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Chicago official pleads guilty

Former alderwoman admits taking payoffs from developers.

August 07, 2008|From the Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — After she was charged with corruption in early 2007, Chicago Alderwoman Arenda Troutman defiantly denied wrongdoing and suggested that she had been targeted for political reasons.

"Folk in my community understand there can be false allegations when there is someone who is the voice of the people," Troutman said then.

But on Wednesday, a subdued Troutman admitted that she had solicited cash from developers to back projects in her ward for several years.

When a federal judge asked if she had accepted illegal payments, Troutman quietly answered, "Yes."

In a plea agreement, she pleaded guilty to one felony count each of mail fraud and tax fraud. She faces five years in prison. U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo scheduled sentencing for Dec. 3.

Troutman is the 12th Chicago alderman or alderwoman to be convicted of wrongdoing in the last 20 years but the first since 1999. She lost her council seat in 2007.

Prosecutors detailed the evidence against Troutman, including conversations recorded by an undercover informant as part of the FBI sting that snared her. In one exchange, the alderwoman promised to smooth the way for a development but then asked: "What do I get out of it?"

In another quote that was caught on tape and later drew scorn from council colleagues, Troutman likened Chicago politicians to prostitutes.

In the plea agreement, Troutman admitted it was "the general practice" of her office to direct staffers to solicit money from developers seeking to do business in the 20th Ward. Prosecutors cited payoffs totaling $21,500.

Whether it was to change zoning, allow alley access or approve the sale of city-owned property, Troutman made it clear that her support "would either not be forthcoming or would be delayed" if she weren't paid, the plea agreement said.

As part of the investigation, the FBI sent a mole named Andre Johnson to see Troutman. An elder in a Baptist church, Johnson told Troutman that a wealthy investor was looking to construct a mixed-use building.

To secure her backing, Johnson gave a $5,000 check to a women's auxiliary linked to Troutman to pay for tickets to a campaign fundraiser.

The 20th Ward Women's Auxiliary was supposed to be a nonprofit organization, but Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Alesia said that tens of thousands of dollars in cash was withdrawn from the organization without any public accounting.

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