Corruption News

Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez pens letter to federal judge urging consideration of Daniel Solis’ ‘rampant’ corruption

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Chicago Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez on Wednesday asked a federal judge to consider the “rampant and unchecked corruption” of his predecessor, Ald. Daniel Solis, when weighing the unprecedented deal Solis has been offered by federal prosecutors in his bribery case.

Sigcho-Lopez’s two-page victim impact statement was sent to U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood in the form of a letter, not a formal filing in the case against Solis, who pleaded not guilty to a bribery count last week as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office.

In the letter, Sigcho-Lopez stopped short of asking Wood to reject the deal, which will likely leave Solis with a clean slate in three years if he continues to cooperate with the government. Instead, he urged the judge to consider “scaled and appropriate penalties” that reflect the seriousness of Solis’ conduct.

“If former Alderman Solis is not held accountable/charged, we feel that our hard work to reform will be undone,” Sigcho-Lopez wrote. “Our community cannot move forward if public sentiment in our institutions wane. We hope you consider these appeals, and that justice can be served so that my community can leave behind this terrible and harmful chapter and strive for a brighter future.”

Sigcho-Lopez also sent a copy of the letter to the U.S. attorney’s office and Solis’ attorney, Lisa Noller.

Wood, meanwhile, is scheduled to take up the issue during a status hearing in Solis’ case on Thursday.

Victim impact statements are typically part of a defendant’s sentencing hearing. But if Solis is never convicted, it’s unclear what, if any, weight the judge would give to Sigcho-Lopez’s comments.

Still, the letter marked another strange twist in Solis’ legal saga, which began in 2016 when he secretly agreed to wear a wire for federal investigators and helped build racketeering cases against Ald. Edward Burke and then-House Speaker Michael Madigan, two of the longest-serving and most powerful politicians in the state.

The deferred prosecution deal was signed by Solis on the day after Christmas 2018 and kept secret for nearly 3 ½ years before the U.S. attorney’s office on Tuesday finally put it on the record.

As part of the deal, Solis was charged in a one-count criminal information with corruptly soliciting campaign donations from a real estate developer in exchange for zoning changes in 2015, when Solis was head of the City Council Zoning Committee.

At Solis’ arraignment last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu told Wood he’d learned the city may want to intervene in Solis’ case as a victim. Bhachu said that while the U.S. attorney’s office “always invites the participation of victims in criminal cases,” he thought it was “doubtful” that the city would legally qualify as a victim given the facts of the Solis case.

Hours later, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has been highly critical of Solis’ deal, issued a statement that called him out for violating the public trust “in profound ways” but stopped short of any seeming attempt to derail the deferred prosecution.

Instead, Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, said she had instructed the Law Department to file a victim impact statement with the court.

“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,” the mayor said. “No one is above the law and Chicago residents expect that their elected officials will be held accountable.”

It was not the first time Lightfoot has been critical of Solis. After the Tribune reported on Solis collecting his pension after leaving office in 2019, Lightfoot said she was “confident he will face a moment of reckoning.”

“What that will be, when that will be, that is not under my control,” Lightfoot said that fall.

She has since publicly and privately criticized the deal prosecutors reached with Solis, calling it “unconscionable” that he might not face a conviction or lose his pension.

In his letter, Sigcho-Lopez detailed a number of ways in which he says Solis’ corrupt zoning practices allegedly have harmed his ward, from displacing thousands of low-income residents in Pilsen to letting politics trump the public interest in development projects in Chinatown.

“The harm caused by this corruption is generational,” the letter stated. “The people of the 25th Ward continue to feel the aftermath.”

He also touched on the pending cases against Burke and Madigan, who have both pleaded not guilty. In particular, Sigcho-Lopez said lobbyists connected to the alleged corruption schemes “will continue to be rewarded with public contracts without any accountability, if convicted parties are perceived to be ‘let off the hook.’ ”

Noller could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Lausch also could not be reached.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

rlong@chicagotribune.com


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