The former chief financial officer for the Illinois State Police Merit Board and former volunteer in JB Pritzker's first gubernatorial campaign pleaded guilty Nov. 3 to forgery resulting in undeserved overtime pay and was sentenced to 18 months of conditional discharge.
Jenny Thornley, 43, of the 2800 block of Hilltop Road in Springfield, pleaded guilty to the felony charge of electronically creating the signature of her boss, former Merit Board executive director Jack Garcia, so she could cheat the state in 2019 out of slightly more than $10,000 in overtime she never worked.
In exchange for the plea and felony conviction, six other charges – including official misconduct and theft – were dropped.
Thornley, who was represented by Sangamon County Assistant Public Defender Stephanie Hammer, had an annual salary of $86,556 and was fired in July 2020 by the Merit Board. The small state agency certifies Illinois State Police officers for hiring and promotion and also disciplines officers.
Thornley declined comment to Illinois Times after the conviction and sentencing in front of Sangamon County Circuit Judge Adam Giganti.
As part of a fully negotiated plea deal, the judge ordered Thornley to pay $10,000 in restitution to the state from payments she made into a state pension fund while on the job.
If she fails to withdraw the payments and pay restitution, she could risk revocation of her conditional discharge, which is similar to probation. Thornley then would be resentenced, according to Jonathan Barnard, who prosecuted the case on behalf of the Illinois State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office.
People convicted on the forgery charge face penalties ranging from probation to between two and five years in prison.
Thornley's case received statewide media attention because she was charged during the runup to Pritzker's ultimately successful gubernatorial campaign for reelection to a second four-year term in November 2022.
Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly have said they believe Thornley benefited from what they called political favoritism by the governor's office and "an apparent pattern of obstruction of justice."
Pritzker's office hasn't responded to requests for comment from Illinois Times.
Barnard said after the hearing that he agreed to drop the other charges "because the essence of the crime was the forgery. Official misconduct is basically part of that, in that she did it as a public official, but it's the same thing. Likewise, theft and forgery are essentially the same thing, in that a theft is the net result of a forgery.
"So really, we're talking about what is the core offense, which was the forgery, and the restitution order takes care of the theft part of it," Barnard said. "What I'm most concerned with is getting the money back."
He noted that the felony conviction, related to on-the-job conduct, will disqualify Thornley from receiving a state pension.
Thornley and her husband, Jared Thornley, on Aug. 31 filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of Illinois. But once completed, a bankruptcy case wouldn't eliminate or reduce the $10,000 in court-ordered restitution that Thornley owes.
"As a general proposition of law, ill-gotten gains from criminal behavior are not dischargeable in bankruptcy," Barnard said.
Thornley, who had no prior criminal convictions, was indicted by a Sangamon County grand jury in September 2021 after a $450,000 independent investigation by the McGuireWoods firm that was conducted at the Merit Board's request.
The firm's report questioned Thornley's credibility after she claimed to be sexually harassed by Garcia. Thornley filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Merit Board, the state and Garcia in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in April 2021.
The civil case was dismissed in July after Thornley stopped responding to court filings by defendants.
Thornley alleged in her lawsuit that she was in Garcia's office in Springfield reviewing paperwork in January 2020 when Garcia approached her from behind and "groped" her right breast. Garcia denied the allegation.
Garcia, a former State Police officer, joined the Merit Board in 2017 and left in September 2021 to become police chief in the Chicago suburb of Burbank.
Garcia was a member of Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin's law enforcement advisory council as part of Irvin's ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination in the 2022 governor's race. Pritzker, the Democratic candidate, won reelection in November 2022 when he beat GOP nominee and former state senator Darren Bailey of Xenia.
Garcia's lawyers said in court documents that when Thornley learned Garcia was gathering information about the alleged overtime scam, she "fabricated the most explosive allegations that she could invent, allegations that could spread throughout state government in an effort to discredit, hurt and neutralize Garcia."
The McGuireWoods report said that at the time Thornley claimed to be sexually harassed, she was "extremely upset" the governor's office didn't choose her for a similar job at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
The report said there was insufficient evidence Garcia sexually assaulted Thornley but sufficient evidence she arranged fraudulent overtime payments.
No criminal charges have been filed against Thornley in the wake of a criminal investigation by the Illinois Department of Insurance into allegations that Thornley defrauded the state's workers' compensation and disability programs for more than $70,000 in benefits from July 2020 through early September 2021.
Thornley, who worked for the Merit Board more than seven years, ran unsuccessfully in 2019 for the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority Board, which governs the operations of the BOS Center.