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Aaron Rossi invokes Fifth Amendment 10 times to avoid answering questions in civil case

Aaron Rossi walking out of courthouse
WCBU file photo
Aaron Rossi briefly testified Tuesday in a Tazewell County courtroom in Pekin, after his lawyers tried unsuccessfully to keep him off the witness stand.

As the shadow of an ongoing federal investigation looms, the former Reditus Labs CEO invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 10 times in a row on Tuesday to avoid answering questions in a long-running civil dispute.

Aaron Rossi briefly testified in a Tazewell County courtroom in Pekin, after his lawyers tried unsuccessfully to keep him off the witness stand. Rossi repeated the same scripted response to questions from lawyers representing former business partners who have accused him of pillaging the former COVID-19 testing giant Reditus to fund his own lavish lifestyle.

“Upon the advice of counsel, I’m asserting my due process and Fifth Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution and Illinois Constitution, and I respectfully decline to answer,” Rossi repeated.

Rossi’s use of the Fifth Amendment comes after a new court filing that suggests a broadening federal probe into Reditus and possibly Rossi. That filing from Rossi’s own attorneys asked for a pause in civil proceedings because of “ongoing, confidential United States Department of Justice criminal and civil investigations into Reditus’ billing and contracting practices, and presumably those acting on its behalf, including Aaron Rossi.” It also refers to an “ongoing and secret federal grand jury investigation with an IRS Special Agent.”

Rossi also faces federal criminal charges of tax and mail fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.

Pekin-based Reditus made hundreds of millions of dollars from state contracts for COVID-19 testing and brought hundreds of jobs to Pekin. Reditus had testing contracts with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Department of Corrections, among other public and private entities. It ran the COVID testing site at Bloomington's Interstate Center for much of the pandemic.

Reditus ultimately went out of business, facing a litany of legal problems.

That includes the civil litigation that brought Rossi to the witness stand Tuesday. Rossi’s lawyers again referenced the “ongoing investigation” in his invoking of the Fifth Amendment, though they said “we don’t even know what the parameters of that are.”

Tuesday’s hearing was ostensibly about a dispute within the broader civil lawsuit — whether an attorney, Michael Evans, was working for Rossi or Reditus or both, and how attorney-client privilege would apply depending on the answer.

Peter Lubin, an attorney representing one of Rossi’s disgruntled former partners, questioned why Rossi would be taking the Fifth.

“I don’t see how anyone ever could say the fact that Evans was a lawyer for the company, or a lawyer for Rossi personally, how that would create any additional risk for criminal prosecution,” Lubin said.

In a case that’s attracted wide public and media interest, Judge Stephen Kouri granted a request from Rossi’s lawyers to prohibit media from using cameras to record Rossi’s testimony. No clear reason for the lawyers’ objection to cameras was provided.

Opposing counsel did not object to the ban on cameras, and the designed media representative — as defined in the 10th Judicial Circuit’s own media rules — was not provided an opportunity to present evidence or answer the objection. It’s unclear if the objection was filed “prior to the commencement” of Tuesday’s hearing, as the 10th Circuit’s rules also require.

Also Tuesday, Kouri also said it was a mistake to tell TV cameras to stop filming during a hearing last week. A previously issued Extended Media Order indeed permits recording throughout the case.

“I think I incorrectly shut down the cameras,” Kouri said.

Later Tuesday, attorney Adam Silverman took the stand. He was appointed by the court in April to serve as receiver for Reditus, as the civil dispute played out. Attorneys for Rossi’s former business partners asked Silverman questions about Rossi’s employment contract with Reditus. In those questions, those attorneys claimed the contract called for Rossi to receive $30,000 per month and then a quarterly payment of 60% of the company’s profits, paid within six weeks of the end of the quarter.

Rossi’s own attorneys objected after that question was asked, raising concerns about potentially privileged attorney-client material being disclosed in Silverman’s testimony.

Based on email correspondent reviewed by Silverman, he said it didn’t appear any compensation expert was consulted to help prepare Rossi’s contract.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.