Lightfoot wrote to U.S. attorney, seeking Solis probe information
Mayor Lori Lightfoot may have said she was “deeply offended” by the deferred prosecution deal that federal prosecutors struck with former Ald. Daniel Solis, but she sure seems interested in any dirt he’s been dishing.
In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney John Lausch the day before Solis’ deal was accepted by a judge last month, the mayor asked prosecutors to consider turning over any evidence Solis has provided on “wrongdoing on the part of any individual or individuals that may have engaged in wrongful acts with the city,” either past or present.
The letter, which was dated April 20 and obtained by the Tribune through an open records request, made clear the information was being sought only after Solis’ cooperation was over, and only “if a legal means exists.”
“I am aware that ongoing investigation in this matter may be taking place and I make no inquiry nor would I about the content, findings or prosecutions that might arise from any such investigation,” the mayor wrote on her official letterhead. “Rather, my request arises from the deep concerns for the taxpayers and residents of Chicago that all efforts are being made to ensure that all individuals engaged in city business are doing so with honesty and integrity.”
The Tribune asked the city to turn over any official response sent by Lausch’s office but there apparently was none. A spokesman for Lausch had no comment on Monday.
It’s unlikely that the U.S. attorney’s office would go along with the mayor’s unusual request for evidence stemming from an official criminal investigation, particularly because many of the figures who have surfaced as part of Solis’ cooperation have not been charged.
The letter reflects yet another evolution in Lightfoot’s position on the unprecedented deal offered to Solis, who secretly agreed to wear a wire for federal investigators in 2016 and helped build racketeering cases against Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, and then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, two of the longest-serving and most powerful politicians in the state.
The deferred prosecution deal was signed by Solis on the day after Christmas 2018 and kept secret for nearly 3 ½ years before the U.S. attorney’s office finally put it on the record in mid-April.
As part of the deal, Solis was charged in a one-count criminal information with corruptly soliciting campaign donations from a real estate developer in exchange for zoning changes in 2015, when Solis was head of the City Council Zoning Committee.
Solis pleaded not guilty, and his case will be set for dismissal on April 8, 2025, as long as he continues to cooperate with the ongoing investigations. Meanwhile, he will continue to collect a nearly $100,000 annual city pension and is free on bond.
For months, Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, publicly and privately criticized Solis’ deal, calling it “unconscionable” that he might not face a conviction or lose his pension.
That criticism spilled into the courtroom at Solis’ arraignment on April 13, when prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood that the city had indicated it may want to intervene in Solis’ case as a victim.
Hours later, Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, issued a statement that called Solis out for violating the public trust “in profound ways” but stopped short of any seeming attempt to derail the deferred prosecution. Instead, Lightfoot said she had instructed the city’s Law Department to file a victim impact statement with the court.
“Because of all of the crimes that have been put on the public record, Solis victimized the residents of his ward and residents in the entire city, all of whom were deprived of the integrity and honesty that should be sacrosanct with all public officials,” the mayor said then. “No one is above the law and Chicago residents expect that their elected officials will be held accountable.”
In the end, the city made no official move to file anything in Solis’ case. Instead, on April 20, the same day the mayor wrote her letter to the U.S. attorney’s office, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, wrote a letter on his own asking the judge to consider Solis’ “rampant and unchecked corruption” when weighing the deferred prosecution deal.
The next day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu delivered an impassioned defense of Solis’ deal, calling his cooperation perhaps “singular” even in the city’s long history of political corruption.
“He didn’t just talk. He took action. He worked with the federal government for six years to expose corruption,” Bhachu said.
When Solis was confronted by investigators back in 2016, Bhachu said, he “had a choice” about what his path would be, including to refuse to cooperate, deny accountability, and fight any charges that came his way.
“That is an easy path that many in this city and state have followed,” Bhachu said. “Mr. Solis chose a more difficult path, judge. He cooperated with the government for approximately six years. When we asked him to meet, he did so. When he was asked to make a recording with a third party, he did it.”
During the course of his undercover work, Solis personally made “hundreds of recordings” and helped form the basis of government requests for wiretaps on others, Bhachu said, making him one of the most significant government witnesses of the last several decades.
“A lot of people talk about cleaning up corruption, and often all it amounts to is talk,” Bhachu said. “It’s rare when someone actually delivers, and in this regard, Mr. Solis delivered.”
In a statement after the hearing, Lightfoot dropped her previous rhetoric, saying the city “had productive conversations with the U.S. Attorney’s office” over the previous week regarding the Solis case and now “sees no need to formally intervene.”
She mentioned those same discussions in her letter to the U.S. attorney’s office, stating she respected the “independence” of the federal prosecutors’ work.
But Lightfoot also said it was “equally important” from the city’s perspective that “any criminal acts and/or individuals engaged in wrongful conduct are identified and corrective action taken.”