Rauner Gambling Board Pick Leads Group With Casino Ties

Hector Alejandre heads a law enforcement association that received donations from Rivers Casino – which he is regulating after Gov. Rauner appointed him to the Illinois Gaming Board.

One of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s new appointments to the Illinois Gaming Board – which regulates gambling – heads a group that took donations from the state’s most lucrative casino, Rivers in Des Plaines.

In naming Illinois State Police special agent Hector Alejandre to the gaming board, Rauner noted in a March press release that the new panel member "will bring a law enforcement perspective to the position."

The governor also noted Alejandre is president of the Hispanic Illinois State Law Enforcement Association, or HISLEA, which is a nonprofit professional organization for Latino police officers.

HISLEA, which holds public-safety seminars and provides college scholarships, accepted at least $5,500 in donations from Rivers over the past three years, the Better Government Association has learned.

Alejandre refused to answer questions about whether his group’s interaction with Rivers creates a conflict of interest or otherwise indicates a bias toward the industry he now is regulating.

But gaming board chairman Don Tracy said after the BGA’s inquiry, Alejandre agreed to recuse himself from voting on Rivers matters before the board for six months.

HISLEA spokesman Juan Valenzuela also said the group decided not to take any more donations from Rivers as long as Alejandre sits on the gaming board. Valenzuela said his group has taken at least $5,500 from Rivers since 2012. The money was used on scholarships and programming, he said.

Among the other members of HISLEA is Isaiah "Danny" Vega, the group’s past president who now is the gaming board’s deputy administrator of enforcement – one of the main people tasked with investigating the casinos, making sure they’re operating above board.

The Rivers donations came while Vega and Alejandre were top officers at HISLEA.

Vega didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Mark Ostrowski, the gaming board’s administrator, said Alejandre and Vega aren’t violating rules set by the regulatory panel.

But the board’s past chairman told us the HISLEA relationship raises questions.

"People who sit on the board can’t take money" from the industry, former Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe told us. "We’ve always held very strict standards."

Rauner replaced Jaffe with Tracy, a Springfield lawyer, in January.

"The administration does not believe these prior donations, which help support scholarship programs, will impact Hector Alejandre’s ability to remain impartial while a member of the Illinois Gaming Board," a spokeswoman for Rauner said. "The last donation to the HISLEA by Rivers Casino was more than six months ago, and it will decline any future contributions."

A Rivers spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The gaming board regulates the state’s 10 casinos, including Rivers. Last year, Rivers reported taking in more than $425 million after paying winnings, a figure that made the casino the most lucrative in Illinois, state records show.

Rauner's IEPA pick

In January, Ryan McCreery was in the private sector, trying to calm Kentucky residents who feared that a natural gas pipeline project proposed by his then-employer would contaminate drinking water.

Today he finds himself one of the top environmental regulators in Illinois, hired by the Rauner administration in February to serve as deputy director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Asked about his environmental experience, McCreery pointed to his time as a contractor and ultimately public affairs manager for gas and oil pipeline company Kinder Morgan.

"I partnered with stakeholders," he told us in an email, "on many different projects, with the objective to expand energy infrastructure in an environmentally conscious and compliant manner."

McCreery is the son of W. Michael McCreery, a longtime Springfield lobbyist who says on a registration statement with the state that he intends to lobby the Illinois EPA. Ryan McCreery said there will be no conflict of interest.

"My father has listed numerous agencies under ‘lobbying intent,’" Ryan McCreery told us. "He does so on an annual basis so as to be covered in case he gains new clients throughout the reporting period."

Ryan McCreery said his dad doesn’t have current environment-related clients nor will he take any as long as his son is the deputy director at EPA.

Michael McCreery didn’t return calls for comment.

Ryan McCreery said Nancy Kimme, on behalf of Rauner’s transition team, recruited him for the position. Kimme is a lobbyist and was chief of staff to late Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Kimme couldn’t be reached for comment.

public eye logo 2014366x242
This column – a regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing on the Chicago Sun-Times web site – was written and reported by the Better Government Association's Brett Chase, who can be reached at bchase@bettergov.org or (312) 821-9033.

Casino image courtesy of Facebook.