Chicago alderman and her chief of staff accused of accepting home improvement bribes

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Source: MEGA

Jul. 2 2021, Published 2:57 p.m. ET

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A Chicago alderman and her chief of staff are accused of conspiring to receive home improvements from construction contractors who asked for city assistance with a development project.

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A grand jury indicted Carrie M. Austin, 72, on 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, federal prosecutors said.

Austin’s Chief of Staff, Chester Wilson Jr., 55, faces charges of 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.

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According to the 19-page indictment, the construction company was eligible to receive over $10 million from the city for making infrastructure improvements while working on a nearly $50 million 91-unit residential development in Austin’s ward starting in 2014.

Beginning in 2016, the indictment alleged, the company’s owner and other contractors provided Austin with benefits for her residence, such as home improvement services, furniture, and appliances. Wilson allegedly received home improvement materials and services for his rental property “in an effort to influence them in their official capacities," prosecutors said.

In 2017, prosecutors said, Austin accepted a contractor’s offer to pay for “brand new” and “expensive” sump pumps as well as a dehumidifier. The contractor also allegedly paid over $5,000 for kitchen cabinets — represented falsely as going to an address in the development but installed in Austin’s home.

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In October 2017, the indictment states, the contractor told Wilson he would cover part of the cost of an HVAC system at Wilson’s rental property since “you help me a lot, and I’ll help you.”

As a result of the bribes, the indictment alleges, Austin and Wilson “authorized the expenditure of aldermanic menu funds,” up to $1.32 million earmarked for infrastructure projects in an alderman’s ward, “to benefit the construction company for infrastructure within the development, and 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.”

The theft charge against Wilson is in connection with an alleged scheme to use cash to buy a Supplemental Nutrtion Assistance Program (SNAP) card at a discount.

According to prosecutors, the conspiracy, bribery, and false statement counts are each punishable by up to five years in federal prison, and the theft charge is punishable by up to one year.  

Austin and Wilson are scheduled to be arraigned July 8.

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