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Bribery case against Rep. Derrick Smith goes to federal jury

Derrick Smith (left) crosses Dearborn Street after leaving Dirksen Federal Building with his lawyer Victor HendersMonday afternoon. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Derrick Smith (left) crosses Dearborn Street after leaving Dirksen Federal Building with his lawyer Victor Henderson Monday afternoon. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

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Updated: July 11, 2014 6:20AM



Jurors deliberated for two hours Monday afternoon without reaching a verdict in the bribery and extortion trial of state Rep. Derrick Smith.

They had begun their deliberations earlier in the day after hearing four hours of closing arguments that capped a weeklong trial.

Jurors will reconvene Tuesday morning to continue working to decide the fate of the West Side Democrat.

Earlier Monday, prosecutors told jurors the lawmaker damned himself in “his own words” in secretly recorded conversations and took a $7,000 bribe “because it was easy and because he could.”

But Smith’s attorneys said the freshman lawmaker was “set up” in a “ruse” by the feds and a campaign worker who was paid by the FBI.

Smith, 50, is accused of taking the bribe in 2012 to write a letter to support a state grant application by a daycare business. He was caught on tape accepting the $7,000 in the run-up to a primary election in 2012, handed back $2,500 of it to the FBI, and — the FBI says — admitted he took the cash in return for writing the letter.

Making her closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marsha McClellan said Smith had two faces — one he showed the public, and one he used behind closed doors as he orchestrated the bribe scheme.

McClellan pointed to what seemed to be incriminating statements Smith was secretly recorded making to the campaign worker, including perhaps the most memorable clip played during the week-long trial, in which Smith referred to the bribe as “cheddar.”

In other tapes McClellan highlighted, Smith said of the alleged bribe, “I don’t want no trace of it.” And of the woman he was allegedly extorting, he said, “we’ll see what she’s made of.”

But Smith’s attorney Vic Henderson said the bribery scheme was “the government’s plan” and the FBI mole spent more than three months trying to persuade Smith to take the bribe.

Smith “didn’t lean on anyone — he was leaned on,” Henderson said. “To the extent that there was any crime, [the government] fabricated it.”

Henderson pointed to sections of the tape in which Smith seemed reluctant to accept the bribe, or unsure if he would receive anything in return for writing the letter, as well as a recording in which Smith said the letter “had to be done by the book.”

“If {Smith} had secrets about how he ran his campaign, that wasn’t a crime,” Henderson added.

If convicted on both counts, Smith faces up to 20 years behind bars, though a shorter sentence would be more likely.

Smith became the first lawmaker tossed out of the Illinois House in more than a century when he was charged in 2012, but won re-election later that year.

He lost a primary earlier this year, despite strong financial support from House Speaker Mike Madigan’s organization, and is currently serving out his lame duck term.

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @kimjnews



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