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Berrios relative indicted in federal bribery case involving ex-Rep. Luis Arroyo

The Chicago Sun-Times last year identified James T. Weiss — Joseph Berrios’ son-in-law — as a player in the case against Arroyo that also led to the downfall of former state Sen. Terry Link.

James T. Weiss owns and operates sweepstakes machines and runs the Alliance of Illinois Taxpayers, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, largely from personal injury law firms allied with House Speaker Michael Madigan. 
Illinois secretary of state

Luis Arroyo spent roughly a year as a bought-and-paid-for member of the Illinois House of Representatives for a businessman who wanted to push sweepstakes legislation, a new federal indictment alleges.

And that businessman just happened to be James T. Weiss, son-in-law of former Cook County Democratic Party chairman and ex-county assessor Joseph Berrios, the feds say.

In exchange for at least $10,000 in bribes from Weiss, Arroyo allegedly pushed and voted for key bills, urged other lawmakers to do the same, spoke out at key moments like committee hearings, and even leaned on people working for the governor.

But Weiss and Arroyo needed someone in the Senate — and the person they turned to happened to be a federal informant. Now Weiss has been charged along with Arroyo in a 15-page indictment that expanded the bribery case filed against Arroyo nearly a year ago.

The Chicago Sun-Times last year identified Weiss — husband of Berrios’ daughter Toni Berrios — as a player in the case against Arroyo that also led to the downfall of former state Sen. Terry Link. Weiss and Arroyo are each charged with mail and wire fraud, as well as bribery. Weiss is also charged with lying to the FBI.

Neither Weiss nor Joseph Berrios could be reached Friday, and court records did not list an attorney for Weiss. Arroyo’s defense attorney did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Weiss, 41, owns Collage LLC, which operates unlicensed video gambling machines known as sweepstakes machines. The indictment alleges that Weiss paid bribes to Arroyo from November 2018 until October 2019, cutting checks from Collage to Arroyo’s Spartacus 3 LLC. It also says Weiss was there when Arroyo asked Link to support sweepstakes legislation on Aug. 2, 2019. A criminal complaint indicates the men met at a Highland Park restaurant, and afterward Arroyo suggested to Link he could be paid for his support.

Though Link is not identified by name in court documents, a source has confirmed he is the cooperating senator in the Arroyo case. Though Link has denied it, he publicly agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors when he pleaded guilty last month to filing a false income tax return.

Arroyo allegedly wound up handing Link a $2,500 check Aug. 22, 2019. Then, on Oct. 22, 2019, Weiss allegedly mailed a package to Link that contained a $2,500 bribe in the form of a check from Collage to a nominee named by Link, along with a sham consulting deal. Weiss later allegedly lied to the feds, telling them he had spoken to the nominee.

Weiss, of River Grove, lobbied Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), whose proposal to legalize sweepstakes machines in Chicago failed. Weiss’ company has spent more than $80,000 lobbying state legislators to legalize sweepstakes machines, which look like video poker machines that are legalized. The sweepstake companies operate in a gray area in which they are neither illegal or legal, but they are outlawed in the city of Chicago.

Weiss also ran the Alliance of Illinois Taxpayers, a PAC that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, largely from personal injury law firms allied with House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has already been implicated in a separate federal bribery case filed against ComEd.

Other donors to the PAC included individuals with ties to Madigan’s political organization. Madigan has not been criminally charged and has denied wrongdoing.

Weiss was born into a politically-connected family in the Bridgeport neighborhood, the longtime power base of the Daley machine.

His grandfather, Edward J. Murray, served as a deputy treasurer until he was fired by then-city Treasurer Miriam Santos. Murray ran an unsuccessful campaign to oust Santos and then became a cash manager for the Chicago Board of Education. Murray also had ownership stakes in two restaurants at Navy Pier.

Five years ago, Weiss got married to former state Rep. Toni Berrios, whose father ran the Cook County Democratic Party while serving as Cook County assessor, ruling on property tax appeals filed by clout-heavy lawyers, including Madigan and Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th).

The former assessor is also a lobbyist in Springfield, whose clients have included the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators who oppose efforts to legalize sweepstakes machines, like those owned by Weiss.

Weiss is a close friend of Madigan’s only son, Andrew, an executive at Alliant/Mesirow Insurance Services which sells insurance to various government agencies.

Weiss and his mother, Mary C. Murray, have run two Bridgeport-based charities aided by powerful political allies such as Cook County Commissioner John Daley and his nephew Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th). One of the charities, the Benton House, is a former settlement house operating an emergency food pantry on South Gratten, and the other is a scholarship fund.

One of Weiss’ companies also held lucrative contracts parking cars on lots owned by the Chicago Public Schools near both ballparks, the United Center and Gibsons Steakhouse downtown.

Those contracts were terminated in February after CPS sued him and his company earlier this year for allegedly failing to pay the schools system “no less than” $366,000 for the right to use the school lots for his car parking business, mostly near Wrigley Field. That case is pending.

Contributing: Robert Herguth