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Illinois lawmaker wore wire for FBI for years, continued with looming tax fraud charges

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One of the most striking details contained in the federal corruption indictment of state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, was regulated to a footnote.

The footnote said Arroyo was recorded offering the $2,500 bribe by a fellow lawmaker who had been cooperating with the FBI since 2016. That lawmaker, who was identified only as “Cooperating Witness 1” in the indictment, had been working with the FBI until Nov. 3, 2016. At that point, he was “closed as a source” because FBI agents learned he had filed false income tax returns. Then, after admitting to the false tax returns, he began working with the FBI again in a bid to get a reduced sentence on any tax charges he could face.

That footnote raised questions. A former senior U.S. law enforcement agent and expert in confidential informants said the state lawmaker who had been recording conversations for the FBI for years would have given federal investigators game-changing access into potential corruption. However, it also raised issues regarding entrapment.

Agents admonished the cooperating Illinois Senator for failing to disclose “unauthorized illegal activity.” In November 2016, the bureau told the informant that his services were no longer needed after learning about the income tax fraud. But the Senator again became an informant to try to get a reduced sentence, working on under the expectation that he would be charged. 

“As we would refer to it, he’s working off a beef,” said Michael Levine, a 25-year DEA veteran with decades of experience working with informants.

Levine has worked as an undercover agent, testified as an expert witness regarding informants in hundreds of cases and has been trained as a “handler” who manages informants.

He said having an informant inside of the statehouse would have given the FBI remarkable access.

“The cooperating witness is already trusted by the so-called bad guys,” he said. 

But Levine said that informants were untrustworthy operators who would occasionally entice others into committing a crime. 

“There are a hell of a lot of people going to trial for crimes created by the stool pigeon, a very strong possibility in political cases,” he said. “Would the crime have been committed were it not for the actions of…your stool pigeon?”

That’s the classic definition of entrapment, Levine said, and it could be the case that the informant enticed Arroyo. 

The complaint described one of the exchanges caught on tape:

CW-1 asked “What’s in it for me though?” ARROYO said “I’m a paid consultant, okay?… If you put a price on it, I mean, if you want to get paid, you want somebody else to get that check monthly, a monthly stipend, we could put them on contract. We could put you on contract, YOu tell me what it is. Tell me what you need.”

CW-1 said “I’m lookin’ for something, you know? I’m in the twilight, you know.”

Arroyo agreed to pay the informant a series of $2,500 payment for supporting gambling legislation that would have benefitted a client of his private lobbying firm. Arroyo was arrested Friday and pleaded not guilty at a hearing before a federal judge Monday. 

On Tuesday, Illinois lawmakers formed a committee to investigate the charges and decide to have Arroyo removed from office.

The identity of CW-1 has yet to be revealed, but multiple media outlets have identified state Sen. Terry Link as the cooperating witness. Link is a veteran Democrat from Waukegan who leads a subcommittee on gambling that would have seen the legislation Arroyo was pushing. Link has denied the claims.