Legislature down 1 member as bribery trial starts

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Photo - FILE - In this May 21, 2014 file photo, Illinois Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, listens to lawmakers at the state Capitol in Springfield. Smith is scheduled to go on trial on bribery charges Wednesday, May 28, 2014, with jury selection beginning at federal court in Chicago. He was charged in 2012 with taking a $7,000 bribe from a day care operator seeking a state grant. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
FILE - In this May 21, 2014 file photo, Illinois Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, listens to lawmakers at the state Capitol in Springfield. Smith is scheduled to go on trial on bribery charges Wednesday, May 28, 2014, with jury selection beginning at federal court in Chicago. He was charged in 2012 with taking a $7,000 bribe from a day care operator seeking a state grant. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
Watchdog,Illinois,Chicago,Corruption,Bribery

CHICAGO (AP) — Lawmakers in Springfield scrambling to push through bills in the final days of the spring session are being forced to make do without state Rep. Derrick Smith, whose corruption trial began Wednesday in Chicago.

Smith, 50, is accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe from a day care center seeking a $50,000 state grant — though the facility turned out to be fictitious and part of an FBI sting.

Jury selection in the Chicago Democrat's trial started Wednesday, and opening statements are expected to be delivered Thursday. Smith has pleaded not guilty to bribery, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Smith is just the latest in long line of Illinois politicians to face federal corruption charges.

His case has drawn attention in part because closely contested legislation is working through the Legislature, and Democrats could have used the embattled Smith's votes.

Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, also highlighted the apparent brazenness of the allegations against Smith.

"I think he's an embarrassment to the Legislature in general, for them to have one of their members so blatantly caught on tape," he said.

Prosecutors plan to use Smith's statements immediately after his March 13, 2012, arrest, which they say amount to a confession. Court filings describe him as distraught, cursing at himself and telling investigators he'd taken the bribe.

Smith even brought arresting FBI agents to his home, retrieved $2,500 in leftover bribe money — in $100 bills bound with paper clips — from the foot of his bed and handed it to the agents, prosecutors say.

Five months after Smith's arrest, Democrats in the House joined in to vote 100-6 to expel Smith — the first time the body had taken such a step since 1905.

But Smith was reinstated weeks later after his constituents voted him back into the House. Smith lost his 2014 primary election and is finishing out his current term.

Last week, as House Speaker Michael Madigan lobbied for a Gov. Pat Quinn initiative to make Illinois' temporary income tax hike permanent, he noted Smith was among its supporters.

Smith asked Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman last week to postpone his trial until after the current legislative session ends so he could take part in voting. Coleman denied the request.

More recently, Madigan conceded he is well short of the votes needed on the tax extension, and so it isn't clear Smith's vote — which he can't cast while on trial in Chicago — would have been of any help after all.

Government filings allege Smith sought the bribe in early March 2012, because he was frantic about raising money to pay campaign workers, who he feared would start abandoning him.

It was a campaign worker cooperating with investigators who suggested Smith could raise money by taking the bribe.

In one wiretap transcript, Smith appears to tell the worker he wants no paper trial linking him to the $7,000, saying, "I don't want no trace of it."

Smith's lawyers are expected to make the credibility of the campaign worker a focus of their defense.

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