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Tirio files defamation lawsuit in Illinois Integrity Fund crusade

Woodstock-based attorney Phil Prossnitz (left) and McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio pose for a photo May 24 in Woodstock.
Woodstock-based attorney Phil Prossnitz (left) and McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio pose for a photo May 24 in Woodstock.

McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday naming three men mentioned in a 2018 lawsuit that aimed to unmask the people behind a dark money group known as the Illinois Integrity Fund.

Tirio’s lawsuit named defendants Michael Noonan, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks’ former campaign director, and Sean Tenner, a former aide of Barack Obama who owns KNI Communications. Tirio also named Franks and Chicago-based mail house Breaker Press as respondents in discovery – a legal process used to uncover information.

“We think Mr. Franks is likely to have additional information relevant to this prosecution,” said Tirio’s Woodstock-based attorney, Philip Prossnitz.

In a statement to the Northwest Herald, Franks called Tirio’s lawsuit “ridiculous.”

“It is nothing but his attempt to prevent criticism of his use of public funds,” Franks said. “This will not deter me from continuing our fight to lower property taxes, reduce waste and provide citizens of McHenry County with open, honest and transparent government.” 

The lawsuit pins the defamation claims to three political flyers mailed during the months of February and March to “at least hundreds of households in McHenry County” intending to “maliciously” harm Tirio.

The mailers called Tirio a “crook” who is operating a “secret slush fund,” hiring “patronage” employees and taking “taxpayer-funded vacations.”

“From the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, the definition of crooked includes ‘dishonest,’ as in a crooked election or crooked politicians,” the lawsuit said.

Definitions for “slush fund” (“an unregulated fund often used for illicit purposes”) and “crony” (“a close friend especially of long standing”) also are included.

The defamatory statements included in the flyers harmed Tirio’s “personal, business and professional reputation” and “are not true,” according to the lawsuit.

The filing describes Tirio as a “person of good repute and credit [who] has honorably served the citizens of McHenry County,” noting that the recorder’s office at no time operated a “secret” fund, and that a trip Tirio took to New Mexico was not a vacation.

Tirio is seeking compensation of more than $50,000, punitive damages, court costs and other amounts the court finds appropriate.

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