CHICAGO — Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) and her chief of staff were indicted Thursday on charges of conspiring to take bribes from construction contractors seeking city assistance for a development project.
Austin is now the third active alderman facing federal criminal charges. Alds. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) and Ed Burke (14th) face charges in separate cases.
Austin, 72, is charged with one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote bribery, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery, and one count of willfully making materially false statements to the FBI.
Austin’s chief of staff, Chester Wilson Jr., 55, is charged with one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote bribery, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery, and one count of theft of government funds.
According to the indictment, Austin accepted home improvements, appliances and furniture starting in 2016 from a contractor working on a $49.6 million project in her Far South Side ward. That company was slated to build a 91-unit apartment building, plus make infrastructure upgrades throughout the property, like new streets, lighting, landscaping, and sidewalks.
The unnamed contractor, referred to as Individual A, provided her with kitchen cabinets, two “brand new” and “expensive” sump pumps, and a dehumidifier, according to the indictment.
In June 2019, Austin was questioned by the FBI. She denied taking anything from Individual A “other than a cake,” according to the indictment.
Individual A is described as a real estate developer and contractor who owned construction companies before his death.
In October 2017, the contractor told Wilson he would pay for a portion of a new HVAC system at Wilson’s rental property because, “you help me a lot, and I’ll help you,” the indictment states.
Austin and Wilson later authorized giving taxpayer money from Austin’s “aldermanic menu funds” to help the construction company with infrastructure improvements in the ward, according to the indictment.
The feds also alleged “that on multiple occasions in 2017 and 2018 Austin coordinated with the construction company owner to seek the city’s release of TIF and other payments.”
Wilson was also charged in a separate plan to buy Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at a discount. Wilson, who was not eligible for SNAP benefits because of his $118,000 city salary, allegedly obtained a card containing $377 in SNAP benefits by paying cash to the recipient in an amount below the face value of the card, the indictment states.
The feds raided Austin’s ward office in June 2019, but it remains unclear what prompted that or whether Thursday’s indictment is connected to that investigation.
Austin is the third current or former City Council member indicted on federal crimes this year.
Thompson, the nephew of Richard M. Daley and grandson of former Mayor Richard J. Daley, was charged in April with income tax fraud and making false statements to regulators. Former 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Muñoz was charged the same day with federal wire fraud and money laundering.
Austin was appointed to her ward seat by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1994.
Read the indictment below:
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.