SPRINGFIELD, IL — Seven days last spring, state Rep. Derrick Smith started his day at the Capitol by pressing the switch at his desk on the floor of the Illinois House to record his presence.
On those days, he later would press the same switch to cast votes to ban cell phone use by drivers around emergency scenes, to crack down on copper thieves and to toughen the penalty against certain criminals who steal more than $5,000, among other things.
But on those same days, between late February and early March, he was also strategizing over a secretly tapped phone with a government mole about how to collect a $7,000 cash bribe, prosecutors charge.
Prosecutors have not said when or where the calls were made, so it’s impossible to know whether Smith was on the House floor, in his office next to the Capitol or in a committee room while on the phone with the mole — or somewhere else in Springfield.
“Alright, just leave it in the envelope,” federal prosecutors quoted Smith as telling the informant while in Springfield March 8 — a hectic session day that lasted more than three-and-a-half hours and included 41 votes on bills.
“I’ll be there so I can unseal it for you,” Smith allegedly said.
Smith faces a federal bribery charge after allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe from a government mole, acting on behalf of a purported Chicago daycare operator seeking his help in securing a $50,000 state grant.
A Chicago Sun-Times review of phone calls between Smith and the mole that federal investigators identified in their criminal complaint and the House journal turned up numerous, unreported occasions when Smith actually was in Springfield, allegedly conversing over the phone with the informant.
That detail could surface Thursday during a key hearing when a legislative panel weighing Smith’s political future hears arguments to punish him with sanctions as severe as expulsion.
“That building is so impressive. You can’t walk in there without thinking it’s the people’s business,” David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said of the statehouse. “If he’s going to be at the Capitol, the notion he was engaging in allegedly corrupt activities is all the more egregious.”
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