Panel considering charges against Ill. lawmaker
CHICAGO – The Illinois House committee tasked with deciding whether to punish indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith for allegations of bribery began deliberations behind closed doors Thursday after hearing evidence from both sides.
The bipartisan group could recommend, as early as Thursday afternoon, a range of punishments up to expulsion for the Chicago Democrat who has been charged with bribery. Ultimately, the Illinois House would decide on any action after getting the recommendation.
Smith, who did not attend Thursday's public hearing, was arrested days before the March primary in an FBI sting. He was accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe in exchange for helping what he thought was a day care center obtain a state grant. He pleaded not guilty.
Despite his arrest, Smith easily won his primary contest and remains on the November ballot. Top Illinois Democrats have called on him to step down, but he has refused. Smith was first appointed to the House last year to fill a vacancy.
The House hearings on his political future are separate from the federal case.
The evidence introduced to lawmakers has primarily been the federal indictment and Smith's attendance record. Federal prosecutors declined to release more information, such as tape recordings and testimony. No trial date has been set in the federal case.
Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang and Republican Rep. Jim Durkin, who presented the case against Smith, said Smith refused opportunities to defend himself and that his absence from the hearing would hurt him. Both recommended expulsion to the committee.
"There has been no defense of any kind ... His silence works against him," Lang said. "This matter goes to the very heart of the integrity of the Illinois House of Representatives."
But Smith's attorney said the entire process has been unfair. Victor Henderson said his client would not testify at the committee hearing if the confidential informant used in the federal investigation would not testify.
"Do you want all of the important information before you make a decision?" he asked members of the committee. "It might be nice or easy to think that Rep. Smith did something wrong. But doing the right thing often takes more courage than doing the wrong thing. Doing the wrong thing is often the easy way out."
Henderson said all that lawmakers had before them was an indictment full of allegations, and tried to poke holes in the government's case by calling into question the witness' reputation. The witness has not been identified publicly.
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