The politically connected businessman who bribed two Illinois lawmakers in a bid to change state law in his favor has asked a judge for a relatively light prison sentence, arguing the people of Illinois would have benefited from legislation at the center of his corrupt scheme.
Lawyers for James T. Weiss asked U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger to give him a prison sentence of less than 27 months, arguing in part that the bill Weiss wanted to pass would have generated at least one penny in tax revenue on each transaction on so-called sweepstakes machines.
Sweepstakes machines are unregulated gambling devices. They can look like video slot machines but offer “free play” options and coupons to users.
Attorney Ilia Usharovich wrote in a 15-page court memo filed late Wednesday that Weiss’ competitors in the video gaming market gave campaign contributions and contracts to state and local officials and lobbyists to promote anti-sweepstakes legislation.
“[Weiss’] unlawful actions were designed to protect his business, the legitimate income that provides for his family, and to institute clear regulation of the sweepstakes industry,” Usharovich wrote.
He also acknowledged that “clipping the wings of the eagle to feather your own nest is one of the most serious offenses that can be committed against the United States, the public trust, and the people of the state of Illinois.”
A federal jury in June found Weiss guilty of honest services wire and mail fraud, bribery and lying to the FBI. The bribery scheme involved then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo, who is now in prison, and then-state Sen. Terry Link, who cooperated with the FBI but faces sentencing Nov. 8 for his own tax crimes.
Weiss, husband of former state Rep. Toni Berrios and son-in-law of former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, is due to be sentenced by Seeger on Oct. 11.
Seeger is the same judge who last year handed a nearly five-year sentence to Arroyo, calling him a “dirty politician who was on the take.” Ahead of that hearing, Arroyo’s defense attorneys argued that sending him to prison would be “no more effective than draining Lake Michigan with a spoon” because it wouldn’t end Chicago corruption.
“Maybe judges need a bigger spoon,” Seeger retorted during Arroyo’s sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors are due to recommend a sentence for Weiss by Oct. 4.
An October 2020 indictment against Arroyo and Weiss alleged that Arroyo served as Weiss’ bought-and-paid-for member of the Illinois House of Representatives. In exchange for $32,500 in bribes from Weiss, Arroyo agreed to vote for and promote sweepstakes legislation in Springfield.
When the Illinois General Assembly passed landmark gambling legislation in 2019 without sweepstakes language, Arroyo and Weiss turned to Link, a key lawmaker on gaming issues.
But Link was secretly working with the feds. He recorded Arroyo and testified against Weiss.
Prosecutors aired Link’s recordings for the first time during Weiss’ trial. One captured an Aug. 2, 2019 meeting between Weiss, Arroyo and Link at a Highland Park Wendy’s. At one point, Link asked Arroyo, “Can I talk to you alone one second?”
Outside the Wendy’s — and away from Weiss — Link asked Arroyo, “What’s in it for me?” Arroyo explained that he was a “paid consultant for him” making $2,500 a month, that the same could be arranged for Link, and that payments could be made to a third party.
Link testified that he understood Arroyo’s reference to “him” to mean Weiss.
Arroyo and Link met a second time at Sander’s restaurant in Skokie on Aug. 22, 2019. Shortly before they did, FBI agents gave Link the name of a fictional third party to be paid — “Katherine Hunter.” Jurors heard a recording of the meeting that then followed, in which Arroyo gave Link a $2,500 check from Weiss’ business and said “this is the jackpot.”
Link told Arroyo to make that check out to Hunter. And two months later, the FBI found a second $2,500 check from Weiss’ business, Collage LLC, made out to Hunter in Link’s post-office box in Lincolnshire.
When FBI agents confronted Weiss in October 2019, he told them Arroyo had once put him on the phone with Hunter.
“I talked to Katherine over the phone about engaging in the relationship and helping me,” Weiss told the FBI about the fictional consultant.
Weiss also told agents that Hunter lived in Winnetka.