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updated: 8/16/2012 5:05 PM

House poised to expel member on bribery charge

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  • State Rep. Derrick Smith pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of bribery.

      State Rep. Derrick Smith pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of bribery.
    Associated Press file photo

 
Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois House members will gather Friday to consider something lawmakers in the state haven't done in more than a century: expel one of their own.

State Rep. Derrick Smith could be tossed out of office after federal prosecutors charged him with accepting a bribe last spring. The Chicago Democrat has pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not been set.

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A vote of two-thirds, or 79 of 118 House members, is required to expel a lawmaker. A Select Committee on Discipline voted unanimously in July to find fault with Smith and 11-1 to expel him. Rep. Al Riley, an Olympia Fields Democrat, said he believes Smith deserves a lesser punishment.

But state representatives who presented the Smith case to the select committee, including Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, argued that Smith refused opportunities to defend himself. House members have a lower standard of fault-finding than in a criminal case, Lang said.

"At no time ever has Rep. Smith denied these charges," Lang said. "He's running for election in a few months and he hasn't even said to his constituents, `I didn't do it.' All of that worked very negatively against him."

Smith, appointed to the House seat in 2011 to fill a vacancy, was arrested in March just a week before the Democratic primary election. He won handily despite federal prosecutors' charge that he accepted a $7,000 bribe from a confidential government source in exchange for what Smith thought was a letter in support of a state grant for a day care operation.

Authorities say the operation was an FBI sting and the informant was wearing a recording device.

Even in a state with a lengthy history of political shenanigans, it's been 107 years since the Illinois House stripped a colleague of his title. That happened in 1905 when Rep. Frank Comerford, a Chicago Democrat, accused lawmakers of "wholesale corruption" but failed to produce evidence.

Comerford, however, won back his seat in the special election to fill the vacancy. Smith, too, remains on the ballot for the November election and could return to his post. If he does, the House could not vote to expel him again.

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