The former head of traffic safety for the Illinois Department of Transportation violated state ethics rules by using his position to obtain several free passes to NASCAR events then lied to cover it up, according to a report investigators released Thursday.
The Office of Executive Inspector General recommended that Michael Stout be fired for requesting the passes from a consulting firm that received grants from IDOT to promote safety.
Stout resigned in December while agency officials were reviewing the findings.
According to the report, the consulting firm organizes booths at the annual NASCAR events at the Chicagoland Speedway. IDOT employees distribute information about the importance of seat belt use and how to prevent impaired driving.
As part of this effort, Stout asked the firm to provide him with special passes to events in 2009 and 2010 that would provide access to the track, pit land and garage area.
He told the firm he was requesting the passes for IDOT employees in order to meet with NASCAR drivers and Speedway executives and to conduct public relations work on behalf of the state.
But investigators found that several people who received passes did not work for the state.
Stout acknowledged he acted “dishonestly” to get passes for acquaintances or former state employees.
But Stout said he asked attendees to wear IDOT T-shirts in order to create a “presence” for the agency, arguing that constituted official business.
Stout said transportation agency officials had approved of him conducting business at NASCAR races, though they told investigators that they did not give Stout permission to ask for special passes, saying it would be “improper.”
Investigators said Stout committed official misconduct by requesting the passes and providing them to people who were not IDOT employees and were not conducting businesses on behalf of the state.
Stout argued that he was allowed to give the passes to non-employees because they did not cost the state anything, an idea ethics officers rejected.
“Mr. Stout used the influence of his position to obtain the social benefits of gift-giving,” the report states. “Plainly said, Mr. Stout sought to look like a ‘big shot.’ ”
Ethics officers recommended that Stout should be fired because of the serious nature of his actions, his attempts to lie about what happened and previously disciplinary action.
They passed their suggestion along to IDOT officials on Nov. 7, 2011.
The agency asked for more time to review the report on Nov. 22. Stout submitted his resignation on Dec. 12.
Stout had worked for the department since 2003. Records show he made more than $114,000 a year.
In his response to investigators, Stout said he disagreed with their findings and had evidence that pleads his case.
But Stout said he would not release the information because it would “expose state employees and citizens un-necessarily.”
He attached his final performance evaluation, which was made just before he left state government.
Supervisors said Stout “exceeded expectations” and helped Illinois’ traffic safety program become a model for the rest of the nation.
“I can say with confidence that I left the Division of Traffic Safety in a far better condition than when I found it over seven years ago,” Stout wrote. “I will always cherish many of the friendships built over the past seven years. The time to move on has passed.”
Former IDOT exec improperly got NASCAR passes, investigators say
Former IDOT exec improperly got NASCAR passes, investigators say (May 11, 2012)