WHAT THE FBI WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT A CHI­NA­TOWN PROP­ERTY DUR­ING ONE SUR­PRISE 7 A.M. HOUSE CALL

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - MARK BROWN,

Just be­fore 7 a.m. Fri­day, only a few hours be­fore fed­eral au­thor­i­ties took the wraps off their big in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Com­mon­wealth Edi­son and House Speaker Mike Madi­gan, the door­bell rang at the McKin­ley Park home of state Rep. Theresa Mah.

Mah was awake but still in bed. Her hus­band was up and just start­ing to make cof­fee.

She as­sumed it was a de­liv­ery driver and shouted to her hus­band to get the door, but he was al­ready on the way to an­swer the in­ter­com.

“Who is it?” he asked.

“FBI,” came the an­swer. They asked to speak to Mah.

That will wake you up in a hurry.

I got this story di­rectly from Mah, a Demo­crat com­plet­ing her sec­ond term in the Illi­nois House. She told it in the way that only a per­son with a clear con­science can tell it.

I in­ter­rupt the nar­ra­tive to men­tion that here just to keep any­one from jump­ing to any ad­verse con­clu­sions be­fore read­ing the rest of the story. As best as I can tell, Mah has done noth­ing wrong and isn’t in any trou­ble. Her own lawyer was later as­sured as much.

But hav­ing the FBI at the door at 7 a.m. is se­ri­ous busi­ness that would get any­one’s at­ten­tion. Mah asked what they wanted. They told her they had some ques­tions on a mat­ter they thought she could help with.

Mah asked for 10 min­utes to get dressed and brush her teeth.

She lives on the third floor of a condo build­ing but de­cided the best place to talk was on a bench in the back­yard of her build­ing.

Her hus­band made sure she had her cell­phone be­fore she headed out the door and texted her mid­way through the hour­long in­ter­view to ask if she was OK.

There were two FBI agents, a man and wo­man, both wear­ing suits and pro­tec­tive face masks.

They asked Mah if she was fa­mil­iar with a state-owned prop­erty in Chi­na­town cur­rently

used as a park­ing lot.

As they surely knew, Mah is very fa­mil­iar with the prop­erty. De­vel­op­ers have been try­ing to get their hands on the land for years, which has made it a mat­ter of some con­tro­versy in Chi­na­town, where there is al­ways a short­age of park­ing. The fate of the park­ing lot has been an is­sue in her elec­tion cam­paigns.

Last year, my col­league Tim No­vak and I re­ported on how the park­ing lot had been a topic of con­ver­sa­tion in a 2014 meet­ing be­tween Madi­gan, for­mer 25th

Ward Ald. Danny So­lis and two Chi­na­town busi­ness­men that was se­cretly recorded by the FBI.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, Madi­gan al­legedly pitched the busi­ness­men about hir­ing his law firm to rep­re­sent them on real es­tate tax ap­peals for a ho­tel de­vel­op­ment they were plan­ning at an­other nearby site. One of the busi­ness­men, who was co­op­er­at­ing with fed­eral agents in an un­der­cover role, men­tioned to Madi­gan that his real de­sire was to ob­tain the state-owned park­ing lot land at the north­east cor­ner of Cer­mak and Went­worth.

That piece of in­for­ma­tion was just one of many pre­sented in a court af­fi­davit sub­mit­ted for pur­poses of ob­tain­ing a search war­rant against So­lis. This pre­ceded

So­lis’ own role as a govern­ment mole who has pro­vided ex­ten­sive co­op­er­a­tion against other politi­cians, in­clud­ing in­dicted Ald. Ed­ward M. Burke (14th).

Noth­ing much ap­peared to come of that 2014 meet­ing, but two years later, an­other de­vel­oper came for­ward with a project to build a 30-story apart­ment-ho­tel-shop­ping mall on the park­ing lot site, the Sun-Times re­ported. That project ap­peared to have the sup­port of So­lis, who by then was work­ing with fed­eral agents.

That ef­fort cul­mi­nated in an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt in 2018 to pass state leg­is­la­tion that would have al­lowed the Illi­nois De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion to sell the land as sur­plus prop­erty.

Mah said most of the FBI’s ques­tions in­volved the role played by lob­by­ist Nancy Kimme in push­ing that leg­is­la­tion.

Kimme, a for­mer chief of staff to the late Illi­nois Comptrolle­r Judy Baar Topinka, tried to get Mah to sup­port the park­ing lot sale.

A Kimme as­so­ciate, Ryan Mc­Creary, even pre­pared a memo from Mah to Madi­gan’s then-chief of staff Tim Mapes rec­om­mend­ing the park­ing lot parcels, and an­other state-owned prop­erty in her dis­trict at 2900 S. Da­men, for in­clu­sion in IDOT’s spring leg­isla­tive land bill.

Mah said she op­posed the sale and re­fused to sub­mit the memo, her ver­sion of events later backed up by a let­ter from Mc­Creary.

Through a spokesper­son, Kimme de­clined to com­ment on whether she re­ceived her own visit Fri­day from the FBI.

Mah said the FBI asked her if Madi­gan had ever spo­ken to her about the leg­is­la­tion. She said he did not, nor did any of his staff.

The FBI asked if she knew for­mer state Rep. Michael McClain of Quincy, the Madi­gan con­fi­dant who is at the cen­ter of many of the al­le­ga­tions in last week’s de­ferred pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment in­volv­ing ComEd. She said she doesn’t think she’s ever met him.

They also asked if state Sen. Martin San­doval, who has pleaded guilty to cor­rup­tion charges, was in­volved in the park­ing lot is­sue in any way. She told them not as far as she knew.

Within 10 min­utes of leav­ing, the FBI agents called back and said they’d for­got­ten to give her a doc­u­ment. They re­turned with a sub­poena.

It asked for doc­u­ments or com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­lat­ing to the Chi­na­town par­cel, men­tion­ing Madi­gan, San­doval, McClain and Kimme in par­tic­u­lar.

A sub­poena ask­ing for the same in­for­ma­tion — and much more — was served that same day on Madi­gan’s of­fice.

What all this tells me is that the Chi­na­town park­ing lot is a more im­por­tant piece in the Madi­gan in­ves­ti­ga­tion than we might have ex­pected — and that you never know who might ring the door­bell at 7 a.m.

SUN-TIMES FILE PHO­TOS

State Rep. Theresa Mah was vis­ited by fed­eral au­thor­i­ties on Fri­day who asked ques­tions about a park­ing lot in Chi­na­town (above) that was a topic of con­ver­sa­tion in a 2014 meet­ing be­tween House Speaker Michael Madi­gan, for­mer 25th Ward Ald. Danny So­lis and two Chi­na­town busi­ness­men that was se­cretly recorded by the FBI.

SUN-TIMES FILES

State Rep. Theresa Mah says that the FBI asked her a lot of ques­tions about the role played by lob­by­ist Nancy Kimme (above) in push­ing leg­is­la­tion that would have al­lowed the Illi­nois De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion to sell a Chi­na­town park­ing lot site as sur­plus prop­erty.

House Speaker Michael Madi­gan

Mike McClain

Martin San­doval

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