A federal judge on Thursday cut disgraced former state Rep. Derrick Smith a big break, sentencing him to just five months behind bars for pocketing a $7,000 cash bribe.
Even as she slammed the West Side Democrat for having greedily “squandered” his political career, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman rejectedprosecutors’ request to lock up Smith for as long as five years.
The case against Smith — built by an undercover informant whom the government paid $25,000 to record Smith in 153 phone calls — “could be seen as overkill” the judge said.
And forcing taxpayers to pay to keep Smith locked up for five years at taxpayer expense would only add “insult to injury,” she said, ordering him to begin serving his five-month term on July 31, and telling him he must also perform 360 hours of community service.
Smith, who was caught on tape accepting the cash bribe in exchange for a letter of support for a state grant application roughly a year after he’d been appointed to represent the 10th District in the Illinois House of Representatives, had made an emotional plea for mercy.
Standing at a podium in a grey suit before Coleman, the former state representative said he had a “little statement” to read because he was “kind of shaken and remorseful about what has happened.”
Smith said he was sorry —that words could not convey his remorse. He acknowledged he’d destroyed his otherwise impeccable reputation. And as his voice began to quiver, he said, “the public humiliation and punishment I have incurred lay heavy on my heart.”
“As a family man I have lost everything,” he said. “Including the respect of my children.”
Then Smith took a long pause. Finally, he managed: “And my grandchildren.”
Coleman was unimpressed by the latest in a long line of disgraced Chicago politicians to beg for mercy at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Never in his emotional appeal did Smith admit wrongdoing by pocketing the cash bribe from an undercover informant, she said. Rather, Smith insisted, “I am not a criminal.”
Coleman said Smith’s half-hearted apology is evidencethat elected officials in Illinois are still not getting the message about corruption.
“They just don’t get it,” Coleman said. “This seems to be a way of doing business.”
“Political gods reigned down on you and appointed you representative,” she told Smith. “And you squandered it.”
But having chastised Smith, she then spared him, chiding the government for running aprosecution that cost far more than the amount of money Smith was accused of taking.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marsha McClellan had earlier reminded the judge that Smith told an FBI agent he “did it for the people” when he was arrested for the bribe, which he memorably referred to as “cheddar” in secretly recorded conversations.
Smith thought the cash he was pocketing from the FBI mole in March 2012 was coming from the owner of a day care center in his district, she said.
But he later handed back to the FBI $2,500 of the bribe that he’d stashed in his bedroom, telling an agent he’d “f—ed up.”
“He didn’t care about the kids,” McClellan said. “He didn’t care about the children of his constituents.”
Smith sat stoically beside his attorney, Vic Henderson, as Coleman handed down her sentence. But later, he hugged his supporters in the courtroom and in the hallway outside. In the lobby of the courthouse, he thanked God, his former constituents and his family and friends.
“God bless you,” said Smith, whobecame the first member in a century to be tossed from the House in 2012 after his arrest, only to be re-elected later that year and only finally defeated in the March 2014 primary.
“It’s about rebuilding right now,” he said.
Standing beside him, Smith’s pastor, Marvin Alexander,also told reporters he was thanking God. For a “victory.”