Illinois State Police investigation ‘open and ongoing,’ Department of Agriculture ‘outraged,’ could terminate carnival company’s contract following Target 3 investigation

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Six months after the Illinois Department of Corrections released 41-year-old Jason Flynn from a state prison for a felony conviction involving the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old child, the registered sex offender was working on carnival equipment near young children at the Illinois State Fair.

Despite background check protocols and state laws designed to keep child sex offenders away from children at fairs, our investigation revealed an alarming series of gaps and loopholes that allowed Flynn to land on the payroll for a carnival vendor where he worked for at least four days last month.

For the first time in 23 years, the Illinois Department of Agriculture brought a new carnival vendor to the Illinois State Fairgrounds and signed them to a ten year contract. According to an industry publication, Arkansas-based Miller Spectacular Shows won a competitive bid to replace the longstanding vendor last fall. The new company, which had previously set up rides for the DuQuoin State Fair, hauled their gear to Springfield last month and began installing several large rides, including their ‘Adventure Village’ to attract children.

Illinois State Police officials say they ran background checks on a list of workers provided to them by the carnival company, but Flynn’s name wasn’t on it. Then, when someone spotted the registered sex offender and reported him to the authorities, state troopers escorted him off the premises.

“ISP personnel determined that Flynn was hired after the fair began and his name was not submitted to the ISP before the fair or after he began working at the fair to determine his status as a sex offender,” state police spokeswoman Beth Hundsdorfer said in an emailed statement.

We confronted Flynn at his Springfield home on Tuesday night to ask him how he got the job.

“My ex-old lady is the one who told me about it,” he said. “I had to have cash. I had to pay my bills.”

Freddy Miller, the owner of the carnival company, said he was driving through the hills of southern Missouri when he answered a phone call and responded to questions about Flynn’s hiring on Tuesday afternoon. While he said he could not provide any documentation of his company’s employment records, Miller adamantly denied ever hiring Flynn to operate his carnival machinery, a claim Flynn himself refuted.

“[Miller] put me on a Kiddie ride there,” Flynn explained. “It was a rainbow slide or whatever they called it.”

“If they would have did a background check on me, I wouldn’t got hired,” he said.

State inspectors with the Illinois Department of Labor examined the company’s machinery itself last month, and explained how they permitted the company to operate through the end of the calendar year. The same company was allowed to operate carnival rides at the DuQuoin State Fair weeks after the incident, though state police said all of those workers did clear background checks.

The convicted sex offender acknowledged that during his parole, he was not allowed with “like 200 feet or something” from children. Criminal records show Flynn was admitted to state prison in October of 2018 on a maximum four-year sentence for permitting the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old child. He was released in January of 2020, but when he couldn’t secure new housing and satisfy the reporting requirements of a registered sex offender, he was sent back to prison in March of 2020. He served out the remainder of his parole in state prison until he was released again in February of 2021.

“Because his parole ended, as a matter of law, the jurisdiction of the state died in February when he was released,” Prisoner Review Board spokesman Jason Sweat explained in a Tuesday afternoon phone call.

Flynn’s brother, Robert Flynn, was admitted to the Choate Mental Institution in connection with the 2018 sexual abuse incident. Last month, a Sangamon County Judge declared that while “there is sufficient evidence to support the charges,” which included predatory, criminal, and aggravated sexual assault of a child, Flynn was “unfit to stand trial,” and assigned him to two years of psychiatric treatment with the Illinois Department of Human Services. Prosecutors said Jason Flynn was present and “knowingly permitted” the sexual abuse to happen.

Illinois State Police did not directly answer questions about the nature of the complaint at the fairgrounds, other than to say the investigation was “open and ongoing.” Flynn said he was released and was not charged with a crime, although he said he was aware that it was a misdemeanor for a registered sex offender to be on the grounds of a public park.

Illinois state law explicitly bans any registered sex offenders from operating machinery or working on the premises of county fairs, but makes no specific mention of state fairgrounds.

“I worked the fair since I was 16 years old,” Flynn said. “And I never knew it was against the law if I was an arrested pedophile, you could not work the fair.”

“It’s very troubling,” Republican state senator Steve McClure said, a Springfield native who briefly prosecuted child sex crimes in Sangamon County. “A lot more kids go to the State Fair than go to the county fairs, and there’s a lot more people there; and therefore, a lot more potential risks for kids to be separated from their parents, get lost in crowds, etc.”

McClure’s office said he plans to file a bill to add state fairs to the list of restricted places for registered child sex offenders.

“Whenever he was placed on parole, there should have been a requirement that he not have any position at all involving kids, and that would certainly include amusement park rides,” he said.

“There needs to be a full investigation as to what happened here and how this passed by everyone,” McClure said, “because that person should not be working at the state fair at all.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said they were “outraged” to learn of Flynn’s employment with the carnival vendor, and that they were, “exploring all available action against the vendor, up to and including termination of its contract.” At the time of publication, the contract had not yet been terminated.

“The Department of Agriculture is deeply committed to the safety of all fairgoers and works closely with the Illinois State Police to ensure a safe and enjoyable fair experience,” spokeswoman Krista Lisser said. “We have stringent measures in place to protect fairgoers and these measures are laid out in our contracts with all vendors. The vendor in this case put the safety of fairgoers at risk.”