State rep: 'I don't want no trace' of $7K bribe

March 14, 2012 5:00:11 AM PDT
State Rep. Derrick Smith is just in his first year of office, but federal authorities on Tuesday afternoon said the Chicago Democrat had already learned Illinois' notorious pay-to-play.

Smith was arrested Tuesday on a federal bribery charge after allegedly accepting a $7,000 cash bribe in exchange for an official letter of support for a daycare center that he believed was seeking a state grant. "I don't want no trace of it," Smith allegedly said of the bribe money he demanded in cash. He is a college graduate with a master's degree from DePaul University.

At an initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan in U.S. District Court, Rep. Smith was ordered released on a $4,500 signature bond. No travel restrictions were placed on Smith.

The investigation began in December when a Smith campaign worker went to the FBI. The informant told agents that Smith had attempted to lure him into a corrupt scheme early in his term as a state representative, but that he declined.

According to court records, in December the FBI began constructing a ruse built around a fictional daycare center that resulted in Smith's arrest. Rep. Smith and the staffer-turned-FBI-informant allegedly had numerous conversations about helping the fictional daycare owner obtain a purported state grant in exchange for a political contribution.

On March 2 according to the criminal complaint, Smith provided the undercover informant with an official letter of support for the daycare owner to obtain a $50,000 Early Childhood Construction Grant from the state's Capital Development Board. In return, during a recorded meeting last Saturday, the secret operative gave Smith $7,000 cash, said to be from the fictional daycare owner.

Smith, who grew up in the infamous Cabrini Green public housing complex, has been in trouble before. He was fired from his position with the City of Chicago in 2005 upon allegations that he used city equipment and personnel to do private landscaping work. He did not face criminal charges.

The 48 year old Chicagoan is currently running for re-election in next week's Illinois primary, having been appointed to the 10th district seat when it became vacant a year ago. He was working in the Illinois Secretary of States office when tapped to fill the open seat.

During numerous recorded in-person meetings and telephone calls since Jan. 24, 2012, federal agents say Smith agreed to write a letter of support for the purported grant application in exchange for a $7,000 bribe.

According to the complaint, on March 2, a letter written on Smith's official letterhead and was addressed to the Illinois Capital Development Board. It stated in part: "As a State Representative for the West Humboldt Park neighborhood, I support [Daycare Owner's purported organization] in their application for a $50,000 Early Childhood Construction Grant from the Illinois Capital Development Board."

Last Saturday afternoon Smith met with the undercover operative in Smith's vehicle and received $7,000 - all in $100 bills according to the FBI. The next day Rep. Smith allegedly kicked back $1,000 in $20 and $50 bills to the campaign staffer for arranging the deal and promised another $1000 later.