Rep. Smith allegedly cast votes, called about bribe on same days
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfield Bureau Chief email@example.com July 18, 2012 5:40PM
Illinois Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, is seen on the House floor during session Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. Smith has been largely absent from the capital since his March 13 arrest on a federal bribery charge. He was indicted on April 10, 2012 for allegedly accepting $7,000 in exchange for his support of a grant application. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:54AM
SPRINGFIELD — Seven days last spring, state Rep. Derrick Smith started his day at the Capitol by pressing the switch at his desk on the floor of the Illinois House to record his presence.
On those days, he later would press the same switch to cast votes to ban cell phone use by drivers around emergency scenes, to crack down on copper thieves and to toughen the penalty against certain criminals who steal more than $5,000, among other things.
But on those same days, between late February and early March, he was also strategizing over a secretly tapped phone with a government mole about how to collect a $7,000 cash bribe, prosecutors charge.
Prosecutors have not said when or where the calls were made, so it’s impossible to know whether Smith was on the House floor, in his office next to the Capitol or in a committee room while on the phone with the mole — or somewhere else in Springfield.
“Alright, just leave it in the envelope,” federal prosecutors quoted Smith as telling the informant while in Springfield March 8 — a hectic session day that lasted more than three-and-a-half hours and included 41 votes on bills.
“I’ll be there so I can unseal it for you,” Smith allegedly said.
Smith faces a federal bribery charge after allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe from a government mole, acting on behalf of a purported Chicago daycare operator seeking his help in securing a $50,000 state grant.
A Chicago Sun-Times review of phone calls between Smith and the mole that federal investigators identified in their criminal complaint and the House journal turned up numerous, unreported occasions when Smith actually was in Springfield, allegedly conversing over the phone with the informant.
That detail could surface Thursday during a key hearing when a legislative panel weighing Smith’s political future hears arguments to punish him with sanctions as severe as expulsion.
“That building is so impressive. You can’t walk in there without thinking it’s the people’s business,” David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said of the statehouse. “If he’s going to be at the Capitol, the notion he was engaging in allegedly corrupt activities is all the more egregious.”
In their criminal complaint against Smith, federal prosecutors outlined 17 secretly recorded telephone conversations between Smith and the mole offering the bribe. Seven of those calls fell on days the House was in session and Smith was on the job. On six of those days, it was Smith doing the calling, according to the complaint.
There’s no way to tell on those seven days what exactly Smith was doing in Springfield when the calls were made because investigators don’t allude to times for the calls in the complaint.
Smith’s lawyer, Victor Henderson, declined comment Wednesday when asked about whether his client had those conversations with the government informant on days the Legislature was in session and Smith was in Springfield.
Henderson is fighting to keep the criminal complaint that refers to all of the calls and tells the narrative of Smith’s alleged crime out of the committee’s record, but the two House managers believe it should be included as a piece of evidence against Smith.
After hearing arguments from the two managers trying Smith — Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) — and a response from Henderson, the House Select Committee on Discipline could vote on sanctions against Smith.
The committee will convene at 9:30 a.m. in the Michael A. Bilandic Building. Audio and video feeds of the proceedings can be accessed over the Internet at www.ilga.gov.
Henderson said it isn’t clear whether his client will attend the proceedings.
If the committee does recommend expulsion or perhaps a lesser penalty, the full House will have to be called into session and sign off on the recommendation for the punishment to take effect. Under House rules, 79 out of the chamber’s 118 members must approve of the sanctions for them to be imposed.