Panel Asks Feds For More Details On Bribery Case Against Rep. Smith
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Updated 03/27/12 – 4:26 p.m.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — An Illinois House panel is asking federal prosecutors for more information about the bribery charges against State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago).
At its first hearing on Tuesday, the Special Investigative Committee looking into the allegations against Smith voted 6-0 to contact U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald about obtaining evidence from Smith’s bribery case.
Smith himself was not on the House floor on Tuesday, nor did he attend the committee’s hearing looking into the bribery case against him. House members aren’t counting on seeing Smith anytime soon.
Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), a former prosecutor, told CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley, “I would probably think that he won’t show up. His attorney, if he’s smart, will tell him don’t speak, because this could be used against you at some point if you challenge the federal case.”
The panel will determine if there’s enough evidence to recommend disciplinary action against Smith. A second panel, made up of 12 lawmakers would decide whether to move forward with disciplinary action and forward its recommendation to the full House.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Alex Degman reports
“The purpose of this committee is not to discipline Representative Smith,” said State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who is the chairwoman of the investigative committee. “We are, in fact, only to inquire into the underlying facts as thoroughly as possible, and determine whether disciplinary charges are in fact warranted.”
Nekritz said it’s the first time a sitting Illinois House member has faced such an ethics inquiry.
Smith won the Democratic primary for re-election to the 10th District last week, a week after he was arrested on charges of taking a $7,000 bribe in exchange for his endorsement of what he thought was a daycare center’s state grant application. The daycare center itself was real, but the owner Smith was allegedly trying to help was fake, part of a sting by the FBI.
On March 2, Smith provided the aide with an official letter of support for the daycare owner to obtain a $50,000 Early Childhood Construction Grant from the state’s Capital Development Board. In return, during a recorded meeting this past Saturday, the aide gave Smith $7,000 in cash, purportedly from the fictional daycare owner, according to federal prosecutors.
Smith has not made any public statements since his arrest.
Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who is Smith’s political mentor, have both said Smith should resign before lawmakers can remove him from office. White engineered Smith’s appointment to the 10th District seat last year.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel also has called for Smith to step down.
The House investigative panel met for about twenty minutes Tuesday morning, and should convene again in two weeks in Chicago. Nekritz says it’s unclear what the U.S. Attorney will make available to the panel, as such information could interfere with the criminal proceeding.
Nekritz says the current situation has some parallels to what happened before Blagojevich was impeached.
“This is akin to that, but not identical, but I think the first step for us is to contact the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Nekritz said.
House Republican leader Rep. Tom Cross (R-Oswego) says the Blagojevich experience doesn’t really help in these uncharted waters.
“It gives us a little roadmap, but it’s a little different animal,” Cross said.
A similar panel was formed before then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached. When state lawmakers were investigating the criminal charges against Blagojevich in 2009, federal prosecutors only made available a small fraction of the wiretap recordings that were being used in as evidence. Lawmakers eventually removed Blagojevich from office before his criminal convictions resulted in his 14-year prison sentence.