Chicago alderman Carrie Austin and her chief of staff Chester Wilson Jr. are facing bribery charges, the U.S. attorney’s office announced this week.
The story: The Justice Department unveiled the charges in a press release on Thursday, saying that Austin and Wilson were indicted for allegedly accepting home-improvement perks from developers that were trying to get help from the city regarding a development project in Austin’s Far South Side ward.
According to the indictment, between them, Austin and Wilson allegedly received new granite countertops, kitchen cabinets, HVAC system, and sump pumps for free or at a discount. Wilson allegedly got the improvements at an investment property he owns and the Chicago alderman at her home.
The charges: The indictment charges Austin with one count of lying to the FBI and two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery. Wilson faces bribery conspiracy charges, one count of theft of government funds, and two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery.
In detail: The charges involve a firm, which was not named in the indictment, that sought to begin building a $49.6 million redevelopment in Austin’s Far South Side ward in 2014. Under the deal with the city, the project was eligible for $10 million in tax increment financing, as well as money from the “aldermanic menu” fund, which was controlled by Austin.
The indictment says that Wilson sent a text message to a contractor in December 2016 which included a picture of kitchen cabinets. A contractor later paid for those kitchen cabinets, listing them for an address within the developments they were building.
The next year, Austin allegedly asked a developer for tiling, in “white of vein white” and the next day was given “brand new” sump pumps from the same developer.
The indictment also claims that Wilson told the developer to “make sure they do my heating and air” during a phone call where they spoke about changes to the tax increment financing. The developer also offered to help pay for a new HVAC at Wilson’s investment property. They later told an associate in a text that “if I get what I want next week, it’s worth it.”
Then in 2019, when the FBI raided Austin’s office, she lied to the agency, according to the indictment, allegedly falsely claiming that the developer had not installed a dehumidifier at her house.
“Austin and Wilson authorized the expenditure of aldermanic menu funds to benefit the construction company for infrastructure within the development, and that on multiple occasions in 2017 and 2018 Austin coordinated with the construction company owner to seek the city’s release of TIF and other payments,” the indictment reads.
Wilson is also accused of purchasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from a recipient at a discount.
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