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Ald. Jim Gardiner Delayed Six Corners Senior Living Complex After Receiving A $5,000 Bribe, Court Documents Allege

The documents are part of the FBI investigation into the alderman's conduct when he first entered office in 2019.

Ald. James M. Gardiner (45th) speaks to Ald. Ed Burke (14th) at the last City Council meeting presided over by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on April 19, 2023.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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JEFFERSON PARK — An alleged cash bribe may have delayed a major Six Corners development by almost a year, newly released federal documents reveal.

Embattled Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th), who was recently reelected to a second term, accepted cash payments from a disgruntled developer in 2019 as a bribe to stall The Point at Six Corners, now known as The Clarendale, according to allegations in court records made public last week as part of an FBI investigation into the alderman.

Parts of the records from 2020 are redacted, including the names of many of the individuals involved, but the records include details and facts that make it clear the alderman named is Gardiner.

Gardiner has not been charged in the case. The FBI wouldn’t comment on the status of its investigation.

Gardiner is being probed for pay-to-play and bribery and faces multiple lawsuits and scandals after allegations he withheld ward services from critics, used foul language to describe women and other potential misconduct. In addition to the FBI, the Chicago Board of Ethics, the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General have launched investigations into Gardiner’s conduct.

The new revelations come from an FBI application for a search warrant by federal investigators seeking access to text messages from the developer in question. Based on details in the documents, the FBI was interested in searching additional text and data records tied to the developer’s phone.

Gardiner accepted a $5,000 cash payment that he used to get new windows in his office in exchange for holding up the development, according to allegations in the warrant document.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Residents hang signs in Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th)’s office windows on Sept. 13, 2021, demanding that he resign amid recent scandals.

‘You Don’t Need To Do That’

The account of the pay off came from a “cooperating witness” who was a former aide to the alderman.

The aide saw Gardiner accept an envelope from a person while the two sat in the person’s black Mercedes Benz in May 2019, according to the application for the search warrant. That same day, the aide and the alderman met with the owners of his office building and gave them the money for the windows, according to court records.

The building owners counted the money during the meeting and one indicated it should be logged “in the books,” but Gardiner responded to the effect of, “You don’t need to do that,” and kicked the aide under the table when they agreed it was important to log the money, according to court records.

The owners did document the money but the alderman later instructed his aide not to. The aide was in charge of keeping track of campaign contributions and expenditures, according to the application for the search warrant.

On or around the same time as the meeting, the building owners deposited $5,000 in cash to a new bank account, according to bank records accessed through a subpoena from federal investigators, the document states.

A few weeks later, the alderman’s office received new windows, according to the document.

The aide told investigators they believed Gardiner and the developer exchanged more yellow envelopes on other occasions.

The developer had talked with officials from Ryan Companies — the corporation behind The Clarendale — about developing one of his properties around 2013, according to the document.

After he spent $20,000 to prepare the property, Ryan Companies chose the Six Corners location instead, so the developer wanted “to get back” at Ryan Companies for making him lose that money, the aide told investigators.

Developers had been trying to develop the Six Corners lot since 2014.

Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
The Clarendale, the 10-story senior living complex at 4747 W. Irving Park Road at Six Corners, as seen from behind on Jan. 12, 2023.

In spring 2019, just before Gardiner took office, the project received approval from the Plan Commission and was close to being finalized. However, outgoing Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) — with Gardiner looking on from the gallery — blocked a vote on the project at the City Council’s Zoning Committee by calling for a quorum vote at Gardiner’s request.

That May, days before Gardiner took office, he allegedly met with the developer and took the money, according to the document.

By fall, the aide was told that Gardiner was going to “unnecessarily delay [the development] to inflict cost” on Ryan Companies as a favor to the developer who gave him money. The alderman asked some of his allies to oppose the project at a September 2019 public meeting to make it seem as though he was responding from the perspective of his constituents, according to the document.

A few weeks after the public meeting, Gardiner rejected plans for the development on the grounds that its height was “excessive,” despite strong community support as neighbors had been waiting anxiously for “the hole” to be filled. That decision spurred a Six Corners protest organized by former aldermanic candidate James Suh, where 150 residents gathered at the intersection to protest Gardiner’s position.

It wasn’t until February 2020 that Gardiner approved the project after he got Ryan Companies to agree to add affordable units on site, add independent units, decrease assisted living units and add more community partnerships.

It took another four months for the revised project to get approval from the Plan Commission — again — and pass full City Council in June 2020.

Construction on the project began in March 2021, and while it’s had a few delays due to the pandemic and supply chain issues, the senior living community is slated to open at the end of the month.

Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
The Clarendale, the 10-story senior living complex at 4747 W. Irving Park Road at Six Corners, is seen from the front on May 3, 2023. The development is planned to open at the end of May.

The Tribune was first to report on the affidavit document unsealed last week.

Gardiner did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the developer allegedly involved in the bribery.

Representatives with Ryan Companies declined to comment on the bribery allegation. They would not say if the cost of the $130 million project increased because of the delay.

In a statement, the company said it’s committed to “the highest standards ethically and works collaboratively with city staff, elected officials, and community groups to ensure our projects comply with city ordinances and add value to the local community while meeting the needs of the residents of the communities we build.”

A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment. Neither the spokesperson nor the court records indicate whether the FBI investigation involving the bribery case is still active and why the documents from 2020 were released this month.

The FBI investigation is one of several controversies that have dogged the alderman for much of his first term.

Gardiner has tried to take the focus off his legal troubles and scandals, instead touting his accomplishments in his first term. He’s said he’s brought more businesses and development to the ward, as his term has seen the overhaul of the former Sears at Six Corners, The Clarendale and the Northwestern medicine project in Old Irving Park, which is set to be complete before the end of the year.

“The 45th Ward is thriving due to the collaborative efforts of community stakeholders in the last three years,” Gardiner said in a statement over the winter. “In fact, we are witnessing $475 million of new developments $14 million of infrastructure improvements while creating hundreds of union and permanent jobs.”

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