Four months ago, a lawyer for disgraced former state Rep. Luis Arroyo told a judge that sending Arroyo to prison would be “no more effective than draining Lake Michigan with a spoon” because it wouldn’t end Chicago corruption.
U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger retorted Wednesday that, “Maybe judges need a bigger spoon.”
That comment in the midst of Arroyo’s sentencing hearing at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse — and the silence that followed from the defense table — was a harbinger of bad news for Arroyo, who an hour later would be sentenced to nearly five years in prison for what the feds say was a $62,500 bribery scheme.
“I cannot begin to put into words how awful I feel,” Arroyo told the judge as he asked for leniency. “What I did, awful.”
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It didn’t work. During the hour that followed, Arroyo sat at the defense table and listened as Seeger thoroughly denounced Arroyo’s crime and the pervasiveness of public corruption in Chicago. He said Arroyo committed a “frontal assault on the very idea of representative government.” He said it was “dirty. It’s gross. It was beneath you, it was beneath the state of Illinois.”
“You were a dirty politician who was on the take,” the judge told the once senior member of the Illinois House of Representatives.
Seeger said Arroyo committed “bicameral corruption,” reaching into the other chamber and trying to enlist then-state Sen. Terry Link in his crime. The judge said Arroyo tried to “corrupt the law itself” as he promoted legislation in exchange for bribes.
He called Arroyo a “corruption super-spreader.”
At one point in the hearing, the judge asked, “Is there ethics training in the Illinois Legislature on an annual basis?” Defense attorney Michael Gillespie told him there is only training for new members.
“Do you think that would be a good idea?” Seeger asked.
The judge seemed thoroughly frustrated by comments in Arroyo’s legal briefs that seemed to downplay his conduct, culminating in a filing Wednesday morning from Gillespie that said, “Mr. Arroyo was not the recipient of a bribe but rather a conduit.”
Gillespie wound up having to take that comment back as Wednesday’s hearing played out. But Seeger kept coming back to it.
“You took bribes,” Seeger told Arroyo. “This morning you told me you didn’t. But today you tell me you did.”
The judge went on to read from the transcript of a hearing last fall in which Arroyo entered a blind guilty plea to a wire fraud count that said he took bribes from businessman James T. Weiss in exchange for promoting legislation related to unlicensed “sweepstakes” gambling machines. Weiss is the son-in-law of former Cook County Democratic Party chairman and ex-county assessor Joseph Berrios. Weiss has pleaded not guilty.
Arroyo and Weiss allegedly tried to enlist Link in the scheme, and Arroyo gave Link a $2,500 bribe payment in August 2019. But Link turned out to be cooperating with investigators in hopes of leniency at his own sentencing hearing. He has since pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.
“You betrayed the public, you betrayed the people that you promised to serve, you sold out your office, you sold out your constituents, you sold out yourself,” Seeger told Arroyo.
The judge said, “You can’t read the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times for very long without coming across a story about public corruption. The federal courthouse in Chicago is a beehive of activity when it comes to public corruption.”
But Gillespie wrote in one brief that Arroyo was undeterred from his crime by such news reports. Seeger didn’t like that comment, either.
“Really, Mr. Arroyo?” Seeger said. “You were undeterred by all the news reports about public corruption? What does that tell me about your character?”
The judge said, “Public officials are watching. Public officials are listening.” And he said he meant to send the message that, “Public corruption isn’t worth it.”
When it was all over, Arroyo declined to speak to reporters. Instead, he walked through the lobby of the federal courthouse, toward the exit, alone.