Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin indicted on bribery charges

A federal grand jury has indicted 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin, 72, and her chief of staff, Chester Wilson, on bribery charges. The U.S. attorney’s office says Austin conspired "to receive home improvements from construction contractors seeking city assistance" for a development project in her ward on the city’s far South Side. Read the indictment below.

Austin faces four total counts, including lying to the FBI. Wilson faces similar bribery charges and one count of theft of government funds.

Austin is one of a long list of aldermen now facing federal charges, including Ald. Patrick D. Thompson, 11thAld. Ed Burke, 14th; and Ald. Ricardo Muñoz, 22nd. All have said they are innocent. Other former aldermen face federal scrutiny, but have yet to be charged, including former Ald. Michael Zalewski, 23rd, and Ald. Danny Solis, 25th, who has reportedly been cooperating in a sprawling federal investigation into City Council corruption. 

Austin has been under the federal spotlight since 2017. Agents raided her ward office in June of 2019, and sought state Board of Elections documents regarding three of her political fundraising committees. Subpoenas were also issued for documents pertaining to real estate projects in her ward (including construction of her own home), family members, her top aide Chester Wilson Jr., and food stamps.

WBEZ reported federal investigators were interested in “development projects in the 34th Ward” and the use of taxpayer subsidies from the city for real estate initiatives.

Austin, formerly the chair of the City Council’s powerful Budget Committee, has represented parts of the West Pullman, Washington Heights, Morgan Park and Roseland neighborhoods since 1994. She was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley to replace her late husband, Lemuel Austin, on the Council. She was a loyal ally of both Daley and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot demoted her from chairing the Budget committee after she took office, and instead placed her atop a new 19-member Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity. In recent years, she’s faced health problems, including a torn aorta and testing positive for coronavirus.

More recently, Austin has been fined by the city’s Board of Ethics for violating campaign finance laws – accepting donations from a company that does business with the city in excess of current limits. The board initially levied its highest-ever fine against Austin, but have since scaled it back

via Crain’s Chicago Business

July 1, 2021 at 04:01PM

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