Former state Rep. Smith’s sentencing set for Thursday

SHARE Former state Rep. Smith’s sentencing set for Thursday
SHARE Former state Rep. Smith’s sentencing set for Thursday

It took Derrick Smith only a year in the Illinois House of Representatives to try to line his pockets with a $7,000 cash bribe.

Now prosecutors want the disgraced former state representative to spend as many as five years in a federal prison to think about the stack of bills he kept in a chest at the foot of his bed until admitting to the FBI he’d “f—ed up,” according to trial testimony.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marsha McClellan said that length of sentence would send a message to the unrepentant Smith — who denied his guilt even after his conviction last year — and to the constituents who re-elected him after his arrest in March 2012.

“Both the voters and political officials alike must understand that public service does not include even the slightest tolerance of corruption,” McClellan wrote in a sentencing memo earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman is set to sentence Smith on Thursday morning, ending the last significant remaining pending criminal case involving an elected official in Chicago’s federal courthouse.

Victor P. Henderson, Smith’s defense attorney, will seek leniency for a man he said is simply trying to move on with life and provide for his family. Before his 2012 re-election, the West Side legislator became the first member in a century to be tossed from the House.

He was finally defeated in the March 2014 primary.

“Derrick Smith’s life is about serving the public and giving of himself,” Henderson wrote in his own memo to the judge in February.

In fact, Smith allegedly told an FBI agent he “did it for the people” when he was arrested for the bribe he took in exchange for a letter of support for a state grant application. However, prosecutors said Smith tried to avoid a paper trail by telling a cooperating witness he wanted the money in cash. They said he switched telephones when talking to the witness, and he never told those responsible for his campaign finances about the cash, which he called “cheddar.”

“He extorted this money because he could and pocketed it because he thought no one would ever know,” McClellan wrote.

The witness secretly recorded Smith as he accepted the bribe, though. And that witness even counted the bills out loud as he handed them over — “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Damn, stuck together. Six. Seven.”

Smith then made prosecutors’ jobs even easier by later handing back to the FBI $2,500 of the bribe that he had stashed in his bedroom.

The rookie legislator “learned the corrupt campaign ropes quickly” after his March 2011 appointment to the House, prosecutors said. They’ve also accused him in court filings of shaking down a 27th Ward liquor store for $7,500 as it sought to transfer its liquor license in early 2012.

That money was paid by check and landed in Smith’s campaign account, they said.

Meanwhile, jurors needed only four hours to find Smith guilty last June of taking the $7,000 cash bribe for which he’d been arrested. Afterward, they said they were troubled by prosecutors’ use of a “slippery, disgusting informant.” And the jury foreman purportedly felt Smith was entrapped.

Henderson argued in February that’s what sets Smith apart from other notoriously corrupt Illinois politicians like former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Smith didn’t orchestrate the events that led to his indictment, Henderson said.

“The situation was created by the government,” Henderson wrote.

Contributing: Kim Janssen

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