Developer who recorded Madigan early in fed investigation gets 16 months in prison

Long before the feds’ public corruption investigation rocked Chicago, See Y. Wong went undercover to record powerful politicians in 2014.

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Developer See Y. Wong.

Developer See Y. Wong.

Sun-Times file

A developer whose cooperation with the FBI served as a “catalyst” — helping lead to the indictment of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and others — was sentenced Wednesday to 16 months in prison for an unrelated fraud scheme.

Long before the feds’ public corruption investigation rocked Chicago, ending the political career of then-Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and entangling Madigan and Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), See Y. Wong went undercover to record Solis and Madigan in 2014.

He did so hoping for leniency when it came time to answer for his own crimes, though. So, far from being celebrated in a federal courtroom Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Franklin Valderrama heard how Wong had “devastated” families in Chinatown by cheating them out of more than $1 million more than a decade ago.

Before he was sentenced, Wong told the judge he was “very sorry” and regretted his crime.

“Because of my mistake, many people got hurt,” Wong said. “I sincerely want to apologize to all of them. The mistake that I made is inexcusable. I learned a big lesson. I promise and guarantee I will never do this again.”

Valderrama told Wong that he’d “betrayed that very community that looked to you to help them fulfill the American dream of purchasing their own home.” But in handing down the sentence, the judge also said he gave “great weight” to Wong’s cooperation with the feds.

The judge ordered Wong to pay $1.6 million in restitution.

Wong pleaded guilty in late 2020 to wire fraud. He enticed buyers into a condominium development known as Canal Crossing by promising them discounts of 40% to 50% in return for them fully paying for units up front, prosecutors said. But the feds say he was not authorized to offer the deal. And he then used bogus documents and lied to Cathay Bank, which had financed the project, making it seem the units had been sold at full price.

When the fraud was discovered, Wong’s victims were required to either pay the remaining true price of their units or forfeit the payments they’d made, prosecutors said.

Still, Wong’s case is also a reminder of the long, meticulous groundwork behind an investigation like the one that targeted Madigan. Wong hoped to catch a break at sentencing, so he began providing information to the FBI in May 2014. And that helped set in motion a chain of events that finally led to this year’s indictment of Madigan.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu acknowledged Wednesday that “there were many things that had to fall into place” in addition to Wong’s cooperation for the investigation to be successful. Still, he said it provided a “catalyst” to federal efforts to hold people accountable.

Wong’s cooperation wasn’t exposed until January 2019, when the Chicago Sun-Times first obtained a bombshell 120-page federal affidavit laying out alleged wrongdoing by Solis. It contained the details of Wong’s cooperation, identifying him only as “CS-1.”

The Sun-Times then identified Wong in a front-page report that Wong’s attorney, Daniel Hesler, held up for Valderrama to see Wednesday. Hesler said Wong has been “living under the shadow” of what he had done.

The affidavit alleged that “Solis has agreed to take action in his official capacity as an alderman for private benefits directed to Michael Madigan.” It explained how, in 2014, Wong had been representing a Chinese businessman who was seeking a zoning change to build a hotel in Chinatown.

To secure the zoning change, Wong turned to Solis, who was then the head of the City Council’s zoning committee. As a result, Wong wound up in an August 2014 meeting with Solis and Madigan, which Wong secretly recorded.

Though no criminal charges were filed as a result of that specific meeting, the men seemed to discuss a parking lot at Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue that would become part of Madigan’s indictment last March.

After the meeting, Solis allegedly told Wong that if the businessman “works with the Speaker, he will get anything he needs for that hotel.”

Roughly two years after that meeting, the feds confronted Solis with evidence of wrongdoing. The move followed the investigation that involved Wong’s cooperation but also other alleged schemes. The feds then enlisted Solis as a cooperator as well, and he went on to help them secure criminal charges against Burke and Madigan.

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