Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ho, ho and ho? Feds say Christmas party cash was really a bribe!

Did grandma ever combine this ...
There have been some fairly creative attempts to disguise the intent of a cash payment that federal prosecutors think was really a bribe. But using the Christmas holiday?

That may be a new one, and it seems to be the situation related to Curtis Thompson, who was a chief of staff to 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr.

FOR THOMPSON IS the guy who got indicted on Friday (and was allowed to remain free while charges are pending in U.S. District Court without having to post bond) as the latest corruption case out of City Hall.

... with so much of this?
For the record, the amount is $7,500. That’s how much Thompson supposedly got in exchange for his professional services. Which means it falls within the trend of so many corruption cases – where the actual amount of the payoff is downright petty.

It’s not like $7,500 is anything Thompson could have lived off of for the rest of his life if he had somehow decided to skip the country and go into hiding.

According to the complaint filed in federal court, the person who was willing to make the government payoff was supposed to disguise the money (75 $100 bills tucked into a Christmas card) as donations to Brookins’ holiday toy drive and to pay for the alderman’s annual Christmas party.

THE PERSON MAKING the payoff (who in reality was an undercover informant working with the FBI) said he wanted to operate a 7-Eleven convenience store in the alderman’s home neighborhood, and he also needed certain city permits that would allow him to sell alcoholic beverages.

BROOKINS: Has a job opening for chief of staff
Supposedly, the bribe was to get the chief of staff to persuade Brookins to write an official Letter of Support on behalf of the would-be convenience store operator that would help speed along the bureaucratic process of issuing the required permits.

For what it’s worth, officials say that the businessman/informant actually attended the alderman’s Christmas party back on Dec. 19, which is when the very precious Christmas holiday card was delivered to the chief of staff.

That would make it more memorable than any political holiday party I ever have attended. The best thing I ever got was one year at a Christmas party at the Executive Mansion in Springfield, where then-Gov. Jim Edgar gave everybody silver holiday ornaments designed to look like the Old State Capitol building (the one that Abraham Lincoln would have known as the Statehouse, and where his body was on display just before being buried at the nearby Oak Ridge Cemetery).

I CAN FIND this latest case amusing because of the holiday connection.

Because it strikes me that if this had been something deeper-reaching, Friday would have been the day that Alderman Howard Brookins himself would have been hauled in front of a federal judge – and we’d be adding to the count of aldermen who have faced indictment throughout the years.

One can literally put together an entire City Council, with leftover politicos, from the ranks of those who have been indictment throughout the decades.

Instead, Brookins was only referred to as “Alderman A” in the indictment.

HE’S NOT CHARGED with anything. And he’s claiming he had no idea that when he wrote a letter on behalf of a would-be convenience store owner that somebody else was being enriched by his actions.

Which I’m sure is what would most offend certain types of people – someone else getting rich off their own efforts.

And perhaps knowing that if something does go wrong (which it did in this case because someone got caught), the blame will be spread around far greater than just the one guy.

The one who accepted a holiday card that most of us could never even dream of seeing.


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