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Developer who secretly recorded Mike Madigan for feds pleads guilty to wire fraud

See Wong made a secret 2014 audio and video recording for the feds of then-Ald. Danny Solis and House Speaker Michael Madigan, according to court records and sources. It became part of the investigation that led to the indictment of Ald. Edward M. Burke.

See Wong
See Wong
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An obscure but crucial figure in the feds’ years-long investigation of public corruption in Illinois pleaded guilty to an unrelated fraud scheme Friday, six years after he secretly recorded House Speaker Michael Madigan with hopes of future leniency from a judge.

See Y. Wong admitted he scammed a bank and pleaded guilty by video to wire fraud. He did so four months after a federal subpoena sent to Madigan’s office indicated Wong’s undercover work could still be relevant to the probe roiling state politics.

In that subpoena — delivered the day the feds charged ComEd in a bribery scheme that implicated Madigan — the feds sought documents related to Chinatown properties that appear to be part of the recorded conversation Wong had in August 2014 with Madigan and then-Ald. Daniel Solis (25th).

Madigan has not been criminally charged and has denied wrongdoing. Solis later helped the feds build a racketeering case against Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who was first criminally charged Jan. 2, 2019. Burke’s lawyers say Solis struck a so-called deferred-prosecution agreement with the feds the next day.

Federal prosecutors first charged Wong in March, days before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Chicago and upended the federal court system. Their seven-page charging document, known as an information, first revealed the scam that apparently prompted Wong to cooperate. It revolved around the Canal Crossing condominium development in Chinatown.

Wong admitted Friday to that scam, in which the feds say he lied to condo buyers and Cathay Bank, which loaned $13.7 million to Wong’s Emerald Homes. Prosecutors said it cost the bank $1.8 million and the buyers $1 million. The scheme also involved a $170,100 wire transfer Wong made May 18, 2010.

Wong’s 20-page plea agreement indicates Wong could face a prison sentence of four or five years. But it also says he has agreed to continue his cooperation with prosecutors. Assuming he does, the feds have agreed to recommend a substantially lower prison term when he is sentenced. Wong agreed to put off his sentencing until his cooperation is complete.

The Chicago Sun-Times first identified Wong and reported on his recording of Madigan and Solis in January 2019, citing sources and court records. The details of Wong’s recording were contained in a bombshell 120-page federal court affidavit the Sun-Times first obtained. Citing the efforts of Wong, it alleged, “Solis has agreed to take action in his official capacity as an alderman for private benefits directed to Michael Madigan.”

The feds managed to keep all of this under wraps until November 2018, when federal agents raided Burke’s City Hall and ward offices. But Wong is a reminder that the feds had been hard at work years earlier.

Wong first began providing information to the FBI in May 2014, according to the affidavit the Sun-Times obtained. He represented a Chinese businessman seeking a zoning change in Chinatown to build a hotel on South Archer Avenue. To do so he went through Solis — then the head of the City Council’s zoning committee — and wound up in the August 2014 meeting with Solis and Madigan.

The meeting took place at Madigan’s private law firm of Madigan & Getzendanner. Among the topics discussed were the law firm’s fees. Madigan made clear he was interested in a long-term deal with the hotel developer.

“We’re not interested in a quick killing here,” Madigan said during the meeting. “We’re interested in a long-term relationship.”

In addition to the hotel, the men also seemed to discuss a parking lot at Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue — the property mentioned in the July subpoena to Madigan’s office.

A developer would try later, in 2018, to slip legislation through the Illinois General Assembly with support from Solis that would have transferred the property from the state to the city to clear the way for a project he was proposing.

By then, Solis had also begun to cooperate with the feds.

Contributing: Mark Brown and Tim Novak