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FBI informant focus of Dem’s bribery trial

Published: Friday, May 30, 2014 12:09 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, May 30, 2014 12:52 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
Illinois state Rep. Derrick Smith, right, talks with his attorney Victor Henderson, left, as they enter federal court for the beginning of jury selection in Smith's corruption trial Wednesday, May 28, 2014, in Chicago. The Chicago Democrat has been charged with accepting a $7,000 bribe in exchange for using his influence to obtain a state grant for a daycare center. The 50-year-old has pleaded not guilty. A bribery conviction carries a maximum 10-year prison term.

CHICAGO – Opening statements Thursday at an Illinois lawmaker's bribery trial focused on a campaign worker-turned-FBI informant, referred to in court only by a first name, Pete, who secretly recorded state Rep. Derrick Smith allegedly seeking a $7,000 bribe.

Smith, a 50-year-old Chicago Democrat, has pleaded not guilty to accepting 70 $100 bills from a day care in exchange for a letter supporting its bid to win a $50,000 state grant, which all turned out to be part of an FBI sting.

The campaign worker went to the FBI in 2011 offering to wear a wire and record Smith scheming to receive a bribe, prosecutor Michael Donovan told jurors in Chicago.

In a transcript of one recorded conversation – displayed by Donovan on a courtroom screen – Smith uses slang as he appears to ask Pete about how to get the bribe from a day care operative, saying, "How she going to get the cheddar to us?"

Smith rejects the idea of receiving it in the form of a traceable cashier's check.

"OK. Cash?" responds the informant.

"Yeah," the legislator answers, "I don't want no trace of it."

Smith also tells Pete to be careful about how they interact regarding the payment, saying, "I don't let the left hand know what the right hand is doing, man."

In the defense opening, Victor Henderson attacked the informant's credibility, portraying him as a deadbeat and convicted felon looking to make a buck. The FBI paid him $25,000 for his cooperation, Henderson said.

"This case is not just about Rep. Derrick Smith," the attorney told jurors. It was, he said, also about Pete and an FBI eager to bring down an Illinois representative.

One of the government's first witnesses, FBI agent Ryan McDonald testified later that Pete had supplied information to the agency since 1994.

During his opening statement, Donovan said a distraught Smith had confessed to taking the bribe hours after his March 13, 2012, arrest. Smith, he added, even retrieved $2,500 in leftover bribe money bound by paper clips from the foot of his bed and handed it to agents.

Henderson denied Smith had confessed, saying he was merely expressing anger for having been "taken advantage of" by Pete.

"He never said he had taken a bribe. He said he'd 'messed up,'" Henderson said.

The attorney also spoke glowingly about his client, saying Smith had gone on from a job with Chicago's sanitation department to become a college graduate and elected official.

After Smith's arrest, the House voted 100-6 to expel him. But he was reinstated after winning his late-2012 election. He lost his 2014 primary and will finish out his current term.

The trial, expected to last a week, was scheduled to continue Friday.

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