Derrick Smith pleads not guilty, while his attorney compares case to Holocaust

April 30, 2012

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(AP/Seth Perlman)
Illinois Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, appears on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. on April 17, 2012.

Updated at 2:35 p.m. on April 30, 2012.

An Illinois state representative caught on tape accepting a $7,000 bribe pleaded not guilty Monday morning in federal court. Following the hearing, Derrick Smith made his first public comments since his arrest.

Smith's attorney entered the not guilty plea on his behalf. A few minutes later, in the courthouse lobby, a visibly nervous Smith read a prepared statement to the cameras.

"My lawyers have encouraged me to stay quiet until now," he said.

The remarks end six weeks of silence for the Chicago Democrat, whose arrest a week before the primary election didn't prevent his victory.

"I look forward to having the opportunity to clear my name," Smith said.

Prosecutors have said Smith took a cash bribe he believed was coming from the owner of a day care center seeking a state grant.

"While I have been troubled to experience the shenanigans being played by the FBI, to lean on people around me and to get them to say bad things about me, I will not cower," Smith said.

Separate from the criminal proceedings, Smith faces possible expulsion from the Illinois House.

After Smith finished his remarks and left the courthouse, his attorney, Victor Henderson, spoke to reporters.

Henderson said the FBI misled a federal judge about the criminal background of the confidential informant at the center of the Smith investigation.

"That's not right. All of us know it. But we can't be afraid to speak out," Henderson told reporters.

Henderson said the case reminds him of a poem.

"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist," Henderson said, reading a printout from the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I am not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak to, for me."

That poem is about Germans who ignored Nazi actions.

Asked if he was really comparing Derrick Smith's case to the Holocaust, Henderson replied that when the government does something wrong, everyone has "an obligation to stand up."

"Today it's Derrick Smith," he said. "Who is it tomorrow? That's the point of [my reading] the poem."

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney in Chicago had no comment on the statements from Henderson or Smith.