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Smith “hounded for weeks” by federal mole

Wednesday, Jun 4, 2014

* Sun-Times

The pile of 70 crisp $100 bills had been neatly stacked into bundles.

“One, two, three, four, five — damn, stuck together, six, seven,” the federal mole counted out loud, as he handed over an alleged $7,000 bribe to state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago.

“You don’t want me to give you yours now?” Smith replied as they sat together in his parked car on a West Side street.

“I’ll get at you later,” the mole told him, splitting without taking his cut.

Played in court for jurors Tuesday, a devastating audio recording of that March 10, 2012, conversation could land Smith in prison.

* But Eric Zorn points to this Tribune excerpt

State Rep. Derrick Smith had been hounded for weeks by a campaign worker intent on bringing him a $7,000 bribe from a day care worker who needed a letter of support to win a state grant. In secretly recorded conversations, the campaign worker – a felon named Pete who was cooperating with the FBI – had asked Smith repeatedly when he was going to write the letter and how he wanted to receive his kickback. …The recordings depicted a frazzled Smith who was trying to win his first election since his appointment to the legislature a year earlier. Many of the conversations played out over the phone while Smith was either headed to or from Springfield. He expressed disappointment and mistrust of other campaign workers and also frustration over Pete’s continued push for the letter of support, even though he hadn’t given Smith the details about the project.

That story has since been rewritten and no longer appears on the website as it is above.

* But here is one excerpt from the re-written piece along those same lines

[FBI Special Agent Bryan Butler] also acknowledged that Pete didn’t always play by the rules. He used up to five different cell phones during the investigation despite the request by agents that he use only one. Pete also met with Smith without telling agents and many conversations went unrecorded, Butler said.

Besides capturing the alleged bribe in progress, the conversations that jurors have heard offer a glimpse into Smith’s campaign. In several calls, Smith expressed disappointment and mistrust of other campaign workers and worried about the correct strategy against his opponent, Tom Swiss, whom Smith described as “white and Republican.”

But by March, Smith seemed optimistic that his campaign had gained traction and he would prevail. But in other calls, he seemed frustrated over Pete’s continued push for the letter of support even though he hadn’t given Smith the details about the project.

“This stuff is serious,” Smith said in another conversation.

Later, Smith was given a draft letter that purportedly was from the day care operator but had actually been written by the FBI. Smith balked at the lack of detail in the draft and sent it back to Pete asking for it to be fleshed out. After a second try, the FBI got it right – Smith’s office sent an email back to the day care saying his signature would be on it soon.

* Zorn’s conclusion

I’m not a lawyer but I do know enough law to realize that the entrapment defense is usually a stretch. Even still, gee, from what I read it looks an awful lot like this informant hassled Smith until Smith yielded to the temptation of some easy “cheddar.”

Look, Smith probably deserves whatever he’s gonna get.

But Zorn does have a point. When is enough enough? Don’t the feds have more important things to do than repeatedly dangle cash in front of somebody over a period of several weeks until he finally takes the bait?

- Posted by Rich Miller        


27 Comments
  1. - Knome Sane - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:03 am:

    Going after Smith isn’t even going after “low hanging fruit”. It’s more like picking fruit off the ground. I am not suggesting that corruption is runnuing rampant in Springfield, but sheesh, even after the Blago fiasco, there has to be more to the situation i Springfield than bringing down that fat cat, Derrick Smith.


  2. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:04 am:

    Some feds were looking for an easy score and got one.

    They do that sometimes. It’s good for some careers.

    Changes nothing in terms of good government or public safety.


  3. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:07 am:

    the nsa has every thing recorded for my safetey were`s it at?


  4. - Walker - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:10 am:

    Smith deserves whatever happens, given his lack of sense and ethics.

    The Feds appeared desperate for a case, and hounded the most rookie, pressured, and naïve legislator to get one.

    Hardly a big fish in any barrel.

    There is real corruption among more powerful and moneyed interests. Can’t the Feds have spent their time finding some of that, rather than creating their own with a minor player at best?


  5. - Knome Sane - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:12 am:

    =Some feds were looking for an easy score and got one.=

    Good point. But other than the self-inflicted pain Blago brought on himself, there seems to be a dearth of pink guys getting indicted. JJJ, Beavers, Sanchez, Smith, Ford, etc, etc. Take Blago and his cabal out of the equation, and it’s tough to name the last Caucasian indicted by “the Man”.


  6. - Upon Further Review - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:18 am:

    Tom Swiss is white and he was formerly a Republican ward committeeman. He ran as a Democrat in a bid to upset Smith.


  7. - Sir Reel - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:20 am:

    Maybe Smith was “hounded” but he could’ve told “Pete” to stop and if he didn’t, he could’ve fired him. Not that complicated.


  8. - Walker - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:21 am:

    Smith believed a non-profit was struggling and needed a state grant, and also had $7Gs to give him just for a letter?

    The guy wouldn’t even take his cut on the spot? Smith should have thrown the money back at him and walked away.

    Smith trusted this guy enough to complain about other staff with him?

    This con played some con.


  9. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:22 am:

    How long do you keep someone around who is forever telling you to commit a crime? And, say you are a government official?

    Smith is blitheringly stupid.


  10. - Abe the Babe - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:23 am:

    This is how you easily skip a few rungs in the FBI promotion ladder.

    Its press releases for the boss and career fast tracking for you.


  11. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:24 am:

    ===Smith is blitheringly stupid. ===

    No doubt.


  12. - downstate hack - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:45 am:

    It seems the FBI went overboard. It doesn’t mean Smith isn’t guilty and/or incredibly stupid, but a jury certainly will have to consider an entrapment defense.


  13. - x ace - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:55 am:

    ” When is enough enough ? ” - likely Smith’s Lawyer’s final argument mantra in this trial of the ” FBI and their Paid Overreaching Snitch”.


  14. - Steve - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 11:40 am:

    Smarter politicians understand that taking a cash bribe could land you in jail. Resisting shouldn’t be difficult if you want to be clean and out of jail.


  15. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 11:43 am:

    ===Resisting shouldn’t be difficult if you want to be clean and out of jail. ===

    Again, I don’t disagree. But that’s beside the point.


  16. - Steve - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 11:59 am:

    There’s no doubt that this case opens up the methods the FBI is using. Illinois isn’t the only state the FBI has targeted state legislators. A jury will have to decide if this was entrapment.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/03/26/fbi-conducts-raids-targeting-elected-officials-in-three-states/

    It’s sad to say but past politicians rightly or wrongly have given Illinois a bad reputation which makes Illinois politicians a target for the FBI.

    http://www.uic.edu/depts/pols/ChicagoPolitics/leadingthepack.pdf


  17. - Walker - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 2:30 pm:

    If you,re going to target and create a trap for someone for political corruption, better to target someone with the power to do significant damage.


  18. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 3:02 pm:

    The mole was also a career snitch–since 1994.

    Also, the judge barred Smith from using an entrapment defense.

    http://politics.suntimes.com/article/chicago/smiths-attorneys-attack-mole-bribery-case-against-lawmaker/fri-05302014-324pm


  19. - concern1 - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 3:26 pm:

    $7,000 isn’t even close to $55 million and when do we get to see that trial


  20. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 4:21 pm:

    I pointed out my suspicions regarding this mole when this story first broke.

    The missing tapes and conversations is just too, too much for me.


  21. - x ace - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 6:09 pm:

    Defense doesn’t get formal entrapment defense or instruction , but still got ” Enough is Enough ” concept of dirty pool. Get one juror to steadfastly believe that the persistent conduct of the paid “missing” set up man stinks and Smith avoids conviction.
    Interesting case and can see why it’s being tried.


  22. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 7:08 pm:

    As I’ve watched the last few federal trials of Illinois officials, I have noticed that no, in a whole lot of matters, the jury doesn’t get to decide. They don’t even get to hear the argument about whether they get to decide. The judges appear to very narrowly limit what juries see on a lot of issues the defense wishes to raise, and which by the way I think juries would be symaptheic to.


  23. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:46 pm:

    @Schnorf

    All it takes is one person for a mistrial. The first Blago trial is a good example, since on about half the counts there was 11 to 1. That the FBI admitted to a host of “mistakes” (the agent’s words on the stand) might be all it takes.

    I think what is important to keep in mind here is that the legal system isn’t necessarily designed to get “the ultimate truth.” Alan Dershowitz’s comments to Frontline about the OJ Simpson murder trial are informative on that subject in regards to what we see as members of a jury versus what we see as people who watch trials on television or follow them via the media.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/jury.html


  24. - persecuted - Wednesday, Jun 4, 14 @ 10:48 pm:

    All Smith had to do was say no and politely ask the man not to call or return to Smith’s place of business; he chose not to do either of those things. Temptations occur from cradle to grave.


  25. - A guy... - Thursday, Jun 5, 14 @ 11:04 am:

    Something to consider: the Feds were fishing in a particular pond. No doubt Smith was a minnow, but might turn into bait going further up a particular food chain. Apparently it may not have attracted what or who were the ultimate fish. So, they cut bait and racked up this guy. In my mind, Smith was an entry level to somewhere else and the trail got cold. It’s hard to explain it any other way.


  26. - D.P.Gumby - Thursday, Jun 5, 14 @ 4:00 pm:

    Schnorf–on point. The Feds have demonstrated a disturbing practice of targeting, entrapping and then doing their best to twist the legal system to gain convictions rather than do justice. When the investigations and trials look as unsavory as the defendants it is extremely distressing.


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    Hi there superb website! Does running a blog such as this take a great deal of work?
    I have no expertise in computer programming however I had been hoping
    to start my own blog in the near future. Anyhow, if you have any ideas or tips for new blog owners
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