Danny Solis got too big a break for helping make Mike Madigan, Ed Burke corruption cases

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Under his deferred-prosecution agreement, former Ald. Danny Solis will face no punishment if he continues to cooperate with federal authorities.

Brian Jackson / Sun-Times file

Former Ald. Danny Solis deserved favorable treatment from federal prosecutors in exchange for his undercover work that helped them make criminal cases against two major Chicago political figures they had long pursued: Ald. Edward M. Burke and House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. Very favorable treatment.

Unfortunately, the deal given Solis was too generous by half. 

That deal — spelled out in a deferred-prosecution agreement previously disclosed by Burke’s lawyers but never publicly unveiled until this past week — essentially will allow Solis to go unpunished for his own wrongdoing.

I find myself in substantial agreement on this with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has said she is “deeply offended” by the lack of consequences Solis is facing.

In my case, maybe not deeply offended — but offended.

But there’s nothing we can do about it except argue that federal authorities shouldn’t allow something like this to happen again.

There’s no undermining Solis’ deal at this point.

And Lightfoot should tread carefully with her threat to intervene in the court proceedings. What looks like good politics today could seem less so if the mayor draws a rebuke for legally sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.

Keep in mind that when prosecutors asked a judge in the spring of 2016 for a warrant to search Solis’ offices, they made clear they believed they had evidence Solis was a crook who had violated federal laws — and the public trust — in multiple ways and on multiple occasions. 

But, under his deal, Solis will face no consequences for his illegal actions, not even the one incident for which he is being charged — shaking down a developer for campaign contributions.

If Solis continues to “fully and truthfully cooperate” and fulfill his end of the bargain, prosecutors agreed to seek dismissal of the lone charge against him.

Left unstated in the agreement but certainly understood: if the charge against Solis is dropped, there will be no felony conviction on his record. 

Under Illinois law, therefore, there would be no basis to deny Solis his city pension, which stands at more than $103,000 annually. He’s already been drawing it for three years.

So not only will Solis not face any jail time nor have a criminal conviction on his record, he will, for the rest of his life, continue to benefit financially from his dishonest public service — at our expense.

I can assure you that a top priority of most Illinois politicians facing criminal charges is to protect their pensions, which tend to be very generous. For many, that’s an even more important consideration than avoiding jail because they’re counting on that money to support themselves in their old age.

You would have thought that would have given prosecutors more leverage in this case.

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of Solis’ cooperation, the full extent of which might not yet have been revealed. Burke and Madigan would be two of the biggest catches ever for federal prosecutors here, assuming they can turn those indictments into convictions.

And I don’t imagine for a minute it was easy for Solis to wear a wire on his political colleagues, which violates their unwritten code of conduct. That’s a very stressful existence. It also can be dangerous. 

It’s been almost six years since Solis began cooperating. It will be at least another three before he completes his obligations under the agreement. Nine years is a long time to place your life on hold while under the thumb of the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office, though it’s a lot easier when you’re allowed to hide out in Puerto Rico.

On top of all that, if either Burke or Madigan end up going to trial, Solis probably would have to testify, and the defense lawyers would be merciless in rubbing his nose in all the unpleasant matters in his background that prosecutors are choosing to overlook. Before it’s over, he’d think he’s the one on trial.

So I’m not saying Solis took the easy way out. But, until he tells us different, it beats going to prison or living only on Social Security.

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April 15, 2022 at 05:38AM

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