CHICAGO (CBS) — Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) was indicted by a federal grand jury on bribery charges Thursday.
As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, the bribery indictment comes two years after federal agents raided Austin’s Far South Side office. Back then, she said she had not committed any crime – but prosecutors believe differently.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Slight Chance Of Storms Overnight; A Quiet Pattern To Come
The charges claim Austin conspired for construction contractors seeking city assistance for a development in her Far South Side ward to make improvements on her own home.
Austin, 72, was charged with one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote bribery, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery, and one count of willfully making materially false statements to the FBI.
Also charged was Austin’s chief of staff, Chester Wilson Jr., 55. In addition to bribery counts, he is also charged with theft of government funds, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The indictment claims that starting in 2014, a construction company planned to build a residential development in Austin’s ward at a cost of about $49.6 million. An agreement with the city dictated that the company would make infrastructure improvements in the new development – including constructing new interior streets, street lighting, landscaping, and sidewalk improvements.
The company was also eligible for more than $10 million in tax incrementing financing and other payments from the city, the indictment said.
Beginning in 2016, Austin and Wilson were provided with personal benefits by the construction company and other contractors so as to sway them, the indictment said. The benefits included home improvements, furniture, and appliances for Austin’s own home, and home improvement materials and services for rental properties that Wilson owned, the indictment alleged.
The indictment claims that in June 2017, a contractor for the development paid a bill for $5,250 to cover part of the purchase price for kitchen cabinets at Austin’s home by falsely claiming the cabinets were for a house in the new development.
The following month, Austin accepted an offer from a contractor on the development project to pay for two “brand new” and “expensive” sump pumps, and to have a family member buy and install a new dehumidifier, the indictment said.
Wilson also solicited benefits from the contractor for his rental home, including “heating and air” services, the indictment said. In October 2017, the contractor told Wilson he would pay for part of the HVAC system at Wilson’s rental property because “you’ll help me a lot, and I’ll help you,” the indictment said.
The indictment claims that Austin and Wilson also authorized the spending of aldermanic menu funds for the construction company to work on infrastructure in the new development, and also coordinated with the construction company owner to seek city tax increment financing money and other payouts several times in 2017 and 2018.
The theft charge against Wilson alleges that he ran a separate scheme to buy Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at a discount. Wilson drew a City of Chicago salary and was not eligible for food stamps, but he got a SNAP card by paying cash to someone in an amount below the face value of the card, the indictment alleges.
Austin’s ward office near 111th Street and Normal Avenue was raided in June 2019. FBI agents left the office in unmarked vehicles that day after removing what appeared to be computer equipment and boxes of evidence.READ MORE: At Least 2 People Killed, 32 Wounded In Gun Violence In Chicago So Far This Weekend
Kozlov spoke exclusively to Austin at that time.
Kozlov: “You say you’ve done nothing wrong. When are you going to talk to your constituents?”
Austin: “When I go back to work.”
Austin: “I’m going to go back to work, yes.”
Austin also said: “I really have done nothing wrong. I’m going to try to get back to what the people elected me for.”
Kozlov spoke to someone at Austin’s ward office late Thursday afternoon, who told her Austin was unavailable.
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 2019, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot replaced her with Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
Days ago, Austin pleaded with Mayor Lightfoot and fellow aldermen to cooperate after a raucous City Council meeting earlier in the week.
“Madame mayor, I hope and pray that you follow the rules and the regulations of this body,” Austin said. “We disrespected one another. We used words that we wouldn’t normally use.”
In the past, she has called the investigation into her affairs a witch hunt.1 Killed, 2 Wounded In West Pullman Shooting
It was not clear Thursday night whether Austin would attend a special City Council meeting on Friday to address Chicago violence, at which police Supt. David Brown is set to appear.