Rep. Derrick Smith is charged with accepting $7,000 from a trusted campaign worker. Smith thought the money was a payoff from a day care operator who wanted him to write an official letter supporting a bid for a $50,000 state grant, authorities said. The campaign helper was working undercover for the FBI, and the day care operation was a government ruse, officials said.
The indictment came a few hours after Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn suggested that Smith could leave office willingly or be kicked out by fellow lawmakers who have formed a House investigative panel.
"If he doesn't resign, I think the odds are that he will be expelled from the legislature," Quinn said.
Smith's criminal-defense lawyer said Tuesday that the representative has no plans to resign and will plead not guilty to the bribery charge.
"I think it's a travesty that anybody would call for his resignation, especially lawmakers," said Victor P. Henderson. "If anybody should uphold the law, you would expect it to be lawmakers. And the law of the land is innocent until proven guilty."
If removed from office, Smith's name would still appear on the November ballot unless he withdraws from the race. But Quinn said there's an opportunity for candidates with "better records" than Smith to qualify for the general election.
To appear on the ballot, a candidate would have to run as an independent or a member of a less-established political party and collect at least 1,500 valid signatures from voters in the district, said Ken Menzel, deputy general counsel for the Illinois Board of Elections. Petitions are due in June.
Also Tuesday, Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, called on Smith to return to work or "temporarily" step aside to deal with his legal problems.
Ervin, who sits on the panel that would replace Smith should he resign, said he isn't trying to force Smith from office but wants adequate representation for those who live in Smith's district.
"He has a right to due process. He has a right to defend himself," Ervin said. "He does not have a right to not represent the district and also collect a paycheck."
Henderson cautioned against "rushing to judgment," suggesting Smith was the target of a very aggressive government investigation.
Tribune reporter Hal Dardick contributed.