CHICAGO — A federal jury in Chicago on Tuesday convicted Illinois state Rep. Derrick Smith of bribery for taking $7,000 from a purported day care operator seeking a state grant.
In a weeklong trial, prosecutors played secret recordings of the 50-year-old Chicago Democrat accepting 70 $100 bills in exchange for a letter supporting the $50,000 state grant — though it was all part of an FBI sting.
Jurors returned their verdict after deliberating about four hours over two days.
The recordings of Smith by a campaign worker-turned-informant included one where Smith uses slang talking about the handover of the bribe, asking, "How she going to get the cheddar to us?" In another he says, "I don't want no trace of it."
Prosecutors also described how a distraught Smith admitted after his March 13, 2012, arrest he took the bribe. He even brought agents to his bedroom, retrieved $2,500 in leftover bribe cash from the foot of his bed and handed it over.
Shortly after Smith's arrest, his House colleagues voted 100-6 to expel him. But he was reinstated after winning his late-2012 election. He lost his 2014 primary and was supposed to finish out his current term. However, a felony conviction means he will lose his seat.
Jurors found Smith guilty on all charges — one count of bribery and one of attempted extortion. Combined, the convictions carry a maximum 30-year prison sentence.
At trial, the defense attacked the credibility of the informant, who was only referred to by his first name, Pete, in court. They described him as a deadbeat and convicted felon who "set up" Smith for $1,000-a-week payments from the FBI.
"He's a hustler," defense attorney Victor Henderson told jurors during closing arguments Monday. "He hustled the representative and he hustled the FBI."
The attorney argued that Pete hoodwinked a devoted public servant together with an overzealous FBI.
"He wasn't going to commit a crime," Henderson said, pointing to Smith. "That was something they fabricated."
But prosecutor Marsh McClellan said in her closing that the recordings and other evidence demonstrated that no one led Smith astray against his will.
"There sits a defendant whose public face is one of service, but who privately wanted to use that office ... to get cash into his pockets," she said.
In a recording from early March 2012, Pete counts aloud as he hands the cash to Smith in seven $1,000 stacks. As the informant counts the fifth stack, he curses as the money sticks together. He pauses, then counts the rest.
Pete then jokingly chides Smith for not expressing gratitude, saying, "(You) didn't even say thank you."
The prosecutor said that Smith's easy, confident tone on the recordings illustrated he didn't think he'd ever get caught.
"Never in a million years did he expect us to listen to him now," McClellan told jurors. "He never thought this day would come."