State Rep. Derrick Smith, a Democrat from Chicago, was arrested today for allegedly pocketing a $7,000 cash bribe to write an official letter of support for a day care center he believed was seeking a state grant.
The arrest came after an undercover operation launched by the FBI in December with the help of an undisclosed individual who works on Smith’s political campaigns, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The informant told investigators that Smith had talked about needing help with fundraising since he was appointed to the House seat last year. Smith allegedly said he wanted donations in the range of $5,000 to $7,000 and was willing to accommodate reasonable requests from donors, prosecutors said.
At the direction of law enforcement, the informant told Smith in December that he knew a woman who owned a day care center and was hoping to obtain a state grant to cover repairs to the facility, according to the charge.
The informant told Smith the woman might be willing to contribute to his campaign, and Smith allegedly said he would help the woman obtain the grant in exchange for a $5,000 contribution, prosecutors said. Smith later increased his demand, saying that if the woman was “legitimate,” she could contribute $7,000, prosecutors alleged.
Although the day care center was real, the woman was fictional and the center was not actually applying for a state grant, prosecutors said.
Smith was recorded in several meetings and phone calls agreeing to write a letter supporting the center’s grant application in exchange for the money, prosecutors alleged.
On March 2, Smith’s office provided a letter written on his official letterhead supporting the center’s application for the grant, according to the charge.
Smith later told the informant that he wanted the $7,000 in cash, not in the form of a cashier’s check, because he didn’t want the money to leave a trail, prosecutors said. Smith also allegedly told his staffer he would pay him $2,000 for arranging the deal, according to the charge.
On Saturday, the informant met with Smith in his car and counted out $7,000 in $100 bills as he paid off Smith, prosecutors said.
The next day, Smith drove to an alley behind his staffer’s home and gave the staffer $1,000 in cash for his assistance, according to the charge. Smith promised to pay the remaining $1,000 by check, prosecutors said.
If convicted, Smith faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine and would be required to pay restitution.
Smith was appointed in March 2011 to fill a vacant state House seat representing parts of Chicago’s Near West and Near Northwest sides and is seeking election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
He unsuccessfully ran for the Cook County Board in 2010 and was an administrator with the Illinois secretary of state’s office when he was appointed to the House seat.
Secretary of State Jesse White, who led the panel that picked Smith, said at the time of his appointment that Smith was “an honest, stand-up kind of a guy."
Challenger Tom Swiss said the bribery charge marked “another sad day for Illinois.”
“Whenever public corruption occurs, there’s nothing happy about this,” Swiss said.
Swiss immediately called on House Speaker Michael Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, to withdraw any future support for Smith and called on Smith to step down from the legislative seat immediately.
The charge lodged against Smith will “not necessarily” improve Swiss’ chance of winning the primary in one week, Swiss said.
“There’s a lot of political forces in Illinois that will say anything and do anything to maintain power,” Swiss said.
Swiss said he worked as the executive director of the Cook County Republican Party six or seven years ago in a volunteer capacity. He called himself an independent who is seeking to help the residents of his community to find jobs.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun