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Illinois House leaders threaten action if state Rep. Arroyo won’t resign after federal bribery charge

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Leaders from both parties called for stricter ethical rules after a state lawmaker was charged with corruption for allegedly trying to bribe an unnamed state senator to back gambling legislation that would have benefited a client of his private lobbying firm.

State Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, was arrested Friday. The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois charged Arroyo with offering a bribe to a state senator. Although that person was not named, court documents revealed the state senator had been cooperating with the FBI since 2016. 

“Arroyo offered to pay $2,500 per month to an Illinois state senator in return for the senator’s support of sweepstakes-related legislation that would benefit one of Arroyo’s lobbying clients,” according to a news release from Northern District of Illinois prosecutors.

The unnamed state senator was cooperating with prosecutors and seeking leniency after filing a false income tax return, according to prosecutors.

“On Aug. 22, 2019, Arroyo met with the senator at a restaurant in Skokie and provided him a check for $2,500 as an initial payment, with the expectation that additional payments would be made for the next six to 12 months, the complaint states,” the release said. “The check was made payable to a nominee of the senator for the purpose of concealing the illicit payment, the complaint states.”

Arroyo pleaded not guilty Monday in federal court in Chicago. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison. The next hearing in the case has yet to be scheduled.

Leaders from both parties urged Arroyo to resign.

Moments after the news broke, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Arroyo should resign immediately. If not, come Tuesday morning, Durkin said he’s prepared to file a motion that could lead to Arroyo’s dismissal.

“This is not tolerable and we will remove him based on the authority that we have under our House rules,” Durkin said.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, also asked Arroyo to resign.

“The charges filed against Representative Arroyo are very serious,” Madigan said in a statement. “We have already contacted Representative Arroyo’s counsel to determine whether he will resign as state representative. I urge Representative Arroyo to resign from the House of Representatives, effective immediately.”

After a Democratic Party caucus, Madigan said he was told by Arroyo’s attorney that the representative will step down from an appropriations committee. Madigan agreed with Durkin that Arroyo would be pushed out if he failed to step down voluntarily.

“We’re prepared to institute those procedures under our rules for a disciplinary committee, take testimony and then make a recommendation to the House of Representatives,” Madigan said.

House Rule 91 would establish a Special Investigating Committee that, once constituted, would involve six members, three appointed by the House Speaker and three by the minority leader.

“The contents of a petition for a special investigating committee shall be confidential until the appointment of all members except as to the member named, the members signing it, the Speaker, the Minority Leader, and the members of a special investigation committee,” Rule 91 states.

All meetings of the investigative committee would be open to the public unless 79 members of the House ask to hold an executive session. The person being investigated would have the right to an attorney during the hearings.

Subsequent House Rules 92-97 deal with other aspects of the investigation and possible discipline.

“The committee may recommend a reprimand, a censure, expulsion from the House, or that no penalty be invoked,” House Rule 96 states.

Madigan had no comment about revelations his name was included in a federal inquiry of the City Club of Chicago. The House Speaker said he was “not the target of anything.”

Earlier this year, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, was indicted on embezzlement charges from a labor union. He has since pleaded not guilty and remains in office. The Senate doesn’t appear to have a special investigation committee in its bylaws. It does have a section about disorderly behavior.

“[T]he Senate may punish any of its members for disorderly behavior and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of the members elected, expel a Senator (but not for a second time for the same cause),” Senate Rule 11-1 states. “The reason for the expulsion shall be entered upon the Journal with the names and votes of those Senators voting on the question.”

Arroyo’s indictment comes amid a wide-ranging federal investigation into corruption in Springfield and Chicago. Federal agents previously raided state Sen. Martin Sandoval’s home and offices looking for evidence of a kickback scheme involving state officials and businesses in industries including energy, gambling, transportation and red-light cameras.

Just moments before the news broke about Arroyo’s arrest, a bipartisan group of lawmakers had called for the creation of a task force to study and recommend ways to restore public trust in state government.

State Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, said a task force is needed to study how to address ethics lapses in Illinois.

“We have task forces in the General Assembly to study issues and recommend positive changes,” McCombie said. “To not move this resolution forward is to embrace the status quo.”

McCombie’s House Joint Resolution 87 would create the State Ethics Task Force “to address corruption within Illinois government.”

State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, signed on to the measure. He said addressing corruption was not a partisan issue.

“Let’s take the politics out of it and show our state, our great state, that we are moving forward to help them to trust us again,” West said. “We’re moving forward to bring integrity, honesty, truth [and] responsibility back into the state capitol.”

Both Madigan and Durkin agreed stricter ethical rules were needed in Springfield.

“I have instructed my staff to begin bringing together stakeholders and experts to closely examine our ethics and lobbying laws and find ways to strengthen existing law,” Madigan said.

A lawmaker since 2006, Arroyo is the chairman of the House Appropriations-Capital Committee, which plays a central role in directing state funding for infrastructure plans.