The investigation into State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago, pictured) will take longer than lawmakers had hoped.   The U.S. attorney’s office told lawmakers it will not divulge any information requested by an Illinois House investigative panel earlier this month, saying that release would interfere with the ongoing criminal prosecution. Any attempt by the panel to get the information will be considered interference, as well.


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State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who chairs the panel, says that’s a setback. “The committee’s hands are, I think, significantly tied by the criminal proceeding and his [the U.S. attorney’s] desire to have us not interfere with that by our own investigation,” she says.   Nekrtiz wouldn’t say, however, whether her panel will have to wait until Smith’s criminal case is over. He’s expected to plead not guilty to all charges sometime next week.


Smith was arrested in March on charges he sought a $7,000 bribe from a day care center in exchange for a letter of support for a $50,000 state grant. He faces an investigation from his colleagues in the House about whether he should be expelled, as well as the concurrent criminal case.  The panel agreed to send Smith a letter requesting his testimony, stopping short of issuing a subpoena. Smith is allowed to invoke the Fifth Amendment, which protects defendants from self-incrimination. But, unlike in a criminal proceeding, lawmakers will be able to use that against him.   “In a criminal case, the taking of the Fifth Amendment cannot be used against a defendant. That’s not true in this type of proceeding,” says Nekrtiz.


Going forward, this panel will recommend to the next, larger panel whether enough evidence exists to expel Smith, or to levy some other kind of punishment. That panel will forward its recommendation to the full House, which would then decide whether he’ll be removed.   Nekritz couldn’t say when the House’s investigation will conclude.


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