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‘This is the jackpot’: State Rep. Luis Arroyo secretly recorded allegedly passing bribe — prompting bipartisan calls for him to resign

The Chicago Democrat has been charged with allegedly offering the state senator $2,500 a month in bribes to support electronic sweepstakes-related legislation.

State Rep. Luis Arroyo leaves the Dirksen Federal Building on Monday, October 28. File Photo.
State Rep. Luis Arroyo, right, leaves federal court Monday after he is charged in a public corruption case.
Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

State Rep. Luis Arroyo stood outside a Highland Park restaurant last August, looked an Illinois senator in the eye and assured him, “Whatever you tell me … stays between you and me.”

Then, hoping to move sweepstakes gaming legislation forward in Springfield, Arroyo gave the lawmaker a nudge by telling him, “We could put you on a contract. … Tell me what you need.” Weeks later, Arroyo allegedly gave the senator the first of what he promised would become monthly payments of $2,500.

“This is the jackpot,” Arroyo allegedly boasted as he handed over the check.

Trouble is, the feds were listening as Arroyo cut his deal. He was talking into a wire worn by the senator. And now, the Illinois House of Representatives’ assistant majority leader has been hit with a federal bribery charge.

Not only that, but the 13-page criminal complaint unsealed Monday against Arroyo reveals the on-and-off cooperation with the FBI of the state senator — who wore a wire on Arroyo in hopes of landing a reduced sentence for filing false income tax returns. A source identified that lawmaker as Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, a chief architect of the gambling package that cleared Springfield earlier this year.

It all came to light as legislators gathered in Springfield for the start of the fall veto session Monday, where House Speaker Michael Madigan promised to begin proceedings to force Arroyo out of office if he refuses to resign. House Republicans also filed a petition Monday to form a committee to investigate the allegations.

Link could not be reached for comment Monday by phone or at an address listed in Indian Creek. U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Joseph Fitzpatrick said Arroyo was arrested Friday morning and released later that afternoon with the understanding he would appear in court Monday morning at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

He did so, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez released Arroyo on an unsecured $10,000 bond. Arroyo later left the courthouse muttering “no comment” to reporters before hopping into a waiting car. He ignored questions about whether he would leave office voluntarily.

The revelation of Link’s cooperation adds new intrigue to an aggressive federal campaign against public corruption that went public late in 2018 when the FBI famously raided the City Hall office of Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who has since been charged with racketeering. In January, the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that then-Ald. Danny Solis (25th) had cooperated with the feds and worn a wire on Burke.

The complaint against Arroyo now makes clear that, at least in 2016, federal investigators had cooperating sources within the ranks of the Chicago City Council and the Illinois Senate — a sign of how aggressively the feds have been investigating politicians in Chicago and Illinois.

It’s not clear when in 2016 Link’s cooperation began. However, the FBI terminated Link as a source Nov. 3, 2016, after authorities realized he had filed false income tax returns. Link admitted to it when confronted and expects to be charged, according to the complaint against Arroyo. The document indicates Link wore a wire against Arroyo in hopes of a lighter sentence, but it’s not clear when his cooperation resumed.

What is clear is that Arroyo allegedly handed over the bribe in August — well after the feds’ multiple, widespread public corruption investigations became public knowledge.

Federal investigators searched Arroyo’s district office Friday afternoon, a source said.

The case against Arroyo revolves around his lobbying work in Chicago as manager of Spartacus 3 LLC. Arroyo signed a deal between Spartacus 3 and V.S.S. Inc. in August 2018 that promised $2,500 in monthly payments from V.S.S. to Spartacus. V.S.S. had hired Arroyo’s company to lobby the Chicago City Council for a sweepstakes ordinance, according to the feds.

Sweepstakes machines are not regulated by the Illinois Gaming Board but look like regular slot machines.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said he introduced an ordinance in 2018 to legalize sweepstakes machines in the city and tax them after being approached by Arroyo on behalf of two firms “that wanted to come out of the shadows” to end questions about whether they were operating lawfully.

Also contacting Villegas in support of the ordinance was James Weiss, son-in-law of former Cook County assessor and Democratic chairman Joe Berrios, the alderman said. Villegas said Weiss is an owner-operator of sweepstakes machines. Weiss is married to Berrios’ daughter, former state Rep. Toni Berrios.

Villegas’ ordinance was unsuccessful, but he noted the sweepstakes machines continue to operate.

”Either you outlaw them or regulate them. They’re around,” Villegas said.

Arroyo approached Link during the spring legislative session about sweepstakes legislation and then reached out again late in July, according to the criminal complaint. On Aug. 2, the pair met at the Highland Park restaurant with an unnamed individual and that person’s associate. Arroyo said he needed Link to support the legislation in the Senate.

Later, Link asked to speak alone with Arroyo. When they stepped outside, Link allegedly said, “This is you and I talkin’ now … nobody else.” And Arroyo allegedly replied, “Whatever you tell me … stays between you and me.”

Federal investigators were conducting surveillance, the document said.

Arroyo went on to explain that he is a “paid consultant” and told Link, “If you put a price on it, I mean, if you want to get paid, you want somebody else to get a check monthly, a monthly stipend, we could put them on contract. We could put you on a contract. You tell me what it is. Tell me what you need.”

Link allegedly acknowledged, “I’m lookin’ for something, you know? I’m in the twilight, you know.”

Arroyo allegedly explained how he had been making $2,500 a month and said, “That would be guarantee from me to you.” Link replied, “All right.” Arroyo went on to say, “My word is my bond and my, my reputation.”

The feds say the men met again Aug. 22 at a restaurant in Skokie, where Arroyo allegedly handed over a check for $2,500. It had been written over to a name the feds had told Link to give to Arroyo. The payments were expected to continue for six to 12 months.

“I’m going to give you this here,” Arroyo allegedly said. “This is, this is, this is the jackpot.”