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Tearful Ald. Carrie Austin says she’s a victim of political and media ‘persecution’

Austin calls the Sun-Times to complain about a story detailing the 14 times that she and her six children and stepchildren have declared bankruptcy, often while holding government jobs.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) talks to a colleague at the Council meeting Jun 12, two weeks after her South Side ward office was raided by the feds.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) talks to a colleague at the Council meeting Jun 12, two weeks after her South Side ward office was raided by the feds.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A tearful Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) on Monday portrayed herself as the victim of political and media “persecution” and questioned why she and her family are being dragged “through the mud.”

“They’re running a story about me or my family. Why? When you all got bigger fish that you say nothing about? Why am I being drug through the mud?” Austin said.

“I only called for that. I’m not gonna answer any questions about anything. I just wanted to ask you why am I being persecuted?”

Asked what she meant by being “persecuted,” the deposed chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee pointed to stories about her finances by the Chicago Sun-Times Watchdogs.

“I shouldn’t have called you. But I felt that I could ask you this.”

Investigative reporters Tim Novak and Lauren FitzPatrick reported Sunday that Austin and her six children and stepchildren have declared bankruptcy 14 times, often while they were holding government jobs, largely at City Hall.

The bankruptcy petitions filed by Austin and by members of her family over the past two decades have sought to get them out from under debts including federal taxes, court fees, highway tolls and city of Chicago parking fines.

One of Austin’s daughters has filed for bankruptcy court protection five times. One of her sons has four cases.

An example of the family’s troubled finances: Records show City Hall once sued one of Austin’s daughters and a son-in-law for bouncing a check to pay for city stickers.

Austin’s finances have been in the spotlight since June, after she was named in a federal grand jury subpoena seeking records regarding her latest home purchase and her campaign contributions, and FBI agents lugged out files and equipment from her Far South Side Ward office.

The subpoena also sought “items related to . . . employees, family members.”

For Austin, there’s a lot of overlap there.

She had four children with her late husband, Ald. Lemuel Austin, whose Chicago City Council seat she filled after he had a fatal heart attack in 1994 at 48. All four — Kenneth L. Austin, Fatrice Austin-Geiger, Lemuettia Hicks and Lemuel D. Austin IV — have been hired for city jobs since 1992.

On Monday, Austin refused to answer questions about the family bankruptcies or about the tangled web of family finances that have relied on a parade of government jobs.

In fact, she hung up on a Sun-Times reporter who attempted to ask her follow-up questions, then switched her cellphone to voicemail.

Two years ago Austin defiantly defended her decision to hire her son Kenny as her ward superintendent, arguing there is nothing wrong with nepotism if the person on the other end of the favoritism does a decent job.

“If I can’t have somebody there that I trust, who am I gonna put there? Some lazy anybody? No. I’m not gonna do that. My people deserve better than that. And most of the people in our ward pretty much know my family,” the always outspoken Austin said then.

“Why is it so wrong for you to have your family member, your cousin or whatever working. Are you saying they don’t deserve to work either? . . . When they hired you, it may have been favoritism . . . Somebody put in a word for you, didn’t they? Sure they could have. It’s so unfair for you to lambast us all the time when we have our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, whomever on the payroll. It’s not the benefit of the person. It’s the trust that we have for that individual.”

At the time, Kenny Austin’s driver’s license had been suspended since December 2015 for failing to make child support payments, state records show.

The license suspension was lifted only after the alderman paid her son’s delinquent child support payments.

Kenneth Lemuel Austin Sr., 53, has filed four bankruptcies since 2000, all while working for the city Department of Streets and Sanitation and making as much as $65,000 a year as a sanitation laborer.