For the second time in two years, a Chicago alderman has issued a mea culpa in federal court, admitting to taking tens of thousands of dollars worth of bribes while holding public office.
In pleading guilty to corruption charges Monday, Ald. Isaac "Ike" Carothers (29th) joined 30 other aldermen since the 1970s who have been convicted. Before Carothers' plea, the most recent alderman convicted was Arenda Troutman, who admitted to misconduct in 2008.
Carothers, a longtime Mayor Daley ally who submitted a letter of resignation to Daley on Monday, does notch one distinction: He's the first son of a convicted Chicago alderman to also get convicted as an alderman.
Former Ald. William Carothers (28th) went to prison in 1983 for extorting more than $30,000 in remodeling work for his ward office from the builders of Bethany Hospital.
Ike Carothers, the longtime chairman of the City Council's Police and Fire committee, pleaded guilty to bribery, mail fraud and tax fraud for taking $40,000 in home improvements from a developer seeking zoning changes. He also admitted to pocketing bribes from others.
Carothers' deal calls for more than two years in prison. His father was sentenced to three years in 1983.
Ike Carothers' lawyer, Jeffrey Steinback, said Carothers "deeply regrets" his mistakes.
"I haven't yet met a perfect human being," Steinback said. "People engage in activities that they regret. I know this is something that Ike regrets deeply. That's why he's come in and pled and agreed to cooperate with the government in an attempt to make things right.
"From his heart, from the bottom of his heart, he deeply regrets what he's done here."
To some of his colleagues, Ike Carothers was a blowhard and a bully, an alderman who at times berated them as "cowards" and, as a freshman, leapfrogged over senior Council members for a top committee post.
He wasn't shy during the eight-month period between his indictment and conviction. Carothers continued to show up regularly at City Hall, chairing Police and Fire Committee meetings and rising on the City Council floor to participate in debates.
Carothers, physically large himself, coined the phrase "heavy-lifters" to describe aldermen with the guts to support the $276.5 million tax package tied to Daley's 2008 budget.
He'll be doing his lifting for the feds now, agreeing to testify against the politically connected developer Calvin Boender, who's scheduled to go to trial March 8.
Authorities say Boender, who has pleaded not guilty, pocketed millions of dollars as a result of the zoning changes. His lawyer could not be reached Monday.
At the same time Boender sought zoning changes to convert the 50-acre Galewood Yards from industrial to residential use, he paid to "take care of" Carothers, according to the plea deal. Boender arranged and paid for work done at Carothers' home, including painting it. When workers reported that the windows were rotted, Boender allegedly paid for their replacement. He then paid to install air conditioning at Carothers' home, the plea says.
Carothers declined when Boender offered him a break on a spruced-up home inside the development, the plea says.
In court papers, Carothers also admits pocketing $20,000 in bribes from an unnamed businessman who asked for his help to host carnivals in his ward. He also admitted to taking $15,500 in cash from a "cooperating witness" who sought redevelopment in the alderman's ward. Feeling uncomfortable about it, Carothers later cut a check from his campaign fund to reimburse the person, according to the plea.
Starting in early 2008, Carothers wore a wire and worked undercover with the FBI for more than a year. His cooperation resulted in charges against Naperville businessman Wafeek "Wally" Aiyash, who is accused of offering Carothers a $100,000 bribe if the alderman would secure concessions contracts for him. Carothers wore a mini-video camera to record part of the alleged payoff, according to charges.
Sources say, however, that it is unlikely that any other additional cases will emerge from his cooperation.
Carothers' replacement on the City Council will be appointed by Daley. One group of community leaders on Monday pushed for West Side minister Marshall Hatch to fill the spot.