Rep. Derrick Smith loses seat after guilty verdict

CHICAGO CHICAGO (WLS) -- Former Illinois State Rep. Derrick Smith has been found guilty of accepting a $7,000 bribe from a day care operator in his district in exchange for a letter of support for a state construction grant.

As a result of the conviction, Smith will automatically lose his legislative seat. 27th ward Ald. Walter Burnett will chair the committee to select Smith's replacement. That person will serve only until the next legislature is sworn in next January.

Jurors returned with their verdict Tuesday after deliberating about four hours over two days. They found Smith guilty on all charges - one count of bribery and one of attempted extortion.

At trial, prosecutors played secret recordings of the 50-year-old Chicago Democrat allegedly accepting 70 $100 bills in exchange for a letter supporting a state grant. In fact, there was no day care center and Smith was part of an FBI sting. In the tapes, Smith is heard referring to the payoff as "cheddar" several times.

"Public officials need to understand that if they reach out for money in exchange for the services they are sworn to provide the public," said First Asst. U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro, "we're going to investigate them as aggressively as we can."

During the trial, Smith's attorneys claimed that while Smith was guilty of bad judgment, he hadn't committed a crime because the entire scheme was engineering by the FBI. Following today's verdict, Victor Henderson, Smith's attorney, reiterated his belief that Smith is innocent.

"Chicago is a very difficult town to overcome a presumption that all public officials are doing things wrong," Henderson said.

An appointed freshman legislator who was campaigning for his general assembly seat at the time of his arrest, Smith said he doesn't know why he was targeted for prosecution. He and his attorneys briefly addressed the media after the verdict was read.

"I represented the people to the best of my ability, and I did what I thought was right in terms of representing them," Smith said.

Combined, the convictions carry a maximum 30-year prison sentence. Smith pleaded not guilty. His attorney has not said whether they plan to appeal the jury's verdict.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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