessed by “someone using Respondent’s (Wesseler’s) user ID” on Nov. 18, 2016, and Jan. 27, 2017.
During interviews that followed in March and April 2017, the Inspector General asserted Wesseler “intentionally made numerous false and materially misleading statements to the investigators …with the intent to obstruct and interfered with the (Inspector General’s) investigation.”
Among other statements, the Inspector General said Wesseler allegedly told investigators DeSimone had asked him to “check his address … to determine what he needed to do to renew his driver’s license,” even though DeSimone “had renewed his license in December 2015 … and that his driver’s license would not expire until 2020.”
The Inspector General said Wesseler also “reviewed the driving records of four additional members of (DeSimone’s) political party.”
The Inspector General reported Wesseler, when confronted with the information, accused DeSimone of “just trying to ‘set him up.’”
In its decision, the Ethics Commission noted Wesseler does not deny conducting the prohibited searches on state databases, during work hours, “for the potential benefit of his own personal political campaign,” nor does he “dispute that … he intentionally made false and misleading statements” to investigators.
While state ethics law authorizes the commission to order fines of up to $5,000, the commission opted to reduce the fine, in part, in recognition that Wesseler “has already lost his job, been denied unemployment, been out of work … after his discharge, had to sign up for COBRA to maintain health insurance coverage, had to live on his savings and credit cards, and could not afford an attorney.”
Wesseler has the opportunity to appeal the decision for further review, subject to state law, the commission noted.
The Executive Ethics Commission includes nine commissioners. Five are chosen by the governor, and one each were selected by the state’s treasurer, comptroller, attorney general and secretary of state. Among other duties, the commission reviews reports and recommendations for action from the inspectors general in the state’s various statewide executive offices and from other state ethics officers.