Political corruption in Chicago is so very real. No news there.
But in the last three weeks, our town has enjoyed a front-row seat to watch how it really works.
So this is how it’s done! This is what is said!
And this is what is never said, just understood.
First, in criminal charges recently brought against Ald. Ed Burke, we saw how an alderman might directly shake down a local business. Basically, you make your target’s life miserable — withholding construction permits and the like — until they get the hint.
Then this week, in a federal court affidavit obtained exclusively by the Sun-Times, we saw how Chicago politicians sometimes work in tandem to put on the squeeze. Public corruption, we were reminded, can be a rewarding team sport.
Here’s how the team approach played out this time:
A developer in 2014 wanted to build a hotel in Chinatown, but he needed a zoning change. So he asked Ald. Danny Solis (25th) for a letter of support.
Solis hemmed and hawed through the summer. Then he invited the developer and an associate of the developer to a meeting with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who runs a law firm that does property tax work.
At some point in the meeting, according to the affidavit, Madigan said his law firm would like to do tax work for the developer. Solis chimed in to say there was “no better firm” to do such work.
Three days later, the developer’s associate called Solis to tell him the developer had agreed to hire Madigan’s law firm.
And here’s the punchline, which you’ve already guessed: Five days later, Solis wrote a letter of support for the hotel.
Did Solis and Madigan break any laws? Time will tell. So far, Madigan and Solis face no criminal charges.
But there is no way that developer, sitting in that meeting with Solis and Madigan, did not feel the squeeze.
What might be legal still can stink.
- FBI secretly recorded Mike Madigan at his law office pitching firm’s services to developer
- Hero or zero? Solis hopes history treats him kindly for helping feds in probe
- Viagra, sex acts, use of a luxury farm: Feds detail investigation of Ald. Solis
Public corruption in Chicago is all about what’s left unsaid. It’s hard to indict a negative.
Solis invites the developer to meet with Madigan. A reasonable assumption is that Solis’ support for the hotel hinges on the developer making Madigan happy.
It goes unsaid.
Madigan asks the developer to hire his law firm. A reasonable assumption is that developer had better say “yes.”
It goes unsaid.
Solis — in a separate sad scandal reported exclusively by the Sun-Times this week — pressed a local political consultant to supply him with Viagra pills and free sex at a massage parlor. The consultant, Roberto Caldero, who at the time was representing a street cleaning company that needed help from the City Council — came through for Solis.
A reasonable suspicion is that Caldero was providing a “quid” — Viagra and free sex — for a “quo” — Solis’ help in gaining a favorable vote in the City Council.
That, too, could go unsaid.
What might be most disturbing in this picture of public corruption, captured in secret FBI recordings, is the possibility that it is far more pervasive than we previously understood.
There is a feeling of business-as-usual in the exchanges between Burke, Solis, Madigan, lobbyists, city contractors and others, even when the business smells. And there is one recorded conversation in particular that suggests the corruption of “pay-to-play” is widespread.
In this recording, Solis is asking Victor Reyes, an attorney and political powerbroker, for a campaign donation. Reyes questions why he should do so when Solis never steers him any business. Several other aldermen, Reyes says, have all steered clients to him.
What do we make of all this?
In the last few weeks, we’ve had a front-row seat to how public corruption goes down in Chicago.
What an expensive ticket.
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