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As former Ald. Danny Solis pleads not guilty to bribery, city may seek to intervene as a victim

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As former Ald. Danny Solis formally pleaded not guilty to a federal bribery charge on Wednesday, city attorneys threw a bit of a curveball in the proceedings, as federal prosecutors revealed the city might seek to intervene in the case, claiming to be a victim of Solis' crime.

Solis, 72, has entered into what is known as a deferred prosecution agreement, in which federal prosecutors have agreed to drop the charges against Solis after three years in exchange with his continued cooperation in cases against Ald. Edward Burke and former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

At Solis' arraignment hearing on Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu told U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood the city has informed federal prosecutors it may seek to file a pleading in the case as a victim of Solis' corruption.

Neither federal prosecutors nor Solis' defense attorney objected to a brief delay in Solis' case so the city could argue why it should be considered a victim.

Bhachu said it's still an open question whether the city is a victim, but said they want to give the city a chance to make their case.

"It is doubtful that this is, in fact, the case," he said.

Wood also said she'd "like to see what kind of argument the city might be making," and gave the city until April 20 to  "appear and make a filing" regarding their request, and scheduled a hearing for April 21.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has directed the city's Law Department to prepare a victim impact statement to be filed with the court in Solis' case. 

"There can be no doubt that former Alderman Solis violated the public trust in profound ways, not the least of which was by monetizing his position as Zoning Committee Chairman for the benefit of himself and others, likely for years. Because of all of the crimes that have been put on the public record, Solis victimized the residents of his ward and residents in the entire city, all of whom were deprived of the integrity and honesty that should be sacrosanct with all public officials," Lightfoot said. "No one is above the law and Chicago residents expect that their elected officials will be held accountable."

As part of his deal with the feds, Solis admitted that, in July 2015, he asked a developer for a campaign contribution in exchange for his help getting them a zoning change to build a multi-unit rental building on a site in his ward that had once been a restaurant. In August 2015, two executives from the developer contributed $5,000 each to Solis' 25th Ward organization campaign fund, and informed Solis they planned to attend a September fundraiser.

About two weeks after that fundraiser, the Zoning Committee approved the zoning change the developer sought. The same day, another executive at the same developer gave $5,000 to Solis' campaign fund, and three days later, the City Council approved the project.

The deferred prosecution agreement does not specify which cases Solis is cooperating in, but it already has been revealed he wore a wire for the FBI in federal investigations against Ald. Ed Burke and former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who both have been indicted in separate cases.

Solis' deal requires him to appear to testify in any case at the request of federal prosecutors, and provide "complete and truthful testimony."

Solis is scheduled to be arraigned on the bribery charge on Wednesday, at a hearing that will be conducted by phone conference, as most arraignments have been in federal court since the start of the pandemic. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to discuss the deferred prosecution agreement at that hearing.

In late 2018, Solis announced he would not be running for re-election, just months before published reports revealed he'd been wearing a wire for the FBI in a probe that resulted in corruption charges against Burke.

He resigned as Zoning Committee chairman in January 2019 after the Sun-Times first revealed his cooperation with federal investigators.

According to a federal search warrant affidavit obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, Solis used his City Council position to further the interests of contributors who supplied him with money, Viagra, and even sex acts in return.

The feds listened in to more than 18,000 hours of Solis' conversations in one year and on three occasions watched him come and go from massage parlors – visits allegedly paid for by a political fixer seeking favors.

In court filings, federal prosecutors have revealed Solis' involvement in the case against Burke, who allegedly tried to get the managers and developers of the Old Main Post Office to hire his law firm in exchange for help with city issues and permits.

According to court filings, Solis was an intermediary in the alleged bribery, identified in the documents as "Alderman A." In the court documents, prosecutors stated, "Alderman A was alderman of the 25th Ward in Chicago," adding Solis began cooperating with the feds in August 2016.

Burke has pleaded not guilty, and is still awaiting trial.

Solis also wore a wire to record conversations with former Madigan, who was indicted on racketeering charges last month, based in part on those wiretap recordings.

The indictment also claims that in 2018, that Madigan agreed to accept business steered by Solis to his private law firm, and in exchange, agreed to advise then-Gov. Bruce Rauner to appoint Solis to a state board. Solis was Chairman of the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks & Building Standards at the time, and was working as an informant at the direction of law enforcement - which Madigan and McClain did not know at the time, prosecutors said.

The indictment reveals that Solis helped in the investigation. Solis, referenced in the indictment as "Alderman A," recorded several conversations with Madigan regarding a parcel of land owned by the State of Illinois in the Chinatown community - which was used as a parking lot.

In July 2017, Madigan and Solis discussed the transfer for the parcel from the state to the City of Chicago, so it could be transferred in turn for possible development, the indictment said.

The indictment said Solis told Madigan that if Madigan could take care of the Chinatown land transfer, the developer would "appreciate it" and would give Madigan tax work for his private law firm, the indictment said.

Solis himself was being watched by the feds at the same time he was cooperating, as it was revealed that contributors supplied him with money, Viagra, and sex acts in a separate case.

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