Howard Brookins had just told a real estate developer he wasn’t likely to support a new liquor license in his South Side ward when the developer announced a proposal that would “make everyone happy,” federal prosecutors say.
The developer – who turned out to be an FBI informant wearing a hidden video recorder — unzipped his organizer and pulled out a sheet of paper with a post-it note stuck askew on the bottom, spelling out a $12,000 bribe offer in exchange for the alderman’s support. Brookins turned his head “slightly sideways” as he looked at the paper, then passed it to an aide who handed it to the alderman’s longtime chief of staff, Curtis V. Thompson Jr., prosecutors said.
Two days after that meeting in October, Thompson was recorded by the FBI telling an associate that Brookins would greenlight the liquor license after all. But Thompson had serious reservations about the developer’s sloppy bribery tactics, prosecutors alleged.
“He needs to quit writing things down, you know?” prosecutors quoted Thompson as saying.
In a telephone interview, Brookins, an attorney and son of a former state senator, denied knowledge of the alleged bribery, saying he was stunned at the charge against Thompson, an employee since the alderman was first elected in 2003. The chairman of the City Council black caucus, Brookins lost the 2008 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney amid a crowded field of candidates. His campaign slogan was “Brookins for Justice!”
Brookins said while in a car with Thompson earlier Friday, his aide showed him an envelope and said it contained the $7,500 that the developer had ultimately paid Thompson to secure approval of the liquor license – a deal that prosecutors alleged went down at Brookins’ office Christmas party in December.
Brookins said he told Thompson they couldn’t take the money and ordered him to return the cash. The alderman said he then met with his attorney to discuss the encounter and reported the incident to the city Board of Ethics shortly before learning Thompson had been charged.
The informant, now 28, agreed to cooperate with authorities in 2008 after he was charged in a $17 million mortgage fraud scheme involving a posh River North condominium high rise, according to court records and sources. The North Side man pleaded guilty to fraud last March.
According to the charge against Thompson, federal authorities had the informant pretend to be seeking a license to sell alcohol at a convenience store he was looking to open in Brookins’ ward. During a meeting last October that was audio and video recorded, the informant passed a note to Thompson reading “$7,500 to the Ald. for L.O.S.” — an alleged reference to a letter of support. Thompson read the note and responded, “Okay. I understand. I understand,” authorities said. Thompson then said that he would bring the issue up with Brookins.
Brookins was present with the informant and Thompson at two subsequent meetings, according to the complaint. In the first meeting at Brookins’ office on South Ashland Avenue, the informant passed a note to Brookins that said, “12K to you for letter of support,” authorities alleged. On Nov. 19, Brookins allegedly agreed during a recorded meeting to send as many letters of support as the developer needed.
The developer was later solicited to co-sponsor Brookins’ Christmas party, according to the complaint. On Dec. 10, he went to the alderman’s office and was given a letter of support on Brookins’ letterhead, addressed to 7-Eleven Inc., and signed in Brookins’ name.
“Please allow this letter to serve as my full support for a 7-Eleven convenience store,” the criminal complaint quoted the letter as saying. “This store will be a welcomed addition to (the alderman’s) community and those that patronize the area for shopping and convenience needs. As well as wine and spirits (alcohol).”
The informant attended the alderman’s party on Dec. 19 and handed Thompson a red envelope containing a Christmas card and 75 hundred-dollar bills, the charge alleged. Thompson took the envelope from the informant, “felt it deliberately, looked at it and then placed it in a jacket pocket, saying, ‘Thanks,’” the complaint said.
For Thompson, it was not the first time he’s faced federal charges. In 1987, he was accused of taking part in an elaborate insurance fraud scheme involving phony car wrecks and false injury claims. Thompson later admitted he was recruited into the scheme by then-Ald. Perry Hutchinson on the condition that he kick back money to him. He was sentenced to probation, records show.
Brookins said he was unaware of Thompson’s previous legal troubles.