Feds allege state Rep. Luis Arroyo caught on undercover recording paying $2,500 bribe. ‘This is the jackpot.’

Chicago Tribune
Jason Meisner, Jamie Munks, and Dan Petrella

State Rep. Luis Arroyo was supposed to be with his fellow lawmakers in Springfield on Monday for the first day of the busy fall veto session.

Instead, the Chicago Democrat was ducking reporters as he left the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago, where he was the latest elected official to be charged in what has become a sprawling federal public corruption investigation.

Arroyo, 65, an assistant majority leader who has been in office since 2006, was charged with one count of federal program bribery alleging he agreed to pay a state senator $2,500 a month in kickbacks in exchange for the senator’s support on legislation involving video gambling sweepstakes games that would benefit one of Arroyo’s lobbying clients.

The 13-page criminal complaint, made public Monday, revealed that the state senator allegedly targeted by Arroyo first began cooperating with the FBI in 2016 but was terminated as a confidential source after it was revealed he had filed false income tax returns.

The senator later agreed to cooperate with the FBI again in the hopes of winning a break at sentencing on expected tax fraud charges, according to the complaint.

The senator was not named in the complaint, but a source identified him as Terry Link, 72, a state senator from Vernon Hills since 1997.

Speaking to a reporter outside his Capitol office Monday, Link flatly denied he was “CW-1” — the cooperating witness mentioned in the complaint.

When the Tribune confronted Link again later Monday and told him he’d been identified as the cooperator, he again denied involvement.

“Anybody can tell you anything,” Link said. “… I answered you.”

According to the charges, CW-1 was wearing a wire when Arroyo delivered the first of the promised $2,500 checks at a restaurant in Skokie on Aug. 22, the charges said.

“This is, this is the jackpot,” the complaint quoted Arroyo as telling the senator as he handed over the check.

Additional monthly $2,500 payments were expected to be made over the next six to 12 months, federal authorities alleged.

The charge against Arroyo marked the latest in a series of ongoing federal probes that have rocked political circles from Chicago to Springfield. Arroyo is the third elected official to be charged so far, joining longtime Chicago Ald. Edward Burke and state Sen. Thomas Cullerton.

Records show the FBI is also investigating state Sen. Martin Sandoval, Cook County Commissioner and McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski, Lyons Mayor Chris Getty, Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin and officials in the suburbs of Summit and Cicero.

A separate probe delving into the lobbying practices of utility giant Commonwealth Edison has led to FBI raids on current and former lawmakers and political operatives, including several who are close confidants of House Speaker Michael Madigan.

None of those officials has been charged.

Arroyo, meanwhile, made his initial appearance in federal court Monday morning on one count of federal program bribery.

Clad in a gray suit with his hands folded in front of him, Arroyo answered “Yes” in a low voice when U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez asked if he understood his constitutional rights.

Arroyo, who was released on his own recognizance, was ordered to have no contact with anyone involved in the charges, including the senator and an undisclosed business owner whom Arroyo was allegedly trying to assist in the scheme.

With a white cap on his head, Arroyo left the downtown courthouse without comment Monday afternoon, hurrying past reporters and cameramen into a waiting SUV that sped off down Dearborn Street. His lawyer, Michael Gillespie, also had no comment.

Arroyo’s court appearance came not long before the state House convened in Springfield for the first day of the fall veto session.

Madigan, the powerful Chicago Democrat, and House GOP leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs both called on Arroyo to step down or each vowed to begin the process to remove him from office under House rules. Madigan said he’d been told by Arroyo’s attorney that the legislator planned to resign as chair of the House Appropriations-Capital Committee.

“The actions today go to the heart of public trust in state government,” Durkin said. “Today begins the process of cleaning up this chamber.”

Madigan issued a statement calling for the strengthening of state ethics and lobbying laws. As he left a meeting Monday of the House Democratic caucus, a reporter asked about federal investigators seeking information about Madigan in a subpoena and search warrant served on the City Club of Chicago as part of a probe into whether ComEd hired politically connected lobbyists to curry favor with lawmakers in exchange for favorable action at the Illinois Capitol.

“I’m not a target of anything,” Madigan said.

According to the charges unveiled Monday, CW-1 told the FBI that Arroyo had approached him about “the passage of sweepstakes-related legislation” during the House’s spring session.

Arroyo is a manager of a lobbying firm called Spartacus 3 LLC, which includes as a client the owner of a company involved in video gambling sweepstakes machines, according to the complaint.

Sweepstakes machines, sometimes called “gray machines,” allow customers to put in money, receive a coupon to redeem for merchandise online and then play electronic games like slot machines. Critics contend the largely unregulated devices, which operate in cities like Chicago that have banned video gambling, are designed to skirt the law.

In early August, Arroyo texted the senator asking to meet at a restaurant in Highland Park, according to the complaint. Also at the meeting was the company owner, identified only as Individual A, as well as one of the owner’s associates.

During the meeting, Arroyo said he was going to introduce a “trailer bill” in the veto session expanding the use of sweepstakes games and offered to make periodic payments to the senator in exchange for his support, according to the complaint. With others present for the discussion, Arroyo said he wouldn’t be able to enlist the senator’s support unless it was legal.

“I cannot work as a legislator with somebody if it’s illegal,” Arroyo was quoted as saying. “I just can’t. … I cannot be part of something illegal. That’s just like being part of the mob or being part of a gang that’s selling drugs.”

Arroyo then asked the senator to “carry the bill,” explaining that he had “nobody in the Senate.”

After the senator told Arroyo to send him some language for the proposed bill, the two politicians left the table to speak privately, carrying on their conversation outside the restaurant as FBI agents conducted surveillance, according to the complaint.

“This is you and I talkin’ now. Nobody else,” the senator said, according to the complaint.

“Whatever you tell me stays between you and me,” Arroyo allegedly responded. “That’s my word.”

During their purportedly private talk, the senator told Arroyo he was “in the twilight” of his career and was “looking for something” to bolster his income. Arroyo said he would “make sure that you’re rewarded for what you do, for what we’re gonna do moving forward,” the complaint alleged.

“Let’s be clear … my word is my bond and my, my reputation,” Arroyo allegedly said.

Three weeks later, on Aug. 22, Arroyo and the senator met at the Skokie restaurant, the complaint alleged. Arroyo made the “jackpot” comment as he handed over the $2,500 check — written to a third party to disguise the purpose for the payoff, according to the charges.

“I’m not too happy about doing this, but I’m doin’ it for ya,” the senator said near the end of the conversation.

“I know you’re not,” Arroyo allegedly replied.

Born in Puerto Rico in 1954, Arroyo migrated to New York with his family at age 5 and moved to Chicago as a teen, according to the biography on his district website. He began his career in public service as an employee with the city’s water department before being appointed to his House seat in 2006 and winning election two years later.

In recent years, Arroyo has fought former Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios for political control on the city’s Northwest Side.

Link, meanwhile, was one of the chief architects of the massive gambling expansion that the Illinois General Assembly passed in the spring.

In June, on what was his both wedding anniversary and the final day of the state legislature’s spring session, Link pleaded with his colleagues to vote in favor of the gaming expansion “for the sake of my marriage, for the sake of Illinois.”