What the FBI wanted to know about a Chinatown property during one surprise 7 a.m. visit

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Just before 7 a.m. Friday, only a few hours before federal authorities took the wraps off their big investigation of Commonwealth Edison and House Speaker Mike Madigan, the doorbell rang at the McKinley Park home of state Rep. Theresa Mah.

Mah was awake but still in bed. Her husband was up and just starting to make coffee.

She assumed it was a delivery driver and shouted to her husband to get the door, but he was already on the way to answer the intercom.

“Who is it?” he asked.

“FBI,” came the answer. They asked to speak to Mah.

That will wake you up in a hurry.

I got this story directly from Mah, a Democrat completing her second term in the Illinois House. She told it in the way that only a person with a clear conscience can tell it.

I interrupt the narrative to mention that here just to keep anyone from jumping to any adverse conclusions before reading the rest of the story. As best as I can tell, Mah has done nothing wrong and isn’t in any trouble. Her own lawyer was later assured as much.

But having the FBI at the door at 7 a.m. is serious business that would get anyone’s attention. Mah asked what they wanted. They told her they had some questions on a matter they thought she could help with.

Mah asked for 10 minutes to get dressed and brush her teeth.

She lives on the third floor of a condo building but decided the best place to talk was on a bench in the back yard of her building.

Her husband made sure she had her cell phone before she headed out the door and texted her midway through the hour-long interview to ask if she was okay.

There were two FBI agents, a man and woman, both wearing suits and protective face masks.

They asked Mah if she was familiar with a state-owned property in Chinatown currently used as a parking lot.

As they surely knew, Mah is very familiar with the property. Developers have been trying to get their hands on the land for years, which has made it a matter of some controversy in Chinatown, where there is always a shortage of parking. The fate of the parking lot has been an issue in her election campaigns.

Last year, my colleague Tim Novak and I reported on how the parking lot had been a topic of conversation in a 2014 meeting between Madigan, former 25thWard Ald. Danny Solis and two Chinatown businessmen that was secretly recorded by the FBI.

During the meeting, Madigan allegedly pitched the businessmen about hiring his law firm to represent them on real estate tax appeals for a hotel development they were planning at another nearby site. One of the businessmen, who was cooperating with federal agents in an undercover role, mentioned to Madigan that his real desire was to obtain the state-owned parking lot land at the northeast corner of Cermak and Wentworth.

That piece of information was just one of many presented in a court affidavit submitted for purposes of obtaining a search warrant against Solis. This preceded Solis’ own role as a government mole who has provided extensive cooperation against other politicians, including indicted Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th).

Nothing much appeared to come of that 2014 meeting, but two years later, another developer came forward with a project to build a 30-story apartment-hotel-shopping mall on the parking lot site, the Sun-Times reported. That project appeared to have the support of Solis, who by then was working with federal agents.

That effort culminated in an unsuccessful attempt in 2018 to pass state legislation that would have allowed the Illinois Department of Transportation to sell the land as surplus property.

Mah said most of the FBI’s questions involved the role played by lobbyist Nancy Kimme in pushing that legislation.

Kimme, a former chief of staff to the late-Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, tried to get Mah to support the parking lot sale.

A Kimme associate, Ryan McCreary, even prepared a memo from Mah to Madigan’s then-chief of staff Tim Mapes recommending the parking lot parcels, and another state-owned property in her district at 2900 S. Damen, for inclusion in IDOT’s spring legislative land bill.

Mah said she opposed the sale and refused to submit the memo, her version of events later backed up by a letter from McCreary.

Through a spokesperson, Kimme declined to comment on whether she received her own visit Friday from the FBI.

Mah said the FBI asked her if Madigan had ever spoken to her about the legislation. She said he did not, nor did any of his staff.

The FBI asked if she knew former state Rep. Michael McClain of Quincy, the Madigan confidant who is at the center of many of the allegations in last week’s deferred prosecution agreement involving ComEd. She said she doesn’t think she’s ever met him.

They also asked if state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who has pleaded guilty to corruption charges, was involved in the parking lot issue in any way. She told them not as far as she knew.

Within 10 minutes of leaving, the FBI agents called back and said they’d forgotten to give her a document. They returned with a subpoena.

It asked for documents or communications relating to the Chinatown parcel, mentioning Madigan, Sandoval, McClain and Kimme in particular.

A subpoena asking for the same information — and much more — was served that same day on Madigan’s office.

What all this tells me is that the Chinatown parking lot is a more important piece in the Madigan investigation than we might have expected — and that you never know who might ring the doorbell at 7 a.m.

26-Delivered

via Chicago Sun-Times

July 22, 2020 at 10:25AM

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