Senator Charged with Tax Evasion as Colleagues Promote Ethics Package

For the fourth time since last August, a member of the Illinois General Assembly has been charged with a federal crime.

According to a court filing, state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who’s been a lawmaker since 1997 and was the chief architect of the massive gambling expansion law that will bring casinos to both Chicago and to Waukegan, is charged with tax fraud.

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He reported a taxable income of $264,450 in 2016, when his “total income substantially exceeded that amount.”

Given that legislators make significantly less – state records show Link was paid nearly $90,000 from Illinois government last year – it’s unclear how Link made more than a quarter million dollars in 2016.

Officials are required to annually file income disclosures with the state; his from that year and from 2017 show “N/A,” short for non-applicable, on questions about outside income.

Link this January amended his 2017 form to show that he’d made capital gains in excess of the $5,000 disclosure limit when in 2016 he sold a condo in Florida; the Chicago Tribune was first to report that Link had failed to include the $50,000 he made on the real estate deal.

Nothing in the one-page criminal information filed on Thursday indicates where Link would have had income in 2016 in excess of a quarter million dollars.

According to media reports, in exchange for a lighter deal on tax charges Link worked with the feds on a case that led to corruption charges last October against former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago. Link is believed to have worn a wire that recorded Arroyo offering a bribe in exchange for Link helping to pass a law to benefit an Arroyo gaming client. 

Link has denied wearing the wire, while Arroyo has pleaded not guilty.

The senator did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday night.

Link had previously served as a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission, a bipartisan and bicameral panel of lawmakers with the responsibility of deciding whether allegations of ethical misconduct by members of the General Assembly are worthy of further investigation.

A Senate spokesman said that Link has resigned from the commission.

The tax evasion charge comes as a group of Link’s Democratic peers on Thursday unveiled a package of ethical reforms, including proposals to require more robust reporting of lawmakers’ outside income and to give the inspector general more authority to probe wrongdoing by lawmakers.

It’s needed because the perception of Springfield is toxic, state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago, said.

“The impact of that is sidelining people and sidelining people is the opposite of what we are all here to go. For a democracy to work as it should we need to be inviting people in. So I look forward to getting this done,” she said.

LaPointe is among the Democrats who have called on Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to resign, as have several other Democrats backing the ethics deal, including Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago and Melinda Bush of Grayslake.

This summer, Commonwealth Edison admitted in a deal with prosecutors to spending years bribing and paying off individuals with ties to Madigan in order to curry favor with the Speaker.

Madigan, who also chairs the state Democratic party, has denied any knowledge of the scheme and any wrongdoing.

In a statement from his press office, Madigan said that “reviewing an ethics package and working with the ethics commission has always been a priority. I plan to work with all House members on their ideas and proposals, and I plan to support an ethics package that the consensus of the legislature supports.” 

However, House Republicans say that unless the Democratic members of the chamber who voted to put Madigan in power actively work to force him out, talking about improving the ethical culture in Springfield is farcical.

“Today’s press conference was completely out of touch with the reality on the ground. Every House member that took part in today’s press conference voted to put Mike Madigan in the Speaker’s chair and voted to accept his Rules of his House,” state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said in a statement. “While I applaud those who went on the record again today saying the Speaker should resign, this is merely political theater and window dressing. Until these members demand that the Governor call a special session to address ethics legislation and take real steps to remove Mike Madigan as Speaker, this is all just political cover.”

When asked to take a position on Madigan during the Zoom press conference, some Democrats did not respond while others said their efforts are about more than him.

“The ethics movement and the importance of having ethics reform applies throughout the legislature and I think it applies regardless of a single person,” said State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield.

Rep. Mary Edly-Allen of Libertyville said that were she in Madigan’s position, she would resign, but she said nobody has control of anyone but themselves.

She took umbrage with a focus on Madigan, calling it a distraction that saps energy from the ethical movement.

“As a freshman legislator, it’s really, really frustrating to hear something about Speaker Madigan because … it really takes away the focus in what this message is all about. This is way bigger than Speaker Madigan,” she said. “If he were gone we’d still have systemic changes that need to happen in the environment in Springfield.”

Backers of the package say that Thursday afternoon’s news about allegation brought against Link prove that point.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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