The two self-proclaimed chairwomen of the Champaign County Democratic Party are maintaining their public silence.
But the battle over the chairwoman’s position continues as supporters of Maryam Ar-Raheem have filed a police report alleging that supporters of state Rep. Carol Ammons improperly obtained more than $8,000 in party funds that were on deposit at Chase Bank in Champaign.
The police report, filed April 29, identified a 67-year-old woman as having “closed banking account.”
The individual, apparently, is former Democratic Party treasurer Jessica LaRosa, who was elected party treasurer by Ar-Raheem supporters and then suddenly resigned the post shortly afterward.
LaRosa has maintained a public silence over the Ammons/Ar-Raheem controversy and her role in it. But she did issue a one-sentence statement last week saying that “the decision to resign was my own, and had nothing to do with any alleged threats made by anyone.”
Communications between LaRosa and Ar-Raheem indicate that LaRosa’s decision to step down from the treasurer’s post came almost immediately after conflict following the April 22 Democratic Party convention called by Ar-Raheem.
The Ar-Raheem convention came one week after the April 15 party convention orchestrated by Ammons’ supporters so that Ammons could be elected chairwoman.
LaRosa became the target of Ammons supporters because, as treasurer under incumbent chairwoman Ar-Raheem, she had access to party records and funds. Unnerved by the attention, LaRosa wrote at 11:41 p.m. April 22, “I am being personally sued tomorrow morning. I did not sign on for this much drama and am extremely upset.”
Twelve minutes later — 11:53 p.m. April 22 — LaRosa submitted her resignation as treasurer to Ar-Raheem and Ammons.
“I resign my position as treasurer of the Champaign County Democratic Central Committee effective at 12:01 a.m. on 4/23/20. I do not authorize any spending of funds from the Chase checking account nor the Vanguard account.”
Ar-Raheem immediately accepted LaRosa’s resignation.
“You have been very valuable to the party and I truly appreciate your service as treasurer,” Ar-Raheem replied.
On April 25, local lawyer Shayla Maatuka, representing Ar-Raheem, wrote to LaRosa “regarding your resignation and refusal to return the CCDCC (Champaign County Democratic Central Committee) financial records and checkbook to the chair, Maryam Ar-Raheem.”
Maatuka’s letter contended that Ar-Raheem was lawfully elected party chairman on April 22 and noted that LaRosa “resigned your position as treasurer April 23.”
“Therefore the CCDCC demands that you turn over the financial records” to Ar-Raheem. ... “You are not authorized to transfer financial records or checkbooks to anyone except Chair Maryam Ar-Raheem,” Maatuka wrote.
But Champaign lawyer Glenn Stanko, representing LaRosa, said that Maatuka’s letter came “too late.”
Stanko said that Champaign lawyer “Matt Duco sent an email to Jessica,” “advised her that he represented the (Democratic Party, Ammons and Ammons treasurer DeShawn Williams),” demanded the financial records and “advised that a lawsuit would be quickly filed against Jessica if she did not do so.”
As a consequence of the Duco communication, Stanko said, LaRosa “physically transferred the books and records in her possession” to Williams.
Maatuka said Monday that she was retained by Ar-Raheem Democrats to write the demand letter to LaRosa and “that was my limited involvement” in the dispute.
“My hope is that they work it out, just being a Democrat,” she said.
Duco said that he does not represent the local Democratic Party, and “I’m not representing anyone” and is “not aware of any litigation.”
He declined to respond specifically to the LaRosa email threatening litigation, repeating that “I’m not aware of any legal dispute.”
As for the police report, State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said “I have not received a report about that” from Champaign police.
Pursuing a criminal case would be problematic because theft allegations require the intent to permanently deprive an individual or organization of property. In this case, two warring wings of the same political party are at odds over who is the legitimate chairwoman of the party — Ar-Raheem or Ammons. Party resources are now under Ammons’ control and that of her treasurer, but still the property of the local Democratic Party.
Ar-Raheem was elected party chairwoman in 2016 as part of an internal effort to oust then-incumbent chairman Al Klein. At the time, Ar-Raheem was an ally of Ammons, who helped lead the insurrection.
Since then, however, they’ve had a parting of the ways, a dispute that divided party precinct committee members.
It has led to considerable personal enmity and suspicion by Ar-Raheem supporters of Ammons and her husband, Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons.
That suspicion was manifested when local committeewomen Deloris Henry and Cynthia Fears filed a post-election complaint against Aaron Ammons alleging election irregularities and requested a “forensic audit” of the March 17 primary election results.
Writing in an April 29 letter, the elections board replied that it is “not the prosecuting body for the allegations made against a county clerk, that duty falls to the local state’s attorney.”
Henry and Fears complained that election judges were given locked ballot boxes at “all 10 early voting centers,” making it impossible for the election judges to determine the boxes were empty.
“Election judges who had experience said they had never been subjected to locked boxes. When judges asked why the boxes were locked, they were told it was a ‘new policy,’” Henry and Fears wrote in their complaint.
Aaron Ammons already has been chastised by the election board as a consequence of his decision to conduct an improper count of election ballots cast early.
Regarding the election dispute, Rietz said that her office plans to “communicate with” Henry and Fears to see if they wish to pursue the matter. If so, she said, her office would declare that it has a conflict of interest and ask the state appellate prosecutor’s office to look into the accusations of impropriety.
Just a few months ago, Rietz asked the appellate prosecutor to look into the alleged shoplifting of a purse by Carol Ammons. So far, there has been no decision made on how to proceed by the appellate prosecutor.
Since then, Carol Ammons avoided any contact with the media where the subject might come up. Her husband has said the alleged shoplifting involved a “misunderstanding” and discouraged reporters from pursuing the matter.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@ or by phone at 217-351-5369.