‘I intend to fight these charges’

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State Rep. Derrick Smith arrives at the Federal Building for an arrainment hearing. He is accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe. Monday, April 30, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

State Rep. Derrick Smith on Monday spoke publicly for the first time about his bribery case, saying he would not “cower” and vowing to fight the charge against him.

Holding a prepared statement in front of him and talking in a shaky voice minutes after he pleaded not guilty to a federal court indictment, the West Side Democrat referenced “shenanigans” he said the FBI pulled on him. Smith’s lawyer later castigated the government’s confidential informant.

“I intend to fight these charges. I look forward to having the opportunity to clear my name,” Smith said in a press availability at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Smith said he was troubled by “the shenanigans being played by the FBI to lean on people around me.”

“I will not cower,” Smith vowed. “I intend to stand tall with my wife, family, friends, House colleagues and lawyers.”

“The people in my district elected me on March the 20, 2012 even after the government charged me with wrongdoing and that’s because they believed in me and what I will do to represent them in Springfield,” he continued. “God gives us all a cross to bear and this lawsuit is mine.”

Smith’s lawyer, Victor Henderson, assaulted a confidential informant’s background, saying the government initially failed to disclose to a judge the extent of the individual’s criminal record. Henderson said the informant had been used in other investigations dating back several years.

“The issue is this: You can’t have the government go and tell the judge, a federal judge, tell them one thing on one day and then go ‘oh, we didn’t know who we were dealing with for the last three or four years,’” Henderson said. “I might have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.”

Asked how that would change the fact that Smith appears to be on tape taking a bribe, Henderson said:

“Key word: ‘appears to be,’” Henderson said. “We’ll deal with the defense later.”

Henderson said he received a letter dated April 10 from the U.S. Attorney’s office that corrected the information originally provided about the cooperator and disclosed that there was a more extensive criminal history. That is the same day that the grand jury returned its indictment against Smith, charging him with one count of allegedly taking a $7,000 cash bribe in exchange for his letter of support for a daycare center that sought a $50,000 state grant.

Smith had been charged in a criminal complaint and was arrested March 13 – just a week before the primary election. Smith won 77 percent of the vote.

The government’s criminal complaint says that Smith and the cooperator met in a car on March 10, where Smith is given $7,000 in cash in exchange for providing a letter supporting a day care center’s expansion, according to charges.

The wired-up cooperator appears to count the thousand-dollar stacks in a conversation quoted in charges: “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. D – – -, stuck together. Six. Seven.”

Smith then asks: “You don’t want me to give you yours now?”

According to charges, Smith planned to give the covert informant a $2,000 cut.

“We urge all of you to be patient, to wait and see all the information that is going to come out over time,” Henderson said.

Gov. Quinn has said if Smith doesn’t resign he would likely be expelled from the Legislature. The FBI has previously declined responding to allegations by Henderson, saying the matter would play out in court.

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