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Lawmaker says he'll fight to clear name

SPRINGFIELD (MCT) — A Chicago Democratic lawmaker facing federal bribery charges delivered his first testimony to House investigators Thursday, saying he intends to clear his name in court and keep his job.

Rep. Derrick Smith, a House lawmaker from the West Side, said he is "accused but not convicted" by federal authorities and won his March primary despite the charge.

"The people in my district did not quit on me, and I will not quit on them," said Smith, who read a statement to the House special committee investigating the matter but did not take questions. "In the same way that the people in the district didn't abandon me, I will not abandon them."

Smith faces the potential of censure, reprimand or expulsion under the House procedures, which started with the investigative panel that convened Thursday and could eventually bring his case before the full House.

The lawmaker pleaded not guilty after being arrested a week before the March 20 primary election for allegedly extorting a $7,000 bribe from a government informant in return for a letter of support to secure a state grant for a day care operation.

Smith won the primary with the endorsement of Democrats who urged constituents to vote for him to keep the seat in Democratic hands. Many of those officials thought Smith would decide to pull his name from the ballot and give up his seat. For now, Smith doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

"I intend to fight this charge and clear my name," Smith said.

Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, suggested that the information provided by the federal authorities was enough for the special panel to deliberate on whether to advance the case to another committee, which could recommend punishment to the full House.

Reboletti said the House impeached then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich at a similar stage, having to make a "judgment call" that it was "enough to impeach a sitting governor."

Victor Henderson, Smith's attorney, said he will ask a federal judge May 30 to release all available information but noted that prosecutors oppose doing so.

Henderson told lawmakers that he is "not in a position to confirm nor deny" the allegations in the federal complaint because he has not received much information to date. He urged lawmakers to wait until more information is available before the House takes action in the Smith matter.

"You don't want to shoot and ask questions later. You want to ask questions and then decide," Henderson said.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz, the Northbrook Democrat who chairs the committee, said she did not have a timeline set for the committee to make a recommendation on the case. But she said she did not see how a second committee, if called upon to consider a recommendation to the full House, could finish before the end of the session. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn May 31.

Smith's is the first House probe since Blagojevich, a Democrat now in prison, was investigated and eventually impeached after his December 2008 corruption arrest. The House also investigated a then-Supreme Court justice, James Heiple, in 1997. He remained on the bench.

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