Judge Won’t Dismiss Indictment of Ex-Ald. Carrie Austin, As Her Lawyer Says She Remains Very Ill

Former Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward) leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (WTTW News)Former Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward) leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (WTTW News)

A federal judge said Thursday he will not dismiss the indictment against ex-Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward), even as the former politician’s lawyer said she was too ill to help craft a defense to the charges she took bribes from a developer and lied to FBI agents.

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U.S. District Court Judge John Kness has yet to set a trial date for Austin, who pleaded not guilty after her June 2021 indictment. The hearing, which lasted less than 15 minutes, was the first time Austin has appeared in a federal courtroom since her indictment more than two and a half years ago. Austin’s case was delayed by restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, her poor health and the voluminous amount of evidence in the case.

Austin, who resigned from the Chicago City Council on March 1, 2023, used a red scooter to move around the courtroom and the Dirksen Federal Courthouse while wearing a mask and receiving supplemental oxygen therapy. Austin spoke only to greet Kness at the beginning of the hearing.

In November 2022, Austin asked Kness to declare her medically unfit to stand trial. Kness has yet to rule on that request, which is opposed by federal prosecutors. In December 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois told Kness and is “alert, lucid and responsive” and able to move about on her own without assistance.

Austin earns pension payments of more than $9,500 per month, according to records obtained by WTTW News from the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago. Appointed in 1994 by Mayor Richard M. Daley, and elected six times by Far South Side voters, Austin served on the City Council for approximately 28 years and six months.

Tom Durkin, Austin’s attorney, said he has serious concerns about Austin’s ability to withstand the rigors of a trial, but has not obtained an opinion from a doctor about whether she is fit to stand trial.

“Whenever we’ve tried to spend long periods of time it’s been very difficult for her,” Durkin said, adding that Austin’s use of the scooter appears to have helped her health. “I just think it will be incredibility stressful and I think it would be in our interests to resolve it.”

Austin has a “long history of heart problems,” including a heart attack and coronary artery disease that required heart bypass surgery in the early 2000s, according to records filed by her attorneys. In addition, Austin underwent a double mastectomy in February 2021 after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.

In April 2021, Austin had another surgery connected to a long history of life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding, according to her attorneys.

During the Dec. 15, 2021, City Council meeting, Austin collapsed and had to be revived by Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward), a former firefighter.

Austin was last seen publicly at City Hall on Nov. 7, 2022. 

The bulk of the charges Austin is facing involve a firm that began building a $49.6 million redevelopment in her former Far South Side ward that includes Roseland in 2014. 

That development was eligible for $10 million from the area’s tax increment financing district as well as money from the “aldermanic menu” fund controlled by Austin to be used for infrastructure projects in the ward, including road resurfacing, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, Austin accepted new kitchen cabinets — worth $5,250 — in June 2017 from the developer. The next month, the firm gave Austin two “brand new” and “expensive” sump pumps and had a representative of the firm buy and install a new dehumidifier in her home, the indictment states.

Austin also asked the developer to install new “bathroom tiles in white or vein white,” in her home, according to the indictment.

Austin is set to be tried alongside her former chief of staff Chester Wilson Jr., who is charged with bribery conspiracy and two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery.

Federal prosecutors plan to try Wilson separately on a charge alleging he stole government funds by orchestrating a scheme to buy Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at a discount, officials said.

In October 2017, the firm agreed to pay for a portion of a new heating and air conditioning system at Wilson’s property because, as one unnamed individual told Wilson, “You help me a lot, and I’ll help you,” according to the indictment. Another unnamed individual said, “[If] I get what I want next week, it’s worth it” to pay for the upgrades to the property owned by Wilson, according to the indictment.

Wilson and Austin also had granite countertops installed at their properties as part of the scheme, according to the indictment.

The first indication that Austin was under investigation by federal officials came on June 19, 2019, when the FBI raided her ward office, hauling away boxes and files. After the raid, Austin denied wrongdoing.

Austin lied to the FBI that very day, according to the indictment. When agents told her that the developer had installed a dehumidifier at her house, Austin replied “not to me,” according to the indictment. Austin said she got nothing from the developer “other than a cake,” according to the indictment.

Thirty-eight members of the City Council have been convicted of a crime since 1969.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]


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