Chicago Alderman Carrie Austin and her chief of staff are facing federal criminal charges alleging bribery. According to the charges, Austin brokered a deal for a multi-unit real estate development contract. Federal authorities believe that the developer offered Austin home improvements to grease her wheels. Her chief of staff was also offered home improvements. Between them, they acquired new kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, bathroom tiling, new sump pumps, and a brand new HVAC system.
The federal government looks unkindly on businesses offering free services to elected officials, especially when that business went on to win a major contract that was granted with the help of the gift receiver. Austin is the third Chicago alderman to face indictment and the second charged this year.
On what basis are these charges filed?
Essentially, in a situation like this, the government has to prove that there was a quid pro quo between developer and alderman. The alderman does best to avoid the appearance of corruption by rejecting gifts from potential bidders or hiding them better than Austin did. In this case, they did try to hide the bribery, but they did not bury it far enough. At one point, Austin’s associate sent a contractor a picture of the cabinet set she wanted. The cabinet set was installed and a month later, the city agreed to repave the streets surrounding the development. The developer claimed that the work was being performed on a home within the development, but it turned out to be Austin’s home. Evidence of a cover-up is evidence of fraud and corruption. It will be difficult for either party to explain how home improvements earmarked for the development project wound up in Austin’s home. Nonetheless, the law was broken when Austin fast-tracked the developer through the process and ensured that they won the development award.
If it were one case of bribery, maybe it would go unnoticed, but the feds have texts sent back and forth from Austin associates to developers and developer texts to their associates saying things like, “If I get what I want next week, it will be worth it.” So establishing a quid pro quo relationship does not appear to be a major stumbling block for this case.
Understanding the Charges
It is the federal government that typically files charges against local politicians, especially in Chicago. It is quite difficult to get local prosecutors to investigate accusations and later bring charges. Everyone is calling in a favor from someone else or threatening to expose some dirt on them that could hurt their career. So that is how you end up with the majority of public corruption charges being prosecuted by the federal government as opposed to local authorities. It is illegal under Illinois state law to accept bribes for public projects. But having the feds come in to investigate and prosecute these crimes has led to more convictions, prison sentences, and prosecutorial success than investigations conducted by local or state police.
Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are a Chicago alderman, then you probably need a criminal defense attorney with experience arguing in federal court. Call David Freidberg today at (312) 560-7100 to learn more about how we can help.