CHICAGO (CBS) — Federal agents have raided another Chicago alderman’s office, this time the Far South Side ward office of Ald. Carrie Austin, once the powerful chair of the City Council Budget Committee.
Sources confirmed to CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley that agents executed a search warrant at Austin’s ward office near 111th and Normal on the far South Side Wednesday. Agents left the office in unmarked vehicles around 2 p.m. after removing what appeared to be computer equipment and boxes of evidence.
Austin has not been charged with any crimes, and it was unclear if she was the specific target of today’s action. Austin had no comment.
Constituent Donyetta Jenkins said she encountered the federal agents when she dropped by Austin’s office.
“I actually came to knock to the door and it was locked and I was like, Why is the alderman’s office locked?,” she told CBS 2’s Megan Hickey.
Jenkins walked around to the back door and asked the agents what they were doing. She said they gave her some “baloney story.”
“He said they were going to fix the pipe or something like that,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Come on you’re pulling my leg.’ And he just repeated it, and I got the clue. Zip it, Donyetta.”
Austin has been alderman of the 34th Ward since 1994, after the death of her husband, former Ald. Lemuel Austin. She chaired the City Council Budget Committee from 2006 until earlier this year, when newly-elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot replaced her with Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
“Anytime the FBI executes a search warrant for an elected official’s government office, it’s a shocking development,” said Lightfoot.
Coincidentally, Austin attended a public event Wednesday morning with Lightfoot at Julian High School, where the mayor announced a summer mentoring program. About the same time, agents were entering her office.
Sources close to the Austin investigation told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov the case has no ties to recently indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th), or former Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who wore a wire for the feds in the Burke case. Austin’s case is entirely separate.
Burke was indicted last month on racketeering and bribery charges. Federal agents raided Burke’s ward office and City Hall office last November and again raided his City Hall office in December before announcing the first charges against him in January.
However, sources close to the investigation told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov that Austin’s case has no ties to Burke.
Burke, 75, pleaded not guilty earlier this month to a new sweeping corruption indictment. He resigned earlier this year as Finance Committee chairman but was re-elected to a record 13th full term, despite the federal charges.
Federal prosecutors have accused Burke of trying to shake down the developers of the Old Main Post Office building and a Chinese businessman seeking a sign permit in exchange for hiring Burke’s private law firm.
Former Ald. Danny Solis (25th) wore a wire for federal investigators as part of that probe. Solis resigned as Zoning Committee chairman in January after news of his cooperation with the federal probe broke. He did not run for re-election and has not been charged with a crime.
The indictment against Burke alleges he told Solis he would not help the New York-based company redeveloping the Old Post Office unless it hired Burke’s law firm to do tax work.o
Burke told Solis in January of 2017: “The cash register has not rung yet.”
Eventually, the post office developer hired Burke’s firm at a $45,000 fee over three years. In return Burke supported a TIF subsidy for the project, without revealing his conflict of interest.
In addition, the indictment alleged that Burke used his position to squeeze tax work for his law firm out of Chinese businessman Charles Cui in exchange for Burke’s help in obtaining a sign permit for a building Cui owns near the Six Corners intersection.
The recent heads of the three most powerful council committees–Burke at finance, Solis at zoning, and Austin at budget–are now all under the microscope of federal prosecutors
Austin’s predecessor as Budget Committee chair, William Beavers, also was caught in a federal corruption probe. In 2013, Beavers was indicted for tax evasion in 2012 after leaving the City Council for the Cook County Board.
In 2013, a federal jury convicted him of charges he failed to report as income more than $225,000 in campaign cash he used for personal expenses.