SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — A top Republican in the Illinois House who resigned in July after claiming his Facebook page had been hacked acknowledged Friday that he engaged in "inappropriate online conversations" with a woman who extorted him into wiring money to the Philippines.
Downers Grove Republican Ron Sandack, who had been the GOP floor leader, issued a statement following the release of additional information from a police report that he filed in July. The report says Sandack accepted a "friend" request from the woman on Facebook and exchanged messages and a Skype video call before he received messages demanding money.
The nature and full content of the messages and video call are redacted from the police report.
According to the report, which The Associated Press obtained through an open records request, Sandack might have fallen prey to a scam originating in the Philippines. Sandack's statement described it as an "international crime ring focusing on high-profile individuals luring them to engage in inappropriate online conversations with the intent of extortion."
"I took their bait and fell for it hook, line and sinker," Sandack, who is married with two children, said of a video conversation he had with a woman he believed to be in her early 20s. "Subsequently, counterfeit social media accounts were created jeopardizing my online identity. Nonetheless, I was a victim. Poor decisions on my part enabled me to be a victim."
Sandack, who did not return a message left by the AP, added that no part of the incident was related to his work in the General Assembly, nor was the computer he used state property.
The face of the House Republicans during an 18-month battle with majority Democrats over spending priorities and conservative Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's agenda, Sandack was a voracious user of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. A spokeswoman for Rauner declined comment.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said in a brief statement Friday that he respects Sandack's decision to resign. "He did the right thing," Durkin said. "I wish him and his family nothing but the best."
Downers Grove police concluded their investigation into the matter without filing charges. Their latest report says the FBI facilitated a conversation between Sandack and the Philippine National Police, but local police warned him there was little they could do with a crime committed outside the U.S.
Sandack, who was Downers Grove's mayor for seven years before joining the Legislature in 2010, told police that he exchanged several messages and had one video call on Skype after he accepted a Facebook friend request from the woman on July 7. The day after the Skype call, Sandack received a message that included a list of his Facebook contacts and demanded money be wired to the Philippines.
After sending an undisclosed amount of money, he was threatened with consequences — blacked out in the report — if he didn't send more. He ignored those demands but wired cash a second time after learning that at least two fictitious Facebook pages had been created in his name without authorization. He contacted Facebook, which shut down the pages, but after more messages arrived, Sandack notified police.
The report includes redacted sections that appear to hold information containing the identity of the scammers through Facebook and Skype accounts and the people who picked up the wired money, but it is unclear whether the suspects were identified.
The Associated Press appealed the initial refusal by Downers Grove Police to release more than it did of the Sandack report in July to the state attorney general's public access counselor. That office had yet to respond to the appeal when the fresh version of the report was disclosed. (AP)