State Rep. Derrick Smith was arrested today on bribery charges but could remain a candidate in next Tuesday’s primary election.
Prosecutors allege that Smith accepted a $7,000 bribe in the form of a campaign contribution to write a letter of support for a day-care center that he thought was vying for a $50,000 Early Childhood Construction Grant from the Illinois Capital Development Board.
But the day care owner was fictional, and the day care was not seeking the grant. Smith was the subject of a federal sting.
According to the criminal compliant, an employee who cooperated with prosecutors said that shortly after Smith was appointed to the General Assembly last March, he floated the idea of using a state grant to pay the employee for work on his failed campaign for Cook County commissioner. The employee is referred to as CS-1 (short for Cooperating Source) in the complaint. “Almost immediately following his appointment as state representative in March 2011, Smith agreed to present CS-1 as a contractor so that CS-1 could apply for and receive a state grant. Smith told CS-1 that the grant funds would be used to pay CS-1 for [his] campaign work. Smith told CS-1 that Smith, in turn, would take a ‘fee’ for approving the grant.” The employee said he turned down the proposal.
He went on to work with the feds to broker a phony deal between Smith and the day care. According to the complaint, the Federal Bureau of Investigation paid the employee $4,000 for his cooperation and also helped cover moving costs.
Between December of last year and March of this year, prosecutors say and Smith and the employee worked out a deal to sell a recommendation letter for campaign contributions as prosecutors recorded their phone calls and in-person conversations. The complaint said that Smith provided an official letter of support on March 2, 2012. The complaint said that Smith wanted the $7,000 in cash, quoting him as saying, “‘I don’t want no trace of it.’” Smith agreed to give the employee $2,000 for brokering the deal and to cancel the debt owed him for campaign work.
According to the complaint, the two met last Saturday afternoon, and the employee gave Smith $7,000 cash provided by prosecutors. Smith allegedly gave the employee $1,000 cash and promised another $1,000 in the form of a check.
If convicted on bribery charges, Smith faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Smith is running in next Tuesday’s primary in the10th legislative district. He faces Tom Swiss, a former director of the Cook County Republican Party who is now running as a Democrat. Swiss has called for Smith to resign. Smith was not available for comment at his district office.
However, there is nothing in the law to force a resignation or stop Smith from running on Tuesday. “[He’s] innocent until proven guilty,” said Ken Menzel, deputy general council for the State Board of Elections. Menzel said that Smith would only be ineligible from holding his position if he is convicted. “Unless he withdraws as a candidate, he’s still in the game.”
However, Menzel added, “This kind of news a week before the election is the kind of thing that generally loses you the election.”
There is no Republican opponent slated for the general election, but the party could change that. The Republican central committee could pick a candidate after the primary, and that person would then have until June 4 to gather the required 500 signatures.