Former Sen. Terry Link back on the witness stand in Chicago businessman’s corruption trial

Former state senator Terry Link is set to resume testimony in federal court on Monday about his undercover work for the FBI in a corruption investigation allegedly involving a fellow General Assembly member and a businessman. politically connected involved in the sleazy world of slot machines.

Link, 76, a Vernon Hills Democrat who resigned in 2020 after being hit with federal tax charges, is the lead prosecution witness in the case against James Weiss, the son-in-law of the former Cook County Democratic boss , Joseph Berrios, who is accused of agreeing to pay bribes to Link and then-State Representative Luis Arroyo in order to advance legislation that would help the gambling business of Weiss lottery.

Questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Franzblau on Wednesday, Link spent about an hour and a half explaining to the jury his role in spearheading the state’s massive gambling overhaul legislation in 2019, as well as a shouting match he had with Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat, over it in the Senate and a secretly taped meeting at a Wendy’s Highland Park where prosecutors say the offer to pay Link was first made there is four years old.

When the trial resumes on Monday, prosecutors are expected to play a key part of the recording, when Link and Arroyo excused themselves from the table to speak privately outside. FBI agents posted outside Wendy’s took surveillance photos of the two lawmakers talking which are expected to be shown to the jury.

“It’s you and me talking now. No one else,” Link told Arroyo once they were alone, according to court records.

“Anything you tell me is between you and me,” Arroyo reportedly replied. “It’s my word.”

During their supposedly private chat, Link told Arroyo that he was “at the twilight” of his career and was “looking for something” to boost his income. Arroyo said he would “make sure you get rewarded for what you do, for what we’re going to do in the future,” according to court records.

“Let’s be clear…my word is my bond and my, my reputation,” Arroyo reportedly said

Link’s appearance in a federal courtroom took on extra spectacle as he vehemently denied reports – including in the Tribune – that he was the cooperating state Senator A mentioned in the charges handed down. public for the first time in October 2019.

His voice wavering and his hand shaking due to a medical condition, Link told the jury that he began cooperating with the FBI after facing allegations of federal tax evasion.

Link, who has long spearheaded massive General Assembly gambling legislation, told the jury for the first time that he had spent some of the tax scheme’s ill-gotten funds on ‘gambling’ .

He has since pleaded guilty to the tax charges and is hoping for a break from his sentence in exchange for his undercover work, he said.

Weiss, 44, married to former state representative Toni Berrios, is charged in a superseding indictment filed in October 2020 with bribery, wire fraud, mail fraud and lying to the FBI. He pleaded not guilty.

The case centers on the largely unexplored world of lottery machines, sometimes referred to as “grey machines”, which allow customers to deposit money, receive a coupon to redeem for goods online, and then play electronic games such as slot machines.

Since the machines can be played for free, they are not considered gaming devices. Critics, however, argue that unregulated devices, which operate in cities including Chicago, which have banned video gaming, are designed to circumvent the law.

Prosecutors alleged Weiss desperately wanted the state’s gambling expansion bill to include language explicitly legalizing lottery machines, but he was dropped from the proposal during the spring session. 2019. Weiss then agreed to pay monthly bribes of $2,500 to secure a deal, first to Arroyo and later to Link, who was a major sponsor of the gambling bill chance in the Senate, according to prosecutors.

“Instead of giving up, the defendant doubled down,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine O’Neill said in her opening statement Tuesday.

Lawyers for Weiss, meanwhile, say Weiss was paying Arroyo as a legitimate consultant for his company, and trying to get help from another politician is not a crime.

“There is no dispute about the payments the government says Weiss made,” defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said in his opening statement. “We say these were not bribes, and these were not payments to deprive the people of the State of Illinois of the honest services of certain legislators.”

Arroyo pleaded guilty to his role in the alleged scheme but did not agree to cooperate with prosecutors. Seeger sentenced Arroyo to nearly five years in prison last year, calling him a “superspreader of corruption”.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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