Former state Rep. Luis Arroyo faces sentencing Wednesday for trying to bribe a state senator to help with legislation expanding the shadowy world of sweepstakes gambling machines, for which Arroyo moonlighted as a lobbyist.
Arroyo, 67, entered a blind guilty plea in November to one count of honest services fraud, a move that came without an agreement with prosecutors on what sentencing recommendations should be made to the judge.
That sets up what could be a contentious hearing before U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger, who will have a wide range of options at his disposal, from probation or home confinement to potentially years in prison.
Arroyo’s lawyers have maintained that a prison sentence for the longtime Chicago Democrat would do nothing to stop the state’s seemingly intractable public corruption and would be akin to “draining Lake Michigan with a spoon.”
But federal prosecutors called Arroyo’s pitch for leniency a “depressingly cynical perspective” for a onetime senior member of the General Assembly caught red-handed making a “blatant cash grab.”
“He used the power and influence of his office to advance his own interests through bribery,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James Durkin wrote in a court filing asking for up to 57 months in prison. “Not only did Arroyo put himself up for sale, he attempted to corrupt another lawmaker from the other chamber to advance the scheme.”
Arroyo resigned his seat shortly after he was arrested in 2019 on the bribery charges. A superseding indictment filed last year added new wire and mail fraud charges against Arroyo and also charged James T. Weiss with bribery, wire fraud, mail fraud and lying to the FBI.
Weiss, who is married to the daughter of former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios — former state Rep. Toni Berrios — has pleaded not guilty.
The case centers on the largely uncharted world of sweepstakes machines, sometimes called “gray machines,” which allow customers to put in money, receive a coupon to redeem for merchandise online and then play electronic games like slot machines.
Since the machines can be played for free, they are not considered gambling devices. Critics, however, contend the unregulated devices, which operate in cities like Chicago that have banned video gambling, are designed to skirt the law.
According to the 15-page indictment, Weiss paid bribes to Arroyo beginning in November 2018 in exchange for Arroyo’s promotion of legislation beneficial to Weiss’ company, Collage LLC, which specialized in the sweepstakes machines.
Weiss was also in business with another sweepstakes machine company, V.S.S. Inc., run by an ex-Chicago cop who was fired for consorting with a drug trafficker, the Tribune has previously reported.
The bribes were paid via off-the-books lobbying payments to Arroyo’s consulting firm, Spartacus 3 LLC, which Arroyo failed to report to state regulators, according to the charges.
Both Weiss and Arroyo also conspired in 2019 to pay then-state Sen. Terry Link $2,500 a month in kickbacks in exchange for the senator’s support on the proposed sweepstakes game legislation.
At the time, Link, a Vernon Hills Democrat, was secretly cooperating with the FBI. He resigned from office before pleading guilty to unrelated tax evasion charges in September 2020.
Link was wearing an FBI wire when Arroyo allegedly delivered the first of the promised $2,500 checks at a restaurant in Skokie, according to prosecutors.
“This is, this is the jackpot,” Arroyo allegedly told Link as he handed over the money.
In asking for significant prison time, Durkin noted in his filing that had Arroyo’s scheme been successful, “he would have changed Illinois law regarding the gaming industry, a heavily regulated industry, for his personal financial benefit and the benefit (of Weiss).”
Arroyo’s lawyers, meanwhile, have taken issue with $32,500 prosecutors are seeking to have their client forfeit, saying in their memo that much of it came from legitimate fees Arroyo had billed through his consulting company. They say the figure should be no more than $7,500.