Former Illinois state Rep. Luis Arroyo, who last year pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme in which he offered a member of the Illinois Senate monthly payments to support a bill that sought to legalize sweepstakes machines, has been sentenced to 57 months in federal prison
U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger issued the sentence during an in-person hearing Wednesday afternoon in the Dirksen Federal Building downtown, nearly seven months after Arroyo pleaded guilty.
“You took bribes, you corrupted yourself, you corrupted the political process,” the judge said. “You tried to corrupt the law itself. You tried to change Illinois for a corrupt reason. … What you did was a frontal assault on the very idea of representative government. The public did not get what they deserve.”
Seeger laid in to Arroyo during the hearing, calling the former representative a “dirty politician who was on the take” and a “corruption super-spreader,” who through his actions “injected” corruption into both the Illinois House and Senate. The judge added that he needed to make a message clear to public officials across Illinois: that “public corruption isn’t worth it.”
Arroyo, 67, of Chicago, was first indicted on one charge of bribery in October 2019, and resigned from the Illinois House one month later. He pleaded guilty last November to one count of wire fraud.
At the time of his indictment, Arroyo was registered as a Chicago lobbyist focused on sweepstakes legislation, according to records filed with the Chicago Board of Ethics. Prosecutors allege he was paid tens of thousands of dollars by James Weiss — the owner of sweepstakes firm Collage LLC and husband to former state Rep. Maria “Toni” Berrios — to push legislation that would have legalized gambling machines.
In brief comments during the hearing, Arroyo asked for leniency and that the judge consider the entirety of his life’s work before issuing sentence.
“I cannot begin to put into words how awful I feel. What I did, awful,” Arroyo told the court. “I understand there has to be consequences for the choice I made. I accept that. I’ll always accept responsibility completely today.”
In a new court filing Wednesday, Arroyo’s defense team argued he was not the “recipient of a bribe,” but rather a “conduit for the bribe,” suggesting Arroyo was simply taking monthly payments from Weiss and giving it to an Illinois politician referred to in court documents as “State Senator A.”
“Without question, Mr. Arroyo did accept money from co-defendant James T. Weiss to provide to State Senator A as part of the bribery scheme,” Arroyo’s attorney Michael Gillespie wrote Wednesday. “He does not deny his role and participation in the instant offense and accepts full responsibility for his actions.”
That unnamed senator has long been identified as former state Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills). Link resigned from the Illinois Senate in September 2020 and has pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.
Seeger took issue with that “conduit” description, when Arroyo had already admitted to accepting a bribe. The judge was “concerned” that he received a brief Wednesday in which Seeger felt that Arroyo was attempting to minimize his own role in the scheme.
Gillespie took responsibility for that line during the hearing, saying it was “inaccurate” and that Arroyo had infact accepted at least two to four bribes.
During the hearing, Arroyo wiped away tears as his wife, Maribel, told the court about their time raising their children, playing with their grandchildren and her own ongoing health problems.
“Luis has been with me through thick and thin,” she said. “I depend on him.”
Defense attorneys in January asked the judge to sentence Arroyo to probation, arguing that a prison sentence could damage his health or the health of his chronically ill wife, and would be “no more effective” at stopping political corruption in Illinois than “draining Lake Michigan with a spoon.”
Gillespie explained that line Wednesday, saying he did not believe anyone committing a crime who read about the sentence in this case would change their actions.
“Maybe judges need a bigger spoon,” Seeger responded.
Federal prosecutors, however, have said Arroyo used the “power and influence of his office to advance his own interests” through a “blatant cash grab.” They sought a prison sentence of between 46 and 57 months.
Arroyo’s bribery scheme wasn’t a “momentary lapse in judgment,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James Durkin wrote in a previous filing, but was instead a series of calculated actions taken by a politician who was entering his seventh term as a state representative.
Durkin on Wednesday said Arroyo’s actions “corrosive,” arguing that not only was Arroyo corrupt himself, but he also worked to corrupt another senior state legislator in Link. He asked the judge to “send a message” with his sentence, adding that Arroyo “tarnished” Chicago and the state of Illinois by “perpetuating the narrative that corruption is just part of the political landscape here.”
“He knew right from wrong when he committed this crime,” Durkin said. “But he betrayed his office and his constituents for his own personal benefit.”
On top of the prison time, Arroyo must also forfeit $32,500, the amount Seeger determined he had received in bribes from Weiss' company. Arroyo must turn himself in by Aug. 31 to begin serving his sentence.
Heather Cherone contributed to this report.