Questions remain after FBI raids Alderman Carrie Austin's 34th Ward office

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Questions remain a day after the FBI raided the office of longtime 34th Ward Alderman Carrie Austin.

Alderman Austin's office in Roseland was the target of a federal raid hours after a summer anti-violence announcement alongside Mayor Lori Lightfoot Wednesday.

"So, I know what you know which is not a lot at this point. As I said before, we'll continue to monitor the circumstances and see how and where this unfolds," Mayor Lightfoot said.

Not long after that, plain clothed FBI agents descended on Austin's office at 111th Street and Normal Avenue and began carrying out boxes.

The alderman's home is just across the street, and a neighbor said none of this seemed normal.

"I said, 'You look very official, what is going on here?' and he said, 'We were fixing the pipes.' I said, 'You're pulling the my leg' and he said, 'We are fixing the pipes,'" said neighbor Donyetta Jenkins.

Alderman Austin has not yet commented on the raid and it is not known why the FBI conducted the raid. Austin declined to speak with reporters outside her home Thursday morning.

At least 10 people who work in her office reported for duty this morning, shutting the media out.

Former Federal Prosecutor Jeff Cramer said FBI agents usually look for computers and hard drives to help make a case. What the FBI is investigating is unknown. Agents didn't raid Austin's city hall office or the budget Committee office, where she was the longtime chairman, some speculate the case is not tied to the recent indictment of Former Finance Committee Chair Ed Burke.

"If they are going to take the step to raid an alder person's office they certainly have something there, they are on first base maybe second base, but they are still clearly looking for items," Cramer said.

Whether the investigation is committee or campaign related, aldermen who have been pushing for reforms for years, said the recent raids, indictments and investigations is an opportunity for a real sea change of reform at city hall.

"Reforms we are looking at include bringing the IG in so the inspector general has oversight over the city council," said Ald. Scott Waguespack.

Last month, longtime Ald. Burke was indicted on more corruption charges after his office was raided late last year. Solis cooperated with the feds and then resigned his seat.

"The fact that Danny Solis wore a wire for two years, I have no reason to know or believe that these things are connected," Mayor Lightfoot said.

Mayor Lightfoot said she will be watching the developments closely.

Austin was the longtime chairman of the powerful budget committee until Lightfoot stripped her of her chairmanship. The alderman's former opponent in the last election was not surprised by the day's developments.

"They raided Burke's office and it resulted in charges and we are just waiting," said Preston Brown Jr. "The Feds don't come raid your office for no reason. I'm sure they've got something and something will stick."

No federal charges have been filed against Alderman Austin yet.

Austin has served as 34th Ward alderman since 1994. While some are not shocked about the raid, other Roseland residents said she has been a good alderman.

"Got to keep an open mind, that is what I'm thinking, I think she is a good alderman, she is good for the community," said Kevin Madison, 34th Ward resident. "I wouldn't think nothing like that for her, but who know what politics do right."

Constituent Ladale Hudson believes it's time for new blood in the 34th Ward.

"Sometimes you can be in there too long and you can be used to the way you do things and things change over the years so it's time," she said.

Meanwhile Austin holds a town hall meeting at a church every third Thursday of the month. It's unclear if she'll keep that on her schedule.
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