Lawmaker calls for hearings after WGN report on felon getting Covid cash

WGN Investigates

A state lawmaker is calling for hearings on how the Pritzker administration spent tax dollars during the early days of the Covid crisis. 

It follows a WGN Investigates report that revealed convicted felon John Thomas received $4 million after the state took over and renovated the former Sherman Hospital site in Elgin. 

Thomas told WGN he bought the shuttered facility for $1 million in late 2019.

“I am interested in how it is possible that a convicted felon was able to quadruple his investment and is now free to sell a property that the State of Illinois and its taxpayers paid to remodel,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) wrote in a letter to the chairperson of the State Government and Administrative Committee.   

The makeshift hospitals were built at Chicago’s McCormick Place and three suburban locations early in the pandemic when there was concern an influx of patients would overwhelm existing facilities, which happened in other states. The federal government reimbursed the state for the $115 million price tag to use and renovate the facilities.

State procurement rules would normally not allow anyone convicted of a felony to receive state contracts or other business. 

In an unusual move, the Pritzker administration used the governor’s emergency powers to essentially take-over the Sherman Hospital site temporarily rather than coming to terms on a lease. 

Even Thomas is surprised taxpayers didn’t get a better return on their investment.  

“Why would you put $20 million into a facility and not use it for something,” he rhetorically asked during an interview WGN Investigates before our original story was broadcast.    

Thomas said he’s not shy about his past legal troubles; and they haven’t stopped him from building a new real estate and business portfolio that includes an upstart supermarket chain that operates in lower income communities.  

“I only have a few regrets in my life and [the Sherman Hospital deal] isn’t one of them,” he said.

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