A Rochester man who oversaw school bus inspections for the Illinois Department of Transportation and was working with a company making a school bus safety device was dismissed from his state job in January, the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission reported Monday.
Daniel Thompson, 54, had been paid $76,572 annually as an IDOT vehicle inspection unit manager.
According to the ethics commission report, Thompson sent an email from his personal account in early 2016 advertising a bus stop-arm extension for a company called S.A.F.E. Gates, with which he was working. At least seven of 19 recipients of the email were members of the Illinois school bus industry.
Thompson also created and edited three documents related to that company and 16 documents related to his other business, American Lawn Service, on his state computer, an Executive Inspector General investigation found.
The ethics commission report noted that Thompson had asked a superior at IDOT about working with the company.
Thompson said Monday that he took heart in the response he received from the IDOT ethics officer at the time, Bruce Harmening, which said in part, "... we are aware of nothing Ethics related that would prevent you from pursuing the patent or lobbying for legislation."
But the Harmening email went on: "My advice is that you take extreme caution to not use your position at IDOT for either (purpose) or even give someone reason to perceive that you have."
The report issued Monday also said Harmening denied advising Thompson that he could sell the device if it was outside Illinois.
In his interview with investigators, Thompson had denied marketing the stop-arm product and denied using state resources or compensated time to further the product. He also said he hadn't worked with the company since mid-2016.
The report said Thompson had worked with a mechanic identified as "Individual A."
Jamie Enger of Chicago, a mechanic who is listed on a S.A.F.E. Gates website, said Monday that neither he nor Thompson made any money from the invention, and it was only sent to two out-of-state locations for trials. He said no devices were sold in Illinois, and he suspended company operations when Thompson got in trouble over it at work. He said Thompson was good at his IDOT job and should "definitely not" have lost his position there.
Thompson also told investigators any work he might have done on documents with his state computer could have come during during breaks or lunches, but the report says IDOT conflict-of-interest policy does not exempt such breaks from the ban on using resources for outside employment activities.
Thompson noted that he started at IDOT under Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"This whole thing in my eyes ... was nothing but a witch hunt," he said. "I feel that it was definitely a political move," but "I couldn't prove that."
He said his evaluations had been "top notch," and he thinks his only mistake was that some emails discussing the product -- never sent directly from IDOT -- ended up at Illinois companies. A lawyer Thompson consulted told him, he said, that he could prove his innocence, but Thompson, as a non-union employee, thought the grievance process would be tilted against him, so he opted not to spend the money to go that route.
He also said he was talking up the product for use nationally because he thought it would help keep children safe.
"Never once did I try to sell anything to anybody in Illinois," he said.