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Arrested lawmaker’s donors feel duped

derrick-smith

SPRINGFIELD — This had been a banner month for campaign fundraising for state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, right up until the time of his arrest Tuesday on federal bribery charges.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — This had been a banner month for campaign fundraising for state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, right up until the time of his arrest Tuesday on federal bribery charges.

Smith has received more than $72,000 in campaign donations since March 1. The money was pouring in even on the day of Smith's arrest.

Records from Illinois State Board of Elections, or ISBE, show donors on Tuesday gave Smith $4,916.46.

Harry Katsiavelos is president of Peoria Packing Ltd., a series of butcher shops in Chicago, which gave Smith $1,500 Tuesday, according to ISBE.

"I'm shocked," Katsiavelos said after learning today about Smith's arrest. "I feel pretty let down."

Katsiavelos said he had met Smith several years ago as Smith climbed the Chicago political ladder. He said Smith seemed earnest, and when he announced he was running for election, Katsiavelos was happy to help.

"He reached out, and I had known him over the years and wanted to see him succeed," Katsiavelos said.

Katsiavelos said he still would support Smith if the representative is cleared of the charge, otherwise, "he needs to return the money."

Jim Tenuto, ISBE spokesman, said campaign could refund any contribution.

The Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, a nonprofit environmental protection group, spent $1,416.46 for a mailer earlier this month, endorsing Smith against his challenger in the March 20 Democratic primary, Tom Swiss. While it wasn't cash in Smith's war chest, it is considered a donation.

Jack Darin, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, said he felt betrayed after learning of Smith's arrest.

"We've taken steps to retract our support and to remove his name from our list of endorsed candidates," Darin said.

Messages left with Smith's office by Illinois Statehouse News were not returned.

Smith was arrested Tuesday after a three-month investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois. He has been charged with one count of accepting a bribe, a federal felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.

The criminal complaint alleged that Smith wanted $7,000 in cash to direct a $50,000 state grant to a daycare facility.

Smith was released from custody Tuesday on his own recognizance.

Like every other lawmaker in the General Assembly, Smith is up for election this year — pending criminal charges don't disqualify a candidate from running. Unlike most members of the General Assembly, this is Smith's first legislative race. He was appointed a year ago to replace now-state Sen. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago, when she moved from the Illinois House to the Senate.

Smith's campaign had just $10,047.59 on hand at the end of 2011, but has since raised $143,881.09 in large donations, according to ISBE records. Though how much Smith's campaign has on hand is likely much larger.

Any donation of $1,000 or more must be reported within five days of receiving it, but anything smaller won't be noted until the end of the current reporting period, which ends March 31. Smith held a fundraiser Monday, and it's not yet known how much was raised at the event.

Since Smith has been charged, not convicted, his campaign is free to spend money however it wants, as long as that falls within the bounds of the state finance laws.

In fact, Smith can use his campaign money to pay his legal fees, much as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich did after being hit with corruption charges in 2008, said Ron Michaelson, the former director of ISBE.

If Smith is convicted, he's not obligated to do anything with the campaign money. He just can't use it for personal purposes.

"He can give it to charity, he can give it to other candidates or it can just sit there," Michaelson said.

Should Smith be convicted, he only would be ineligible from serving in the Legislature while serving his sentence. Once a sentence is completed, convicted lawmakers are eligible to serve in the General Assembly again.

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