Fans of one of Illinois’ favorite sports — watching political scandals unfold — are having a field day in the aftermath of yet another arrest of an Illinois politician.
The latest shoe to drop came Monday, when federal authorities filed bribery charges against Chicago state Rep. Luis Arroyo.
Arroyo, a member of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s leadership team, was charged for promising a series of $2,500 monthly payments to a member of the Illinois Senate in exchange for sponsoring legislation legalizing so-called “sweepstakes” gaming machines.
Citing unidentified federal sources, The Chicago Tribune and The Sun-Times identified the senator, described as Cooperating Witness 1 in a court filing, as Terry Link of Waukegan, a member of Senate President John Cullerton’s leadership team.
CW 1, according to the feds, is in serious legal trouble for filing false federal income tax returns and is helping investigators to secure favorable treatment when he is charged and sentenced for that offense.
Conversations between Arroyo and CW 1 were recorded, and it is clear from the tapes that CW 1 solicited funds in exchange for sponsoring Arroyo’s sweepstakes bill and that Arroyo was more than willing to pay him.
“What’s in it for me,” CW 1 asks Arroyo during a lengthy recorded exchange during an Aug. 2 meeting at a Highland Park restaurant.
“We could put you on a contract. You tell me what it is. Tell me what you need,” Arroyo responds.
The conversation included statements by the two crooked politicians in which each assured the other of his trustworthiness.
“My word is my bond and my, my reputation,” Arroyo said to CW 1.
“This is you and I talking. ...Nobody else,” CW 1 said to Arroyo and FBI agents listening in.
Arroyo didn’t show up Monday for the first day of the fall veto session. But Link did, and he found himself cast as a rat squealing on his colleagues.
The 72-year-old legislator denied to the Tribune that he is CW 1. On Tuesday, Link responded to questions with questions, to the point of appearing befuddled.
Reporter: So you’re saying you are not, you did not wear a wire.
Link: Why don’t you ask them where they got their source? [Cross talk] Hey, you know I’ve been around a long time. I know how people like to twist my words. I’m not gonna twist, I’m not gonna twist my words.
Arroyo now joins a cast of questionable characters who are or appear to be targets of multiple federal corruption investigations.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat and cousin of President Cullerton, has been charged in connection with a no-show Teamsters job.
State Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat and another member of President Cullerton’s leadership team, has been the target of search warrants at his home and legislative offices, including one at the Capitol. That investigation involves trading construction contracts for money.
At the same time, Madigan associates have been the target of search warrants in connection with a probe involving Exelon/ComEd allegedly putting the speaker’s friends on the payroll as lobbyists in exchange for utility rate hikes.
Madigan responded viscerally when asked if he is in trouble with the feds.
“I’m not a target of anything,” he said.
Not only is Madigan claiming not to be in legal trouble, the veteran Chicago pol is casting himself as a reformer. He called for Arroyo either to resign from the House or be expelled.
Madigan also said it’s time to re-examine state ethics and lobbying laws. But the fact is that Illinois’ rules governing ethics and lobbying were written to provide the illusion of oversight, not real oversight. So no one should be surprised that they have not been effective in preventing the suspected wrongdoing federal investigators are so zealously pursuing.
There’s another mystery figure in the Arroyo probe — Individual A. That’s the guy with the interest in sweepstakes gaming whom Arroyo, both a lobbyist and a legislator, is representing.
Individual A was identified by federal investigators as a person with a substantial interest in “sweepstakes” gaming machines who is trying to get legislation passed that eliminates any doubt as to their legality.
While video machine gambling is common throughout Illinois, it is prohibited in Chicago, where former Mayor Rahm Emanuel blocked them in the hope of attracting a casino.
Sweepstakes machines, according to media reports, look and work much like video gambling machines but are not regulated by the state and do not pay taxes. They are considered to be illegal by the Illinois Gaming Board.
Sweepstakes winners are paid off in coupons, not cash, that can be redeemed for cash or discounts on the purchase of products.
They are reportedly common across the Chicago area and found in communities outside Chicago, like Streator.
Individual A was hoping that CW 1 would introduce legislation legalizing sweepstakes gambling on Monday, the first day of a six-day veto session spread over October and November.
That legislation was supposed to be driven by a series of $2,500 checks given by Arroyo to CW 1.
“This is your jackpot,” Arroyo told CW 1 when he handed him the first of a promised series of $2,500 checks at an Aug. 22 meeting.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com.