A Chicago alderman's chief of staff is charged with accepting a $7,500 bribe in exchange for helping to secure a letter from his boss supporting a liquor license, federal authorities announced Friday.
Alderman Howard B. Brookins Jr.'s chief of staff, Curtis V. Thompson, 62, of Chicago, is charged with federal bribery, which carries a maximum 10-year prison term.
The complaint released Friday says that at a Christmas party last year, a cooperating witness handed a red envelope to Thompson with 75 $100 bills, telling him, "I brought you a little something." Thompson allegedly took the envelope, carefully felt it, put it in a jacket pocket and said, "Thanks."
Neither the complaint nor statements from the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office name the alderman. But Brookins confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times that Thompson is his chief of staff. The complaint refers to Thompson's boss only as "Alderman A."
"Are you serious? He's been charged? Unbelievable. It's just unbelievable. I am speechless at this point," Brookins told the Sun-Times when told about the accusations against his chief of staff. Brookins hasn't been charged and has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Messages left by The Associated Press on a voice mail at Brookins' office were not returned and no one answered a cellphone number for Brookins. Thompson could not be reached; there was no publicly available telephone listing for a Curtis V. Thompson.
The complaint describes a series of phone conversations and meetings in 2013 with the cooperating witness, who was purportedly seeking a liquor license for a store or restaurant.
During an Oct. 29, 2013, meeting at which the alderman was present, the complaint says, the cooperating witness passed a note to the alderman, saying, "12K to you for letter of support."
And during a Nov. 19 meeting the same year, the alderman allegedly agreed to send the letter. Later, the cooperating witness was asked to donate to the alderman's holiday toy drive and to co-sponsor the alderman's Christmas party, which he agreed to do, the complaint says. It was at the party where the alleged bribe was handed to Thompson.
The cooperating witness had landed himself in legal trouble before agreeing to help the investigation. He pleaded guilty in March 2013 to one count of wire fraud, the complaint says.
The court document also includes recordings in which the cooperating witness allegedly speaks to other unnamed figures who purport to offer advice about how bribe payments work. At one point, the cooperating witness asks one of the figures if there was any leeway on the dollar amount of a bribe that would get him what he wanted.
"No," the person responds. "There ain't no flexibility on nothing."
Another time, Thompson expressed concern to the cooperating witness that he had been too forward, scribbling on a Post-it note that he could offer the alderman a $12,000 bribe, the complaint says.
"And you came on strong with that, and everybody got nervous, is what I'm saying," the complaint cites Thompson as saying. "And that's why I tabled it." Thompson is alleged to have said, "There's a lot of witch hunting going on."