Indicted Chicago alderman too ill to stand trial, OK to cast council votes

Indicted Chicago alderman too ill to stand trial, OK to cast council votes

Chicago’s second-longest serving alderman is seeking a stay of prosecution on federal bribery charges, arguing she is “not medically fit to stand trial.” The plea comes eight days after Ald. Carrie Austin voted on the council floor to approve the city budget.

Indicted Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin is seeking to pause her prosecution on federal bribery charges, arguing she is “not medically fit to stand trial” just days after voting on the City Council.

Austin and her chief of staff were charged July 1 by a federal grand jury with conspiring to accept home improvements from a construction contractor seeking city assistance on a real estate development in her 34th Ward.

In exchange for aldermanic subsidies and support, charges state Austin and chief staffer Chester Wilson Jr. received new kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, sump pumps, bathroom tiling and a heating and cooling system at little to no cost. Federal agents raided Austin’s office in 2019.

The grand jury in Chicago charged Austin, 72, with one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote bribery, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery and one count of lying to the FBI.

Austin’s attorneys moved Nov. 11 to extend the deadline on pretrial motions set to start this week, citing the alderwoman’s declining health.

The defense lawyers said Austin “cannot cooperate fully with counsel or withstand the stress of a trial.” The attorneys also stated their intent to file a motion by Nov. 18 severing Austin from prosecution alongside her co-defendant, chief of staff Chester Wilson.

Austin and Wilson have each pleaded not guilty.

Despite motions by the defense arguing Austin is unfit to appear in court, she was attending City Council meetings prior to approving Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion 2023 budget on Nov. 7.

Austin last December collapsed during a city council meeting. The defense has provided medical records to prosecutors but declined to offer specifics on Austin’s afflictions.

Austin is the second-longest serving member on the city council after Ald. Edward Burke, who was indicted on 14 counts of federal racketeering charges in 2019. Burke awaits trial Nov. 6, 2023. Austin is not seeking reelection.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson also was found guilty by federal prosecutors Feb. 14 for lying to regulators and filing false income tax returns. Thompson has since resigned from the City Council and been sentenced to four months in federal prison.

Over 30 Chicago aldermen have been linked to corruption cases since the 1970s.

Chicago ranks as the country’s most corrupt city and Illinois is the second-most corrupt state in the nation. That corruption comes with a heavy price tag for the state economy – costing Illinoisans more than $550 million in foregone economic activity per year.

Not only does this cost all Illinois taxpayers, but it shakes residents’ faith in state and local politicians. The ongoing federal corruption probes are a reminder Illinois has a lot of work ahead to undo the political culture of corruption, where the public’s trust can be traded for a new countertop.

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