CHICAGO (CBS) — One of state Rep. Derrick Smith’s attorneys offered a rather unusual defense on Wednesday against allegations the West Side lawmaker accepted a $7,000 bribe from a daycare operator seeking a state grant.
“One could certainly accept money as a public official without that acceptance of money being a bribe,” defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said after Smith pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Wednesday. “President Obama and Governor Romney accepted millions of dollars. They were not bribes.”
WBBM Newsradio’s Veronica Carter reports Smith was arrested in March 2012, accused of accepting a $7,000 cash bribe from a federal informant posing as a daycare center operator who was seeking Smith’s help securing a $50,000 state grant.
Although Smith has publicly maintained his innocence, federal prosecutors alleged he admitted to FBI agents on the day of his arrest that he “f***ed up” when he took the money, and never should have written a letter of support for the daycare center.
Federal prosecutors also allege he told federal agents he was worried about his poor campaign finances, and handed agents $2,500 of the cash he took. According to FBI reports, Smith waived his right to remain silent and talked to federal agents for three hours without an attorney present, hoping to avoid negative publicity.
Smith’s defense team has asked a judge not to let the jury in his upcoming trial hear about the confession, arguing it was part of a private plea negotiation.
After Wednesday’s hearing, defense attorney Josh Adams was asked about the alleged confession.
“Can’t read much into it right now, after he was arrested in FBI headquarters,” he said
U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman has scheduled a hearing on the matter for next week.
However, prosecutors have contended Smith knew his rights, and that any statements he gave to the FBI on the day of his arrest could be used against him in court.
Smith’s career has been a roller coaster since his arrest. He was re-elected within days of the arrest, later booted from the Illinois House – something that had not happened in a century – re-elected in the 2012 general election, then lost the 2014 Democratic primary, despite the support of House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Sorosky said Smith just wants to do his job, as he still holds his House seat until next year.
“He’s in a good mood. He feels he is innocent. He just wants to finish out his term as a legislator,” he said.
Smith’s trial is scheduled to begin next month.