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Longtime lawmaker Terry Link, who wore wire on colleague, pleads guilty in tax case

Link was a key player in the casino debate and had been the head of the Lake County Democratic Party since 1992 before resigning last month.

State Senator Terry Link
Former state Senator Terry Link
Brian O’Mahoney/For Sun-Times Me

Former Illinois Sen. Terry Link once denied having his name on the feds’ roster of public corruption cooperators.

But there’s no doubt his name is there now, after he pleaded guilty Wednesday to filing a false income tax return. In an 18-page plea agreement, Link agreed to “fully and truthfully cooperate in any matter in which he is called upon” by the feds.

And if he keeps good on his promise, the feds say they will recommend a sentence of probation.

It all amounts to a remarkable end to the 73-year-old Vernon Hills Democrat’s long legislative career. But it’s also one that appeared inevitable after a source last year revealed him to be the unnamed state senator who wore a wire on then-Rep. Luis Arroyo. Though Link has denied it, that senator had been caught filing false tax returns, expected to be charged for it and cooperated with the feds with the hope it would earn him leniency at sentencing.

The feds finally charged Link last month, accusing him of filing an income tax return for 2016 in which he claimed his income was $264,450 even though he knew his total income “substantially exceeded that amount.”

During a virtual hearing Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Robert Dow, Link admitted he actually made $358,309 that year, spending $73,159 of it on personal expenses from an account controlled by his political campaign. He also admitted he filed false tax returns from 2012 to 2015.

In all, the false tax returns filed by Link from 2012 through 2016 cost the IRS $71,133 and the Illinois Department of Revenue $11,527.

In an apparent bid to protect Link’s pension, defense attorney Catharine O’Daniel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Stetler told the judge that Link’s crime did not relate to his employment as a state senator.

Because the hearing occurred by video, Link became the latest politician facing public corruption charges to skip what had once been an unavoidable, awkward stroll past reporters in the lobby at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Instead, Link could only be seen on a video screen, seated next to O’Daniel.

Link’s resignation from the state senate took effect Saturday. He remained in office long after a source identified him to the Chicago Sun-Times as the unnamed senator who wore a wire amid an investigation that led to a bribery charge against Arroyo. Link denied it, first to WBEZ and then to reporters in Springfield the next day.

“I said, what’s your source? You answer me. You’re a reporter,” Link said in Springfield. “I answered the question yesterday. I’m not going to continually answer this every day of my life. I’m down here to do a job that I was elected to do, and that’s what I’m gonna do.”

The feds accused Arroyo of trying to bribe a senator to introduce legislation that would legalize sweepstakes machines. Arroyo resigned from his seat in the House and has so far pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors have told the judge presiding over the Arroyo case they expect to file “additional, related charges.”

While seeking what would turn out to be a $2,500 payment from Arroyo, Link allegedly told him, “I’m lookin’ for something, you know?”

He added, “I’m in the twilight.”