October 04, 2022
Election


Election

McCullagh drops out of state race after grooming accusation surfaces

Even though no charges were filed, McCullagh’s withdrawal clears path for opponent in Republican primary

Shorewood resident Tom McCullagh dropped out of the Republican primary for a state House seat after a police report from last year surfaced in which he was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an underage person.

No charges were ever filed related to the allegation. Still, McCullagh withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website.

Eric Blatti, a Joliet-based attorney whom McCullagh described as a “family friend,” confirmed McCullagh dropped out of the race.

“After this story broke out, his family was getting harassed,” Blatti said, adding McCullagh weighed his political ambitions with what was “the best thing for his family.”

Blatti said McCullagh has a wife and two young children.

Opponents called for McCullagh to drop out of the race for the Republican nomination in the 97th Illinois House District, which includes parts of Plainfield, Shorewood and Joliet.

On Tuesday, McCullagh directed questions about the accusation to Blatti, who called the surfacing of the allegation a “smear campaign.” McCullagh failed to respond to multiple calls and messages.

McCullagh was competing for the nomination with Michelle Smith, the Plainfield Township clerk, who has the support of the House Republican Majority, the political arm of the GOP members in the Illinois House of Representatives. Jayme Siemer, the executive director of the group, called for McCullagh to drop out of the race on Tuesday.

plainfield township, election 2022

The withdrawal paves a clear path for Smith to win the GOP nomination for the seat held by State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, who decided not to run for reelection. Plainfield Village Trustee Harry Benton is the only candidate in the Democratic primary.

A partially-redacted Channahon Police Department report from November provided some details of the grooming allegation. In the report, someone interviewed by an officer said McCullagh had been in contact with an underage person. Channahon Deputy Police Chief Adam Bogart declined to say how the person who was interviewed knew the underage person allegedly in contact with McCullagh.

While identifying information about the underage person was redacted, the police report described how McCullagh met the person in August at the Channahon Three River’s Festival where he was working as a volunteer.

The report also said the individual speaking to police learned the alleged victim had a bottle of Smirnoff Marshmallow Vodka they received from McCullagh on Nov. 9.

shorewood, election 2022

Bogart said police never contacted McCullagh because the alleged victim’s family said they did not want to proceed with the investigation.

The report also mentioned police being given consent to conduct a forensic extraction of a cellphone. Bogart said the department attempted to extract information from the device used for the alleged interaction between McCullagh and the underage person.

In supplemental reports obtained by The Herald-News, Channahon police said they had difficulty retrieving data from the phone with the software program the department uses. The department consulted a Joliet police detective who also attempted to extract data using another program but the files extracted were corrupted and unable to be examined, according to the second report.

Bogart said he didn’t have experience with the technology, so he couldn’t explain the difficulty in retrieving the data.

Police were also unable to obtain any video evidence of McCullagh allegedly dropping off the bottle of vodka for the underage person.

A third report documented an interview with the alleged victim, but was almost entirely redacted.

A fourth report said the investigation would “transition to a Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor investigation.”

Bogart said that after considering the facts, investigators concluded the evidence they had “does not support the elements of the crime of grooming.”

Will County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Carole Cheney declined to comment on why no charges were filed.

The report also noted that police would have to speak with McCullagh to investigate if he allegedly contributed to the delinquency of a minor.

will county election

The investigating officer learned on March 23 the alleged victim’s family no longer wanted to participate in the investigation. The report stated that if the victim were to change their mind, then police would attempt to contact and interview McCullagh.

Police then closed the investigation.

Blatti bemoaned the tactic used by McCullagh’s opponents and said such attacks only hurt the Republican Party.

“For a party that loves law and order and appointing judges that adhere to the constitution, they are like the first people to strip somebody of their ‘innocent until proven guilty status,’” Blatti said.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.