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Ex-chief of staff to Ald. Brookins pleads guilty to taking bribe

A former chief of staff to Ald. Howard Brookins pleaded guilty Thursday to taking a $7,500 cash bribe from an undercover FBI informant at a 2013 Christmas party at the alderman’s office.

Curtis V. Thompson Jr., 63, quibbled with the details for a moment after a federal prosecutor told U.S. Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan about the Christmas card full of cash Thompson pocketed after helping the informant land the alderman’s essential support for a liquor license in the 21st Ward.

But Thompson eventually told the judge “I definitely issued the letter of support” for the license.

“And I accepted the $7,500,” Thompson said.

Then, he pleaded guilty. Thompson now faces a maximum 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, though his plea agreement estimates his likely prison sentence will be between a year and 18 months. His sentencing is set for March 17. In the meantime, he is free on bond.

Thompson and his attorney, William Murphy, declined to comment after they left Der-Yeghiayan’s courtroom. The alderman has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

Thompson’s plea agreement does not identify Brookins by name. It instead refers to him as “Alderman A.”

But it is clear from the details that Brookins is the unnamed alderman.

Thompson acknowledged in court Thursday he’d worked for several years as Brookins’ chief of staff. And when Thompson was charged in February, Brookins said it would be “logical” to conclude he is the unnamed alderman. However, he also said at the time he knew of no instance in which Thompson either solicited or accepted a bribe in exchange for persuading the alderman to support a liquor license.

“The alderman is a very compassionate person and does not like kicking people who are already down,” Eddie McCann Jr., Brookins’ current chief of staff, said later Thursday.

But McCann said Brookins is “innocent,” has done nothing wrong, and Thompson’s guilty plea proved it.

However, according to Thompson’s plea deal, Thompson met with the informant and another unnamed individual Oct. 7, 2013, at Brookins’ ward office. That’s when the informant showed Thompson a note that read, “$7,500 to Ald for L.O.S.” Thompson took it to mean the informant was offering to pay $7,500 for a letter support from the alderman, according to the plea. Thompson said he understood and said he’d bring the proposal to his boss.

The document then describes an Oct. 29, 2013 meeting between Thompson, Brookins, the informant and another unnamed individual in Brookins’ ward office. There, the informant handed the alderman a sheet of paper that read “$12K to you for letter of support,” according to the plea deal. The piece of paper was then passed to Thompson.

At a Nov. 19, 2013 meeting attended by Thompson, Brookins and two others, the informant said he was trying to become a 7-Eleven franchisee, and Brookins expressed his support, according to the document.

When the informant asked Brookins who he should go to “to hold up my end” — and if the alderman was “good with the same arrangement” they’d spoken about before — Thompson understood the informant was making reference to the bribe, according to the plea deal.

Over the next few weeks, Thompson prepared two letters of support for the informant on Brookins’ letterhead, signing Brookins’ name. Before doing so, he sought Brookins’ approval, the plea deal said. Thompson knew the informant later picked them up and planned to use them to obtain a liquor license for his proposed store.

Finally, on Dec. 19, 2013, prosecutors said the informant handed Thompson a Christmas card in a red envelope at Brookins’ holiday party. It was filled with 75 $100 bills.

Contributing: Kim Janssen and Fran Spielman