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Wigginton admits to affair, but stands by record as U.S. Attorney for Southern Illinois

Wigginton comments on ex-judge’s sentence

U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton comments on the sentence given to former St. Clair County Judge Michael Cook. A federal judge sentenced Cook to two years in prison on heroin possession and weapons charges on March 28th, 2014.
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U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton comments on the sentence given to former St. Clair County Judge Michael Cook. A federal judge sentenced Cook to two years in prison on heroin possession and weapons charges on March 28th, 2014.

Former U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton admitted to an extramarital affair with a subordinate that launched a Department of Justice investigation, but denies that it interfered with his duties as the top law enforcement official in southern Illinois.

Wigginton served the U.S. District Court in Southern Illinois from 2011 through 2015. His name was initially redacted from a summary report of the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General’s investigation, but recently was made public by a federal judge in Manhattan, New York, as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by online news aggregator, Buzzfeed, against the DOJ.

According to the report, which was released to the Belleville News-Democrat, Wigginton’s consensual affair with a supervisor in his office created an “unbearable atmosphere” for other employees. Investigators determined it led to unequal treatment of employees, misuse of government time, and other ethical conflicts.

Wigginton, 56, retired from federal service in December 2015 to join a private practice in Clayton, Missouri, he said. He said he learned of the investigation after he had left the post.

In an interview with the BND and in the DOJ report, Wiggington admitted to a consensual affair, which he said lasted from November of 2011 to November of 2015.

“I readily admitted the affair within five minutes,” he said. “I am sorry for any damage I caused to my family or friends.”

Wigginton stands on his record as U.S. attorney, calling the Southern District of Illinois “the most efficient in the nation” during his tenure.

“I was promoted by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to be chairman of the Violent and Organized Crime committee right after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, which speaks volumes as it relates to the job my office did while I was the U.S. attorney,” he said.

Wigginton disputes that affair created hostile environment

Wigginton said he is unaware of any negative effect the affair had on his colleagues or on office culture.

“I served five years and four months and never had a complaint filed against me,” said Wigginton, who resided in Troy. “The sexual harassment coordinator was four doors down from me. ...

“I learned about (the investigation) a week after I resigned ... My resigning had nothing to do with a complaint being filed.”

The Office of Inspector General had released only a redacted summary of its investigation findings that withheld the names of both Wigginton and the subordinate supervisor with whom he had an affair.

In March, however, U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick ruled that the release of Wigginton’s name served the public’s interest since “the wrongdoing ... clearly implicated the core responsibilities” of his job and that “the consequences of the wrongdoing directly impacted the work environment of the office.”

“Indeed,” Broderick wrote, “the actions of the U.S. Attorney and Supervisory AUSA led to the filing of complaints and could have led to lawsuits.”

The woman’s identity remains protected.

‘An outstanding attorney’

At least 17 employees of Wigginton’s office were interviewed as part of the investigation by the Office of Inspector General. According to the report summary, many said the affair between Wigginton and the supervisor “was obvious and not discrete.”

They said the pair carpooled to meetings, had lunch together almost daily and flirted with each other in the office, the report states, “which was embarrassing and distracting for other employees.”

The report also states that at least 16 times over four years Wigginton and the female supervisor went “on official travel together so they could spend more time together.”

The report says employees told investigators that Wigginton and the supervisor’s affair created a “hostile work environment.” Some said they feared retaliation for their cooperation with the Office of Inspector General.

“Many employees felt extremely stressed, powerless, and avoided (Wigginton and the woman) at any cost,” the investigation summary reads. “... Many employees were afraid to approach (USAO supervisors) regarding … harsh management style because it was assumed they were together, and that (Wigginton) would always support her.”

From 2008 through 2015, the female supervisor, who is still employed at the U.S. attorney’s office in Fairview Heights in a non-supervisory role, received more than $15,000 in bonuses and $17,000 in salary increases. Wigginton was responsible for her performance evaluations from 2011 to 2014, as they engaged in the affair.

Police have released dashboard footage of Steve Wiggninton's DUI arrest. The video shows him failing a sobriety test and refusing a breathalyzer test before being arrested.

Wigginton described the woman as “an outstanding attorney” and said his relationship with her did not influence his appraisal of her work or afford her preferential treatment.

“She is well respected as one of the top attorney’s in the nation,” he said. “She earned everything she received and she should’ve gotten more.”

If others in the office were aware of the affair, or if it created any “hostility,” Wigginton said he was unaware of it.

According to the OIG report, he even argued to investigators that his office was full of lawyers who were both comfortable with confrontation and understood the channels for reporting misconduct. Wigginton said the timing of the complaint was “suspicious” and likely brought “by a few malcontents.”

Wigginton said during his time as U.S. attorney he personally funded a soup bus in East St. Louis and organized golf tournaments and other fundraisers to benefit underprivileged youth. He said he wanted to make a difference in the community.

The former resident of Troy has twice been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, most recently on New Year’s Eve when he ran into another car while trying to get a hamburger in Edwardsville.

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Carolyn P. Smith has worked for the Belleville News-Democrat for 18 years and currently covers breaking news in the Metro-East. She graduated from the Journalism School at the University of Missouri at Columbia and says news is in her DNA.
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