White accused in job scandal

SPRINGFIELD – Secretary of State Jesse White is breaking a conflict of interest law by allowing the spouses of two top aides to work for his office, his Republican challenger charged Thursday.

Dan Rutherford, a state senator from Chenoa, says state law bars the wives of White chief of staff Thomas Benigno and personnel director Steve Roth from working on contract for the office.

The law prohibits contracts for spouses or children of state officers who earn more than 60 percent of the governor’s $150,691 salary.

Benigno makes $132,296 and Roth earns $109,572, according to state records.

Rutherford, speaking to reporters at a state Capitol news conference, said White should know better.

“… Either Jesse White is knowledgeable of this illegal activity, or he’s asleep at the wheel about it,” Rutherford said.

White spokesman Dave Druker said the law applies to neither Benedetta Benigno or Melissa Roth because it exempts people in “ministerial duties,” such as laborers, clerks, bookkeepers and receptionists. Benigno is a secretary for the secretary of state police and Roth, paid $30 an hour, schedules speakers to address community groups about traffic safety.

But Rutherford produced a business card for Benigno, 53, that identifies her as an “intelligence analyst.” She is paid $25 an hour.

“That’s something that was made up for her,” Druker said. “It’s a generic term.”

Druker said Benigno needs business cards because she schedules interviews for people who want to talk to investigators in the fraud unit for which she works.

Roth, 37, who earned $32,000 last year, sets up speakers from White’s office for community events. As a scheduler, she is exempt from the law, he said.

Druker said he was mistaken when he told a Chicago newspaper in August that Roth speaks at events herself.

He contended that even if Benigno analyzed cases and Roth engaged in speaking events, they would be exempt from the law.

Rutherford sent a letter to Attorney General Lisa Madigan asking her to investigate. He also posted the information on a whistleblower Web site that White set up.

Rutherford has attacked White on nepotism in his office, including White’s daughter, who is a $112,000 executive, and a nephew and three nieces who work in entry-level jobs.