As state Rep. Derrick Smith’s corruption trial continues, his attorneys said Wednesday that he was a victim of FBI incompetency and even entrapment.

Smith  is charged with accepting a $7,000 bribe for writing a letter of recommendation for a (FBI-concocted) grant for a (real) daycare. A government mole secretly recorded more than 120 conversations with Smith about the alleged bribe, including the moment when prosecutors say Smith received the money in a parked car. Recordings of Smith accepting the money — calling it “cheddar” and explaining to the informant that he wanted to be discreet about the money — were played in court this week and last.

Now Smith’s attorneys say FBI Special Agent Bryan Butler, who helped direct the informant (a felon called “Pete”), acted irresponsibly, the Chicago Tribune reports.

With his voice sometimes rising to a shout, (Smith attorney Victor) Henderson read aloud from transcripts of the undercover recordings, choosing sections that appeared to show Smith wavering in his desire to write the letter and Pete continuing to press him to get the deal done. In one conversation in mid-February, Smith still seemed unsure about the plan.

In the portions of the recordings that Henderson focused on Wednesday, Smith appears to waver about whether or not he wants to take the money.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

But defense attorney Vic Henderson grilled Butler for three hours about far less incriminating sections of the tapes the informant recorded, including one in which a hesitant Smith said “I don’t know what direction to go in” about accepting the bribe.

On that tape, the informant told Smith he was “talking in circles” and pressed him for a decision, but Smith replied only, “I don’t know which way to go.”

Butler defended his directing of the informant, and told Henderson that he never said the FBI may have been “barking up the wrong tree,” the Sun-Times reported.

Butler also denied telling the informant to keep bringing up the bribe until Smith accepted. Increasingly defensive, he seemed to split hairs in many of his answers to Henderson’s questions, denying several times that the informant “worked for” the FBI, despite acknowledging that the informant was paid thousands of dollars by the government.

From the Tribune:

“So you were just going to follow up on previous conversations until you got what you wanted, right?” Henderson asked.

In a soft voice, Butler replied, “No.”

Tribune columnist Eric Zorn said he was “feeling a little queasy” about the case against Smith. Though Smith ultimately took the money, Zorn thinks it look like he was pressured.

I’m not a lawyer but I do know enough law to realize that the entrapment defense is usually a stretch. Even still, gee, from what I read it looks an awful lot like this informant hassled Smith until Smith yielded to the temptation of some easy “cheddar.”

Butler’s cross-examination is expected to continue today. “Pete” is not expected to testify.

 

NEXT ARTICLE: Derrick Smith, facing bribery trial, gets Madigan reelection help 

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4. Political corruption is in the eye (and data) of the beholder 

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