Chicago lawmaker and her chief of staff indicted on federal bribery charges

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How far would you be willing to stoop for some free home improvement? Perhaps as far as Chicago Alderman Carrie M. Austin and her chief of staff, Chester Wilson Jr.?

The two were indicted on federal bribery charges Thursday by the Department of Justice on allegations that they’d agreed to grant a couple companies city contracts in exchange for the companies sprucing up their personal homes.

“[B]eginning in 2016, Austin and Wilson were provided with personal benefits by the owner of the construction company and other contractors in an effort to influence them in their official capacities,” according to a Department of Justice press release.

“The benefits included home improvements, furniture, and appliances for Austin’s residence, and home improvement materials and services for rental properties owned by Wilson, the indictment states,” the press release reads.

According to HomeAdvisor, the average home renovation or remodeling comes out at somewhere between $18,000 and $75,000. That’s expensive.

According to the DOJ, in June of 2017, one of the contractors paid $5,250 to cover kitchen cabinets in Austin’s home. A month later, another contractor paid for two “brand new” and “expensive” sump pumps, as well as a dehumidifier.

Then in October of 2017, a contractor paid for a portion of a new HVAC system at Wilson’s property because “you help me a lot, and I’ll help you.”

It’s not clear whether Austin and Wilson ever did anything to help, you know, their constituents …

Austin has reportedly been charged with one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote bribery, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery and one count of willfully making materially false statements to the FBI.

(Source: City of Chicago)

Wilson meanwhile has been charged with one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote bribery, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery and one count of theft of government funds.

The latter charge is the result of him reportedly trying to purchase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps at a discount.

“Wilson, who was not eligible for SNAP benefits due to his city of Chicago salary, allegedly obtained a card containing SNAP benefits by paying cash to the recipient in an amount below the face value of the card,” according to the DOJ.

According to Chicago radio station WBEZ, Wilson enjoys a six-figure salary. In 2019, the station ran a profile on him and Austin over reports that federal authorities were watching the pair.

“[B]oth Wilson and Nitchoff have drawn the attention of the federal authorities who raided Austin’s ward office three months ago. A grand jury subpoena in the ongoing, wide-ranging probe shows investigators wanted to see ‘all items related to’ not only Austin but also Wilson,” the station reported at the time.

“Nobody has been charged with a crime, and Austin has denied any wrongdoing, continuing her 25-year tenure as one of the most influential African American members of the City Council,” the station added.

It took an additional tw0 years of investigating the pair for the authorities to finally catch them slipping.

They’re not the first, nor will they likely be the last. At least 30 aldermen have been convicted of corruption since 1973, according to a report from the local online newspaper Block Club Chicago that was published in April.

“Two aldermen — one current, one former — were indicted by the feds Thursday. But Chicagoans know that’s just the tip of an iceberg when it comes to Chicago aldermen and corruption,” the site reported at the time.

“Chicago is routinely named the most corrupt city in the United States, according to a UIC study. We’ve had 30 aldermen convicted of corruption since 1973,” it added.

A stunning number of charges were filed in 2019 alone.

Ed Burke was charged with attempted extortion, Patrick Daley was charged with income tax fraud and making false statements to regulators, Ricardo Muñoz was charged with wire fraud and money laundering, and Proco “Joe” Morento was charged with insurance fraud and obstruction of justice.

Meanwhile, former Alderman Edward Vrdolyak pleaded guilty to obstructing an IRS investigation, and former Alderman Michael R. Zalewski’s home was raided as per another investigation.

This, sadly, is Chicago in a nutshell. Or, rather, really every big Democrat city, from Chicago to Los Angeles and New York City. Though, in fairness to Chicago, it is without a doubt the most corrupt city in the country.

Even with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a black woman who’d pledged to end corruption, in office since 2019, nothing’s changed. If anything, the corruption’s gotten worse.

“In 2019, there were 26 public corruption convictions in the Northern District of Illinois, which includes all of Chicago and the northern third of Illinois,” as reported in February by local station WTTW.

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Vivek Saxena

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