State Rep. Derrick Smith became the latest in a depressingly long line of Chicago politicians to be convicted of public corruption Tuesday when he was found guilty of bribery and attempted extortion by a federal jury.
But like many before him, Smith went down swinging, telling reporters “We put up a good fight” and insisting that everything he’d done had been “for the public.”
“God knows the truth about it all,” the West Side Democrat said minutes after the guilty verdict was delivered. “The jury just didn’t see what God saw.”
Jurors deliberated for four hours before finding the 50-year-old guilty of shaking down a day care business for a $7,000 bribe in return for his writing a letter of support for a state grant application.
It wasn’t a straightforward decision, according to juror Jason Carter, who said later Tuesday that the jury’s foreman started out in Smith’s corner and that jurors were troubled by the government’s use of a “slippery, disgusting” informant.
“It did get a little heated,” Carter, 29, of Romeoville, said. “The foreman [initially] felt Smith was entrapped . . . he had to put his personal feelings aside and focus on the evidence and the judge’s instructions before we could reach a verdict.”
Though Smith’s attorney Vic Henderson vowed to appeal, Smith now faces mandatory expulsion from the Illinois House and up to 30 years behind bars.
Smith showed little emotion as Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman announced the verdict in a packed courtroom, though the hint of a Mona Lisa smile played about his lips.
The verdict had long seemed the inevitable conclusion to the drawn-out case. Prosecutors announced in early 2012 that their mole had taped Smith as he accepted the bribe, and Smith also handed back $2,500 of the bribe that he’d stashed in his bedroom and admitted to the FBI following his arrest that he had “f—– up,” trial testimony showed.
Voters re-elected him in 2012, anyway — even after he’d become the first member in a century to be tossed out of the Illinois House by his fellow legislators.
Finally defeated in a primary earlier this year, despite financial backing from House speaker Mike Madigan’s organization, he was serving out his lame-duck term but will now be booted out of office for a second time and lose his pension when he is sentenced.
His conviction also came with an implied insult about his lack of criminal nous: Henderson had argued during the trial that Smith wasn’t dumb enough to have confessed to the FBI without his lawyer in the room, as the FBI alleged.
“If he really took a bribe, don’t you think he’d be smart enough to keep his mouth shut?” Henderson asked in his closing argument Monday.
Smith had built his defense around attacking the government mole who recorded him discussing the bribe, which he referred to as “cheddar.”
The mole, a campaign worker the FBI paid to set Smith up, spent three months discussing the bribe with a seemingly wary Smith before Smith finally collected the cash in seven stacks of $1,000 in March 2012.
Smith told reporters on Tuesday that he did not know why he was “singled out” by the FBI but would continue to trust in the Lord.
“I believe in God . . . and it’s God’s will, and I’m going to follow his lead,” he said.
But First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro said the federal government would have been “grossly negligent” if it had not investigated Smith after receiving information that he needed money and was willing to perform legislative action in return for it.
And juror Jason Carter said he wasn’t moved by Henderson’s suggestion that Smith was a powerless rookie legislator who didn’t merit such aggressive investigation. A tape in which Smith said he wanted “no trace” of the cash bribe sealed his fate, Carter said.
“He’s 50 years old — he’s not a kid,” Carter said. “He knows what corruption is.”
Contributing: Dave McKinney